CEOS

'We saw cold-blooded murder' — Citigroup's Ray McGuire to CEOs: This time must be different

Key Points
  • Citigroup Vice Chairman Ray McGuire implored corporate leaders to take real steps to combat systemic racism following the death of George Floyd. 
  • "We welcome the millions of dollars. We welcome the relatable messages, but we need to do more," McGuire told CNBC. 
  • "Maybe this time is different because there's no confusion. We saw cold-blooded murder," McGuire said.
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Citigroup's Ray McGuire: George Floyd's death was 'cold-blooded murder'

Citigroup Vice Chairman Ray McGuire implored corporate leaders Wednesday to take real steps to combat systemic racism following the death of George Floyd. 

"We welcome the millions of dollars. We welcome the relatable messages, but we need to do more," McGuire said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "This is a defining moment in the course of American history, and we ought to take that moment. Otherwise, it will have been another sad day in the neighborhood." 

McGuire, one of the most prominent black executives in finance, said Floyd's death and the subsequent wave of protests and activism have the potential to create lasting change. He pointed to the diverse backgrounds of protesters across ages and races. 

"Maybe this time is different because there's no confusion. We saw cold-blooded murder," McGuire said, referring to the video of Floyd laying on the ground with a white Minneapolis police officer's knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd cried out that he could not breathe. All four officers involved in the Memorial Day arrest have been fired and criminally charged

McGuire said his 7-year-old son asked his wife about the video, saying, "'Mommy, is he going to do that to me? And Mommy, will he do that to you? Will he do that to Papa?'" 

McGuire, chairman of Citigroup's banking, capital markets and advisory business, said Floyd is part of the "innocent dead, from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin to Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor to Eric Garner." 

Now, after Floyd's funeral Tuesday in Houston, McGuire added: "Let this not just be another stop by another grave marker." 

'Education was our ticket' 

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Citigroup's Ray McGuire: 'Education was our ticket'

McGuire said one way the U.S. can begin to address racial inequality is through the education system. Growing up "the other side of the tracks" in Dayton, Ohio, McGuire said the opportunity to be bused to the suburbs beginning in middle school helped make his more than 30-year Wall Street career possible.

"This is not about me. This is about all those kids who look like me and many who don't," said McGuire, a graduate of Harvard's law and business schools. "Education was our ticket. And today, the educational system is simply reflective of the institutional racism that we've experienced for at least 400 years." 

Another black business leader, Kenneth Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, told CNBC last week his life also was altered by being bused from inner-city Philadelphia to a school more than an hour away.

"I know for sure that what put my life on a different trajectory was that someone intervened to give me an opportunity, to close that opportunity gap," he said. "And that opportunity gap is still there."

McGuire said corporate America needs to have courage in the months and years ahead.

"We need to have the conviction to change the mindset," he said, arguing that charitable giving and statements alone "do not begin to get to the systemic racism." 

"I live through the crisis and the systemic racism every single day, but I say, 'Maybe George Floyd is different,'" said McGuire, who has been mentioned as a possible New York mayoral candidate in next year's election.  

Asked about a possible run, McGuire said he has "received similar phone calls" asking him the same question. He said he believes leaders must decide how they will make a difference. 

"We need to do whatever we can and commit every resource that we have ... to combat this 400 years of systemic racism across every one of the important areas: education, economics, criminal injustice and health care," McGuire said. "I will do whatever it is that I can ... to take on, or to continue to have, a leadership role in this great city of ours."