Alumnus Credits Role Models for Success, Creates Path for Students of Color
I’ve benefitted greatly from my role models, so if someone is sincere in seeking out my experience or advice, I will absolutely give them my time. Hopefully, that person will pay it forward, and we’ll continue to create a pattern and legacy that will impact the world.
Over the past 30 years, Michael Blackshear ’91 has built a successful career as a risk and compliance professional with a passion to create an equitable playing field for all. He credits not only his hard work but also the influence of two great men — his father, the late Honorable Cornelius Blackshear and former Whitman School Dean Melvin Stith ’73 MBA, ’78 Ph.D. — for instilling in him grit, perseverance, scholarship and servant leadership.
His father encouraged him to study accounting or finance to have a solid background in business no matter the career he chose. Finance won out. “Looking back, finance was the foundation to enter into the compliance and risk management field,” he says.
Blackshear later obtained an MBA from St. John’s University and his juris doctorate from Fordham Law School, where he is an adjunct professor.
He went on to work in compliance and risk management advisory roles at places like KPMG, PwC, Marsh & McLennan Companies and Chubb Insurance before joining Ryan Specialty, an international insurance organization that provides solutions to brokers, agents and insurance Carriers.
Today, Blackshear serves as Ryan Specialty’s senior vice president, chief compliance and privacy officer and is head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). He is charged with maintaining and growing an effective compliance and regulatory risk management framework with the addition of a strategic mission to promote DE&I at the firm and build strong alliances within the insurance industry and communities in which colleagues live and work.
“Being a DE&I change agent in the insurance industry and creating a fair and equitable environment have been my passion for the last 30 years; it’s part of my DNA,” he says.
Blackshear has been recognized for this commitment, including being named as one of the 2022 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America by Savoy magazine.
It was a visit to campus in 2011 that cemented Blackshear’s commitment to the University and Whitman. At a University event, Blackshear met Stith, then dean of the Whitman School. The impact of an African American man in charge of the business school made a significant impression on him.
“In 1991, there were two students of color in my class — one was me — and I never saw anyone teaching who looked like me,” he explains. “A bit more than a decade later, there was an African American man leading the School. I spoke to the dean that day and developed a relationship with him. Over time, he challenged me to pay it forward as a successful African American professional. Dean Stith reminded me that we can climb to certain heights, but we can’t forget to lay down a path for others to follow.”
Blackshear has since become involved as an alumni leader for both the University and Whitman. He has twice chaired Whitman’s Coming Back Together Luncheon, part of the larger campus event celebrating Black and Latino alumni, and he is a member of the Whitman Management Advisory Board. As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a historically African American civic organization, Blackshear and his fraternity brother Derrick Hostler ’88 (A&S) spearheaded the reinstatement of the Kappa Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2017 to support future leaders of color at Syracuse University. In 2022, Blackshear endowed a scholarship in his name for students of color striving for a Whitman business degree.
In 2017, he received the Chancellor’s Citation and in 2021 was named a member of the Syracuse University Board of Trustees.
Blackshear’s involvement with the University and Whitman, as well as his career success, certainly mean a lot to him, but the guidance and advice he has received from others, particularly from his father and Stith, have made the biggest impact.
“I’ve benefitted greatly from my role models, so if someone is sincere in seeking out my experience or advice, I will absolutely give them my time,” he says. “Hopefully, that person will pay it forward, and we’ll continue to create a pattern and legacy that will impact the world.”
By Caroline K. Reff