Pursuit of a Financial Genius -Remembering Travers Bell Jr.
by Rick W. Johnson
Martin Luther King’s birthday not only represents a time to pay tribute to his legacy, but to those who followed him through doors formerly never opened to Black people. While most of us are familiar with the Chris Gardner story as told in the movie Pursuit of Happiness, many don’t know the story of Travers Bell Jr. Bell was the founder of the first and only black-owned member firm of the New York Stock Exchange. While his tragic death at the young age of 46 was a great loss, his achievements on Wall Street as a successful entrepreneur and global business icon represented the realization of black genius.
In 1970 with $175,000 in capital, Mr. Bell with co-founder Willie E. Daniels opened Daniels & Bell Inc. the first black securities bond firm on Wall Street. Under Bell’s leadership the firm focused on underwriting municipal products but the real achievement begins with being able to acquire a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In recent times the cost of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange easily runs into the millions of dollars.
Mr. Bell was raised on the south side of Chicago, and like MLK, had a dream. His dream was starting his own investment firm after becoming exposed to the business from his own father, Travers Bell Sr. Equipped with a degree from Washington University in St. Louis and the New York Institute of Finance, his career rose quickly and soon found himself as a VP at Dempsey Tegler and Company.
Travers Bell Jr. launched Daniels and Bell, the first black owned bond trading firm in 1971.
Upon seeing his dream come to fruition in the founding of his own company, Travis reached out to black leaders and mayors to originate community financing and development deals. With a unique ability to identify underserved markets, he would use his urban background to develop relationships in the US as well as abroad. Yet he also stresses:
“that while being a unique black owned business opens some doors, in the world of money its performance that ultimately counts”
Travers Bell’s firm which became known as the Dan Bell Group, would execute deals in Africa, had a majority ownership stake in a bank, its own investment advisory firm, a commodity trading business, and its flagship muni bond business. Bells interest in commodities and cocoa would even steer him into acquiring Chocoline, a chocolate company.
African American pioneers can get lost in history, so upon MLK day it is fitting to pay our respects to an unsung hero from the financial world, Travers Bell Jr.
He is one of two investors I can think of who possessed the keen vision to foresee the opportunity in chocolate. Warren Buffet would purchase See’s Candies in 1972.