FROM THE SOUTHSIDE OF CHICAGO TO THE C-SUITE: A JOURNEY TO FINANCIAL FREEDOM
Martin Cabrera is an INROADS alumnus and CEO and Founder of Cabrera Capital Markets (CCM), one of the largest Latino-owned investment banking firms in the country. Cabrera Capital Markets provides investment banking for municipal, corporate, and advisory clients, institutional brokerage services for municipal bonds, global equities, taxable fixed income securities, preferred equities, and structured products, as well as cash management services. Cabrera’s diversified global client base includes corporations, municipalities, financial institutions, federal agencies, unions, pension funds, foundations, and endowments. INROADS is honored to name Martin as Alumnus of the Year during our 2022 Founders Benefit Gala, celebrating his commitment to fostering wealth building and financial literacy in underrepresented communities. We connected with Martin over Zoom to learn more about his journey from growing up in a rough Chicago neighborhood to participating in the INROADS internship program, and eventually becoming a CEO and advocate for wealth equality.
Tell us about your childhood.
Both of my parents were born in Mexico and came over when they were kids. I was born in Chicago’s southwest side in the Little Village neighborhood. Growing up I didn’t realize that I was poor until I was in high school and I went out to the suburbs and saw all of the big mansions. That’s when it hit me and I wanted to do better for myself and my family. I went to public schools my whole life and was always active in team sports – I played pretty much every sport that you can think of. That competitive spirit and wanting to win and be the best has stayed with me throughout my career and in the investment industry.
How did you get into finance?
Growing up, I had never been exposed to finances and investments. My friends and I were all poor, and our families never really had any discretionary dollars. So, we would never talk about it at our kitchen tables and our parents didn’t talk about it either. It was just my parents always trying to sort out how to make a mortgage payment or put food on the table. One of my teachers, who was also our basketball coach, strongly encouraged me to take his economics class. I had planned on being an architecture major, but he kind of got me in a headlock and said, “I really want you to take my class. You’re going to enjoy it.” So, I said, “Okay, Mr. Artese!” and took the class. He educated us on how to read stock tables and he taught us The Stock Market Game. We got $100,000 in simulation money and we had to research companies and invest in them. I was the team leader for our group, and we ended up doing well, so it kind of lit a firecracker under me. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning with a brandnew toy and I wanted to learn everything about the stock market and investments. Senior year of high school I decided to change my major to finance and attended Northern Illinois University.
What brought you to INROADS?
I got involved in INROADS my freshman year because I was hoping to get an internship in the financial services industry. I ended up getting an internship for two summers with CNA Insurance in the investment department and for one summer at Chubb Group in the financial services area.
Describe your INROADS internship experience.
It was a great experience and a little intimidating because nobody in my family had ever worked in an office setting. So even trying to prepare for how to dress was a bit of a culture shock. I remember my first day I wore a brown sports coat with big buttons, a big belt buckle, tight black pants, and black shoes with silver tips on the end. I also didn’t really know how to tie a tie, so it drooped down closer to my knees than my waist. I thought I was dressing really sharp but luckily one of my bosses pulled me aside and gave me some guidance. Then INROADS hosted our session on dress for success. I took notes and invested some of the checks I received from CNA and bought some suits and started investing in my wardrobe. My boss at CNA and INROADS really helped me prepare for corporate America.
What are your biggest takeaways from your Internship Experience?
- The importance of building a strong network and maintaining relationships with the people from my internship experience and sponsoring company.
- Don’t limit yourself – there are endless opportunities out there and you can achieve anything you want in this country, even expanding your business to Europe, Asia or Latin America. INROADS opened my eyes and mind to a whole new world in corporate America and in the investment industry
- The value of giving back. That struck at my heart. I want to be successful, but I want to make sure I’m making a difference.
When it comes to giving back, what causes are you passionate about?
I advocate for financial literacy and wealth creation for underrepresented communities. One key program I started funding through Cabrera Capital Markets is giving underserved students the opportunity to learn and play The Stock Market Game for free, like I did growing up. It made such an impact on my life and changed my trajectory. We started by partnering with the Illinois Council on Economic Education and funded The Stock Market Game for 8,000 Chicago Public School students. Over 27,000 students in Illinois are playing the game and we expanded our sponsorship to include Southern California, Texas, Philadelphia, Detroit and the Bronx.
How did growing up in a tough neighborhood contribute to the success you’ve achieved today?
The tenacity, perseverance, and the grit that I learned in the neighborhood is such a huge asset. I think of all the challenges that kids deal with coming up in tough neighborhoods and tough environments. It is actually going to benefit them so much more in their career, because they’re going to be resilient and they’re going to be stronger and tougher, and they’re going to go through brick walls to achieve success. And when they get knocked down, they’re going to get back up again and keep pushing. And that’s how it is in business - you can’t stay down. You must keep growing, you have to keep pushing, competing and showcasing your capabilities for your clients.
What advice would you give students and young professionals just starting their careers?
Go out there and explore different kinds of career paths and find something that you’re passionate about. There are endless opportunities. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from your goals and your dreams!