Growing up in inner-city Trenton, N.J., Gabrielle Sulzberger could not have foreseen where her life would take her. A focused, conscientious student, she graduated in the early 1980s from Princeton, where she was one of the few African American women, then she went to Harvard Law School and HBS, finding her niche in socially responsible investing.
In 2005, Sulzberger cofounded Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, a Pasadena, Calif.–based private equity fund that focuses on the evolving Hispanic demographic, particularly out West. “We felt that was not only an underserved market in terms of entrepreneurs, but also in terms of a broader market opportunity,” says Sulzberger. “My dad was an entrepreneur of color, so I grew up with the kinds of issues and challenges that minority entrepreneurs can face with regard to access to capital and how critical that can be for an emerging company.”
At a time when women hold just 16 percent of board seats, according to federal government statistics, Sulzberger is active on several, including Whole Foods, Brixmor and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Last July, she was named to the board of the Ford Foundation. “Having the opportunity to bring my perspective to this foundation that has such an impact both in the United States and globally is really exciting,” she says. “If we can do it well at Ford, it sets an example of possibilities for other kinds of organizations that can be really impactful.”