His Blessed Life Informs His Career
By Glenda Cadogan
As the president/CEO of DASNY (Dormitory Authority of the State of New York), Reuben McDaniel’s job may not be what some consider to be “sexy.” Nevertheless, it is one of the most important cabinet positions in the state. As a public entity, the State’s physical infrastructures—from campus buildings to criminal justice centers and the transportation system—all need to be financed and constructed. As its main function, DASNY helps execute many of the state’s capital programs and assists other agencies in their construction projects. In fiscal year 2019-20, DASNY completed more than two dozen financings worth nearly $10 billion and managed more than 1,000 construction projects totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. “Our contributions allowed hospitals, universities, and state and local governments to meet the growing and changing needs of our taxpayers efficiently and cost effectively,” says McDaniel.
MWBEs Goals are a Priority
With a professional history in investment banking, public policy, and education, McDaniel assumed his position at DASNY in 2019. And, he is not shy about stating his resolve to making more opportunities available to people of color. His intentions are backed by a mandate set by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, long before his arrival. “Like lots of other commitments, it starts at the top,” says McDaniel, adding, “Governor Cuomo mandated that Minority and Women-owned Businesses (MWBEs) participate in the economics of the construction and finance sectors.” With a bar set at 30 percent participation in public projects, New York State has one of the most robust MWBE programs in the country. And in McDaniel, these MWBEs have one of its most hardy advocates. To his credit, he has met and in some cases exceeded the goal during his short tenure at DASNY. In fact since 2011, more than $1.5 billion in DASNY’s construction expenditures has gone to MWBEs.
A Blessed Life
Humbly, McDaniel acknowledges this is particularly important to him. He has lived “a blessed life.” He grew up in a two parent household with a mother who was the first African American Secretary of State in Texas and father, a professor at the University of Texas. His only sister is now a professor there as well. “One of the things of my upbringing that I did not realize before, but certainly now appreciate its value, is that my parents never talked about going to college. In our household it was just understood that it’s something you do. They both also took me to professional events where I was exposed to people who were doing well. I did not realize how much that’s unique in today’s society.”
Recognizing the big difference this made in his life, McDaniel’s entire career was informed by a determined effort to provide similar outcomes to others. “I look at people who may have come from more fragile backgrounds and I work toward creating the environment for positive exposure no matter what their family history.” In a brief departure from his career in investment banking and public policy, McDaniel served for four years as chair of the Atlanta School Board. But to whom much is given, much is required; so when he landed at the doors of DASNY, he embraced it as the intersection of his passions for math, finance, and public policy.
In a COVID-world where many people are working remotely and crises in healthcare and economics rule the world,
McDaniel says it would have been easy for his agency to put their goals and requirements on the back burner. “But we felt it was even more important to reach out to minority and women businesses to make sure they are competing for business in this economic recovery. We did not sleep on the job and I am very pleased with our execution during this time,” he added.
According to McDaniel, one of the bright spots to come out of the pandemic is an increased commitment to the infrastructure of the State of New York. “With the federal infrastructure package, state programs, as well as allocations in the state budget, there are a lot of opportunities for MWBEs to participate in the economic recovery of New York,” he says. “As a cabinet member I am committed to not only making sure DASNY plays our part but also other state agencies keep their eyes on the ball as well.”
Reimagining New York
Looking through his professional crystal ball, McDaniel says he sees “a reimagined New York.” In it, there are two major positive impacts: “Anyone who has a construction or financial background or an ancillary business that works with construction, will see a lot of economic opportunity in the next few years,” he explained. “Secondly, in New York we have an opportunity to rethink communities and do things differently that will benefit all of us as citizens. And I am excited about this.”
To emphasize his point, McDaniel points to an area like the World Trade Center in Manhattan, which he says—through its tragedy and destruction-—is now more accessible and residential in nature. “I think we are going to see this again after this crisis. And what comes out on the other side will be a newer, better, more thoughtful version of New York as a place to live, work, and learn.”
It is common for anyone in authority to have a pet project that warms the heart even on cold days. For McDaniel, this is the South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island. “We built this whole new, wonderful center and then COVID hit. In a matter of 30 days, we took those residential rooms and made them into healthcare stations complete with plugs and sinks, and opened it up to COVID patients. To see that happen so quickly is rewarding.”
People are Not Paper
With 30 years of experience in financial services, McDaniel also founded an investment advisory firm where he managed more than $50 million in investment portfolios and business assets for a variety of professionals. This gives him superstar-type status in the world of figures and numbers. But his drive and motivation are cradled in his life view that can be summed up simply as: “People are not paper. Nor are they figures or policy. People are people!” And this thought, says McDaniel, is what keeps him going. “You have to take it down to the people you are helping,” he said. “I do not think about the $2 billion transaction on the paper. I think about the people who are going to benefit. I think of the people in New York City housing; I think about the face of the kid in a new learning facility and, to him, it’s the best building he goes to every day. The work we do helps people. So it’s important for me to keep in communion with them; and that keeps me going.