Real estate developer Ian Reisner spent 15 years at Salomon Brothers. He remembers the consequences of coming out to his boss. This video is part of a “Profiles in Entrepreneurship” series with Start Out, which promotes entrepreneurship in the LGBT community. http://www.startout.org/
Topic: The business of coming out
Ian Reisner: I joined Salomon Brothers in 1990, this was the time when John Goodfriend was still there; this was the time that the book Liar’s Poker came out. I worked on a fixed income trading floor. There were big swinging dicks was established at that point. I worked in the most machismo masculine straight difficult environment. So bad. There were many times I wanted to quit because of the discriminatory behavior, the comments, the notes left on my desk. Fortunately, at one point, I came out to my boss and it turns out he was extremely homo-friendly and he was quite shocked that I was experiencing such a difficult time on the trading floor at Salomon Brothers. And what he did is he had a meeting with the entire trading floor one day when I went home and told people that in his environment, on this trading floor, there was going to be no discrimination, there wasn't going to be no making anybody uncomfortable. And Salomon was a very diverse culture; there were many minorities of every type working on the trading floor, there were many woman, and for that matter there were some gay people as well. I was the first person that I know of that actually came out on the Salomon trading floor and I was known as a gay guy, a gay professional, I was also a top salesman and I think people respected that I was so successful.
Coming out ended up being a good experience for me at Salomon and I was comfortable being out and forward about it and I think my clients for that matter, many of them knew I were gay and it worked fine and I would even get invitations to parties, both corporate as well as personal parties where my significant other was invited. My partner was invited to corporate outings. I was proud to be a leader in the gay community of being out and successful.
After I came out to my boss and in a very direct fashion he made it clear to everybody on the Salomon trading floor that making somebody that's gay uncomfortable would be totally unacceptable, it became much easier to work there. I think people generally speaking are not homophobes, they just go with the stereotypes but once they realize that one is among them it all falls in place. I think the same thing in the Army; everybody thinks that gays in the military are going to cause -- the opposite of cohesion. They are going to disrupt unit behavior, but it turns out most people don't have an issue with it but everybody thinks somebody else has an issue with it. So people don't have an issue, generally speaking, with gays and we're in a very liberal city in New York anyhow.
Question: What challenges do you face as a gay entrepreneur?
Ian Reisner: Any troubles starting a company being gay entrepreneur. In the real estate development business, being gay has been a bit of a challenge. Most of the people in the construction industry are pretty straight, pretty tough and I think that they might view gay men as a client as easier. We've had to be firm working with our construction crews and to make it clear that we're as tough and as nimble as any straight or gay businessman.
Question: What advantages do gay entrepreneurs have?
Ian Reisner: I think it is true that gay men, generally speaking, have the design gene, the designers touch. And being gay, I think, has helped us; we understand people's aesthetic wants, dreams, and desires and we're able to offer that product. I'm not sure if it's because we're gay but being gay I think has given us an aesthetic sensibility that's appreciated by gay and straight people. And I think that's been part of our success.
Question: Who is your favorite gay icon?
Ian Reisner: My favorite gay icon and why? This just shows I don't think about people gay or straight; I just think about people that are talented. My favorite gay icon would be the Head of the City Council in New York, Christine Quinn. Number two to the Mayor, talented, smart, open, out, vocal; that is a great icon. She's a real leader in the community, in the gay community, and she's a real spiritual leader in the city and she's a real leader of the city. So Christine Quinn would be my favorite gay icon.
Recorded on October 14, 2009