Performance figures for each account are calculated using time weighted rate of returns on a daily basis. The Composite returns are calculated based on the asset-weighted monthly composite constituents based on beginning of month asset mix and include the reinvestment of all earnings as of the payment date. Composite returns are as follows:

Tracey McVicar: Partner at CAI Capital Partners & Philanthropist

“Read history. Read about cycles and business success. Read Barbarians at the Gate. Read a biography of Warren Buffet. Read about Winston Churchill. It not only informs you and helps you avoid past mistakes, but it makes you an interesting person to your clients.”

Written by: Tassan Sung, Women’s LEAD Chair

In the Canadian finance world, Tracey McVicar has built a successful career running CAI, a private equity firm founded in the US and now headquartered in Vancouver, where McVicar rebuilt the brand in 2015, after thirteen years with the company and the retirement of four of its five founders. The enormous feat of succeeding the retiring founders and reestablishing a firm with many decades of embedded tradition sets Tracey apart as a financial entrepreneur, especially as a woman. Perhaps even more remarkable than her success in raising and managing capital and acquiring profitable investments in private companies — a niche and exclusive area of finance — is Tracey’s reputation as one of the most well-liked business people in Vancouver. Many in business, especially those who’ve achieved success, seem to attract at least one or two envious “haters.” Still, Tracey elicits nothing but nods of approval and admiring comments when her name is brought up in a crowd. Both men and women respect her for her financial savvy but also attributes beyond her business acumen and intelligence. Her authenticity, work ethic, warmth, philanthropy, and devotion to her friends and family, especially her son, Andrew, draw the most admiration.

Tracey’s leadership style, relationship-building skills, and mentorship include many lessons, especially for young women entering finance. Her story is one of grit, determination, bravery, risk-taking, and commitment to her values.

Now firmly ensconced in the crowd of influential movers and shakers who shape Vancouver’s economic and political landscape, Tracey’s sway belies her humble beginnings growing up in south Vancouver. Her father dropped out of high school in grade ten and enrolled in hairdressing school like his older sister, where he met Tracey’s late Japanese-Canadian mother, who was one of his instructors. Together, they raised Tracey and her brother in a loving and supportive family that valued and encouraged higher education. Tracey attended Churchill high school, where she proudly brought home good grades to please her parents, who foresaw a career as a dentist in her future. “My dad viewed higher education as vocational,” Tracey reflects, “and he would always tell me to become a dentist so that I could set my hours — and we didn’t have dental insurance, so he knew how much the dentist made.”

With scholarships and her parents’ support, Tracey was on her way to becoming a dentist when she entered sciences at UBC. However, she immediately felt out of place. So she left for commerce, where she won one of ten spots in the coveted Portfolio Management Foundation program — an exclusive group within UBC commerce’s male-dominated finance option. “Someone dared me to apply and said I would never make it. It was a dare,” Tracey emphasizes, highlighting the once pervasive attitude that women were not cut out for finance. “Even in commerce,” Tracey states, “there were women’s options — marketing and organizational behaviour. Then there were the men’s options: finance, accounting, transportation, & logistics, which I loved — it was all about the airline industry. It was great. So, even then, there was a male and female divide.”

Today, Tracey works closely with her alma mater and says they still face challenges getting women to choose finance, revealing they struggle to get 15-20% women, even as women comprise 55% of the incoming commerce class. “Women are self-selecting out, even in their early undergraduate years,” Tracey shares. “It has been a problem and talked about at the highest levels, and everyone is trying to put their mind to it, but how do you make it attractive?”

As one of few women graduating from the exclusive PMF program in the early 90s, Tracey admits she was an oddity. She joined RBC after graduation as one of only two undergraduate hires in the country that year, when there were few young people, let alone young women, in investment banking. Unlike many women who describe feeling marginalized and unaccepted by their older male colleagues, McVicar says she felt a sense of belonging from the beginning. Her lens on her experience shows she had a remarkable ability to connect with and engender confidence in the investment banking establishment. Her status as an exceptional student and selectively chosen employee likely didn’t hurt her reputation. “I felt special from day one,” Tracey shares. “I was in the big boardroom, and I never felt that I didn’t belong. I felt like they rolled out the red carpet. I was brought in and offered a seat at the table, and I’ve never taken that for granted.” Tracey admits she has a different perspective today and contextualizes her experience within the broader scope of a world that has been less welcoming to others.

Tracey points to her ability to understand interpersonal dynamics in a world of number-crunchers when asked why she has been so successful and established so many strong relationships with her male (and now often female) colleagues. “I would go into a meeting with colleagues, see the dynamics and what was going on, and understand some of the interpersonal nuances. I think women are naturally better at that.” Tracey credits her success to her interpersonal style and relationship-building skills, admitting that while it’s essential, it’s not enough to understand the numbers. Reflecting on her long career, she recognizes that her success was built on solid relationships that transcended the workday. Her emphasis was always on building quality relationships so that she won the business based on trust and not just the margin of profitability above the competition. “Otherwise, it’s much harder,” Tracey comments, “and you’re pitching strangers all the time.”

Tracey’s rich and relatively diverse history and interests make her a compelling conversationalist in building relationships and developing connections. Her interests outside finance have always included reading extensively and a keen sense of responsibility to her local and global community — this led her to make a brave shift in 2001 when she was thirty-three. After reading the works of Jonathan Kozol (author of Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope) about poverty and inequity and how challenging it was to grow up as an impoverished child in the US, Tracey left her job running an equity desk in Canada to move to New York to serve underprivileged youth. “I rented an apartment in a very old walk-up downtown and took the six train to the South Bronx daily.” At that time, she considered becoming an inner-city elementary school teacher to better the broken community where she found herself. “Churches were the only places in those communities that delivered services, so they did food pantry, after school care, and before school care. I volunteered in a church that didn’t have a wedding the whole time I was there — no one had the money to get married. It was eye-opening.” Tracey was on a path to becoming a teacher when 9/11 happened, and she knew her time in the US was over. She shifted to contributing financially by rethinking her approach to supporting the community where she had wanted to work. “I decided to return to what I did and give them $25,000 per year instead of working in the community to earn the same amount. I figured they would probably value my $25,000 more than my presence,” Tracey rationalizes as she emphasizes the impact of financial contributions over the parachuting-in of foreign philanthropists. “There are all these ‘voluntourism’ trips to third world countries to build houses, etcetera, but maybe we should send them the money we would spend on that trip which would go a long way.”

She returned to Vancouver after 9/11, having established numerous new relationships while in New York. One of those critical relationships was with the CEO of the private equity firm, CAI, who placed confidence in her to build the company on Canada’s West Coast. Her capacity to foster relationships led to considerable success in raising capital and growing the firm’s reputation for consistent investment returns.

Now, over 20 years later, having led the company through immense challenges, Tracey is in a unique position to reimagine her philanthropic impact alongside the growth trajectory of CAI. “We’re all hopefully on a philanthropic journey,” states McVicar. “As a young professional, I had more money than time, so that is what I gave. As I look ahead, I can see that I’ll also have time – it’s really exciting to imagine what that will look like!” She looks at charitable organizations critically and emphasizes causes that align with her family’s priorities. Tracey reflects thoughtfully on her future philanthropic journey, focusing on the legacy and meaning for her son, Andrew, a confident and effusive 12-year-old. “It’s a big responsibility to figure out what my family’s priorities are because I want it to continue, so it has to have input from the younger generation. Ideally, it would be shared causes and subjects that we can continue. I’m not there yet, entirely, but I’m certainly looking at organizations as partners, which is different from how I viewed them in the past.” Tracey also speaks passionately about the BC Orca Bursary Program, a program she started in partnership with AFABC to help foster kids attend university after aging out of government support. “Along the whole way,” Tracey remarks regarding the cause, “I’m thinking we should not exist because the government, as their parent, should be doing it, but in its absence, I’m not going to let these kids not be supported.” Tracey’s wish is for the obsolescence of her philanthropic involvement with foster kids due to improvements in government support. She highlights that the government has just announced several extensions and supports. “They are finally starting to understand that the kids in their care still need them after they turn nineteen.”

While Tracey looks ahead to her philanthropic journey, she also reflects on her previous path and how she can best advise up-and-coming financial professionals, especially young women. Aside from building long-term relationships of trust beyond the boardroom, Tracey emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning through reading voraciously, as well as carefully selecting which roles to occupy in the financial world.

McVicar confidently states that a love of reading will get someone a long way in the business world, indicating that it arms a young professional with knowledge of what happened in the past, who did well, and who made good decisions and handled various crises well. “Read history,” states Tracey. “Read about cycles and business success. Read Barbarians at the Gate. Read a biography of Warren Buffet. Read about Winston Churchill. It not only informs you and helps you avoid past mistakes, but it makes you an interesting person to your clients.”

Aside from being a perpetual industry student, Tracey’s other advice is to go where the revenue is. What she means by this is that early-stage professionals should find roles where they are involved in generating revenue for their employers. By way of example, Tracey states, “if you’re a Human Resources talent management specialist coming out of UBC, go to a recruiting firm, not the HR department in a manufacturing firm. Go where you represent the revenue, not the expense. A great unemployment insurance policy is to be a revenue generator — be close to the dollars.”

Tracey indicates that she’s the most over-mentored person you’ll ever meet, with too many people to thank, and now suggests that her mission is to help others. When asked about her most outstanding achievement, Tracey humbly states that it has yet to come. Reflecting philosophically, she expresses gratitude for the many people with whom she has built strong relationships over the years and emphasizes that her greatest achievement will be watching her son, Andrew, grow up to be happy and healthy and to support himself, a goal that looks like a foregone conclusion for a mother with her own steep trajectory of success. “I’m a kid from Marpole,” she reflects. “We didn’t even know anyone who worked downtown. I think that says a lot about our country and our community – it really isn’t ‘who you know.’ Hard work – and good luck – pays off.” The next chapter for Tracey will undoubtedly include creating an even more indelible impact in the community that has embraced her since her start in the early 90s.