By Cheryl Clemmons
Most college football players dream about a future in the National Football League, making millions and becoming superstars.
But while Robert Mackey, founder and co-managing partner of Paradise Equity Partners, a Charlotte private equity firm, was a linebacker at Winston-Salem State University, he and his mother Lydia, decided that he needed a backup plan “just in case” the pros didn’t come calling. “Those were some wise words,” Mackey said. “Mom stayed on me to keep my grades up and kept reminding me to plan ahead.”
And he did. While in college, Mackey studied hard and achieved the notable Street & Smith’s Black College Football All-American honors, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, and went on to play in the NFL for four years; then, he put his backup plan in motion.
Mackey quit professional football “with no regrets” and went on to hold high-level positions in the business world. He worked as director of Global Sports and Entertainment for Morgan Stanley, working with professional athletes and entertainers. He also worked for Merrill Lynch in wealth management and with the NFL Player Engagement’s leadership and advocacy group, helping to bridge access to underserved minority communities.
Then, the Fort Mill, South Carolina, native set out to live another dream – owning his own business. Mackey launched Paradise Equity Partners in 2021. The firm brings together sports, entertainment and technology — the fastest-growing businesses worldwide. He brings these sectors together financially and culturally to invest in innovation and growth opportunities.
Paradise Equity Partners is dedicated to education and professional development through its training and recruitment program which targets minorities while producing a high-quality workforce and providing entrance to an industry that historically lacks diversity. Mackey said the firm will soon start accepting interns and hiring new employees.
More people of color need to be exposed the private equity investment business, Mackey said. “White companies have been doing this kind of investing for generations. We’ve only been involved in this for the past 10 years. …We need to expand our reach.”
He added, “When you look across the private equity landscape, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than a few African Americans in any of the firms in the U.S. Ours is a diverse and inclusive firm. In addition to our team, we will be intentional with our efforts to prepare minorities for opportunities with other firms and investment banks.”
Another aspect of the business is to connect culture to the financial industry and to provide education and professional development through the company’s training and recruitment program. That initiative targets underrepresented minorities while producing a high-quality workforce and providing an entrance to an industry that historically lacks diversity, Mackey said.
Paradise Equity Partners’ primary investor is Hugh McColl Jr., former Bank of America Chairman andCEO, and founder of McColl Partners.. McColl has served as Mackey’s mentor in the financial industry, believes in his vision and is one of his biggest fans.
“Robert is both knowledgeable and confident, and that is key in this profession,” McColl said in a news release. “Over the years, Mackey has cultivated a strong, worldwide network of industry leaders in sports.”
The two men were introduced at a breakfast meeting, where Mackey said “a few things” that McColl liked, and that introduction led to other meetings. Their alliance steadily grew, professionally and personally.
“A lot of people like us don’t have a network and Mr. McColl has helped me tremendously,” Mackey said.
“I’ve always wanted to be a businessman,” he said. “I used to walk around Uptown Charlotte when I was a teenager and see everybody in their nice suits, carrying briefcases, and as much as I liked playing football, I was really drawn to that kind of life. I could see myself being successful, having an office and making money. I really like how things turned out. Looks like mom was right.”