(Bloomberg) -- A backlash against diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is disrupting some parts of corporate America. At Siebert Williams Shank & Co., the top women- and minority-owned investment bank in the US, it’s business as usual.

Attacks against diversity have roiled other companies, almost four years after the murder of George Floyd by police prompted pledges of about $80 billion to grant more contracts to minority-owned businesses. Billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Ackman have denounced DEI programs and Wall Street is reconsidering such efforts. Conservative activists now are pushing companies nationwide to rescind their initiatives since the US Supreme Court last year rejected affirmative action at the nation’s colleges.

Against this backdrop, Siebert Williams won enough business to rank as the leading minority underwriter in 2023 for both US investment-grade bonds and for long-term municipal debt, taking the 13th slot among all Wall Street firms in the latter category, according to Bloomberg league tables. So far this year, Siebert Williams is the 11th-ranked muni underwriter among all dealers.

“We are not confronted directly with the pushback,” Christopher Williams, chairman of the firm, based in New York and Oakland, California, said in an interview. “It is not something that I can point to and say I have personal experience, where clients or prospective clients have changed their outlook in terms of their dealings with us because of some external forces that don’t support DEI as a concept.”

Williams and Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Shank, co-founders through the merger of Williams Capital Group LP with Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. in 2019, say clients know that hiring the firm will broaden their investor base, putting securities in the hands of smaller, minority- and women-owned asset managers. With corporations borrowing at a record rate in January and February and municipal bond sales forecast to pick up in March, Williams says his firm is “extremely well positioned to capture our share” of any increased 2024 volume. 

Its corporate customers include Verizon Communications Inc., Amazon.com Inc., even Ackman’s Pershing Square Tontine Holdings Ltd. Siebert Williams has so far weathered public pushback on DEI in part because of its ability to deliver a broad base of investors.

“It’s all about: Do you have clients?,” Shank said in an interview via online video. “When you bring in orders on a deal, everyone else shuts up.” She declined to name any investor clients, citing customer confidentiality.

Big Deals

For Verizon, the largest US phone carrier and a big bond issuer, Siebert Williams has been a lead underwriter on five green bond transactions, helping the debt to sell at a high price, a so-called greenium, said Verizon Treasurer Scott Krohn. 

Order books for its $1 billion issue in February peaked at just over $7 billion, one of the most sought-after of its green bonds, Krohn said. The telecom provider achieved a greenium of about 10 basis points, he said, with interest from European, Canadian, Asian and ESG investors.

As a result of Verizon’s hiring Siebert Williams and other minority dealers, “A lot of people want to ask the question, does your performance or your execution suffer? Clearly not,” said Krohn. “Our transactions are not only well oversubscribed, but we also have achieved a pricing benefit with those green bonds.” 

Read: Verizon Raises $1 Billion in Its Sixth Green Bond Since 2019

Amazon hired Siebert Williams for its last three debt sales, including an $18 billion eight-part deal in 2021, the e-commerce retailer’s biggest bond offering. Amazon Treasurer Tony Masone said he was pleased with how these deals priced, and that Siebert Williams brings “a different client base to Amazon. They give opportunities to a different market than a commercial bank would.”

The firm, which has grown almost 13% to 142 employees since 2019 in part by hiring veteran bankers, said it helped market $342 billion in corporate bond sales last year.

As a bookrunner, a more-lucrative role that’s less common for minority-owned dealers, Siebert Williams in 2023 managed 18 offerings, more than any of its peers, according to Bloomberg league tables. Joint book runners generally can each earn 10% to as much as 20% of fees on a deal, compared with less than 5% for senior co-managers and less than 1% for co-managers, according to Siebert Williams.

Ackman’s IPO

Siebert Williams and other minority dealers were hired to help raise $4 billion in an initial public offering for Ackman’s Pershing Square hedge fund in 2020, three years before he campaigned for Harvard College to remove Claudine Gay — the first Black president in the school’s 387-year history. Gay resigned in January amid allegations of plagiarism and a campus controversy over antisemitism.

In a Jan. 3 post on X, Ackman praised the performance of Siebert Williams and the others, saying that this wasn’t a case of so-called virtue signaling, when minority banks are hired but given little participation or support in a deal. 

“The small banks earned their 20% share of the fees for delivering real and substantive value and for selling their share of the stock,” according to the tweet, which garnered more than 35 million views. “Compare this approach to the traditional one where the small banks do effectively nothing to earn their fees – they aren’t given that opportunity – yet, they get a cut of the deal, albeit a tiny one. The traditional approach does not create value for anyone.”

Ackman made a “significant effort” to include Siebert Williams in the allocation of securities and fees, said Williams. “In that regard, Bill was definitely a positive force.” 

Ackman declined to comment.

Read more: Why Companies Are Scaling Back DEI in America: Equality

Related: Wall Street Is Tapping Firms Led by Women, Minorities for Billion-Dollar Bond Deals

--With assistance from Andrea Niper.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.