Jan 15 • 3 min read
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“Why do I give back?” is not a complicated question for Joel Motley to answer.

Joel Motley

For Motley, who was the Executive in Residence presentation for the Finance Department at the Fox School of Business this fall, philanthropy is in his blood. His mother, Constance Baker Motley, was a leader of the African-American civil rights movement, lawyer, judge, state senator and Borough President of Manhattan, New York City.

The Executive in Residence series exposes students to the experiences of accomplished business executives. During his discussion with Fox undergraduate and graduate students, Motley shared lessons from his career and explored topics such as municipal finance, sustainable investing and U.S. infrastructure. 

Motley is a retired investment banker, who provided advice on capital markets to U.S. cities and developing countries. He is Chairman Emeritus of the board of Human Rights Watch and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Budget and Finance Committee. He also serves as an independent director of the Board of the Office of Finance of the Federal Home Loan Bank System and the mutual fund board of Invesco.

“I have lived a fortunate life, and it has always been important for me to give back to the society that made it possible for me to live as well as I do,” says Motley. “Being involved in nonprofit work expands your consciousness—you learn about things like human rights, climate change and can get involved in the art world. It expands your horizons, contacts and sense of purpose.”

Constance Baker Motley

Prior to his current roles and involvement in the nonprofit world, Motley was an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, serving as chief of the Senator’s staff in New York City and surrounding counties. He joined the Senate staff after five years of practicing corporate law. 

When Motley decided it was time for a career shift, he was introduced to public finance—which combined his background in law and politics. 

“Finance and law are a unique combination and very valuable. Law is a good foundation for any career path,” he says. “I did not go to business school, but my background in corporate law and understanding of things like banking law and loan agreements gave me a good sense of how the documentation and legal agreements around finance work.” 

From watching his mother and navigating his own career, Motley learned that it is important to have a ‘cause’ or a guiding principle in adult life.

“With a cause attached to what you are doing, you learn things around your chosen career and in other fields. It’s an anchor set of issues to attach meaning to,” Motley says. 

There have been various causes throughout the course of Motley’s career. What drove him through 20 years of working in public finance was improving the infrastructure of the U.S.  

“Deals I worked on, from sewer bonds to airport and roadway improvements, made communities stronger. Working in mutual funds, you’re helping people invest and save money so that they can build financial security for themselves, their retirement, their families.”

Executive in ResidenceFinanceHuman Rights WatchMunicipal FinanceNonprofitPhilanthropySustainable InvestingUS Infrastructure