Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM) head of retail multi-asset funds Justin Onuekwusi has been awarded the Freedom of the City of London in recognition of his work promoting inclusivity within the asset management industry
The accolade dates back to 1237 and is handed to individuals who have achieved success, recognition or celebrity in their chosen field. The list of previous freemen includes members of the royal family, prime ministers, international leaders, entrepreneurs and academics, and those in the arts and entertainment.
As well as leading LGIM’s retail multi-asset funds, Onuekwusi (pictured) is one of the co-founders of the #talkaboutblack movement which was launched three years ago dedicated to discussing the issues affecting people of colour.
Since then he has been instrumental in a number of events and initiatives to encourage inclusivity with the industry, including a student event last year in collaboration with the City of London, Investment 20/20 and the Diversity Project which connected 100 students of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds to 30 different asset managers.
Earlier this month, senior black professionals in the investment industry, including Onuekwusi, teamed up with #talkaboutblack and the Diversity Project to launch the #IAM campaign across social media aimed at raising awareness of racism.
Onuekwusi was also part of a recent webinar panel who spoke candidly and about their experiences as black people in the industry and offered constructive solutions firms and individuals can take to address the issues around racism.
He told ESG Clarity‘s sister title Portfolio Adviser he was “surprised and shocked” to pick up the award when considering the list of names who had received it in the past. “It’s definitely a privilege and one I’m proud of,” he said.
“The best text I’ve had today is from my mum saying, ‘Congratulations, Justin, I’m very proud of you’,” he added.
Onuekwusi stressed that the achievement so far was down to the contribution of a lot of people, not just one individual.
“It’s great for me to pick up an award but the team at LGIM have been phenomenal, the team at #talkaboutblack have been phenomenal in helping to drive change. And, look, there’s still a lot of work to do, right? The work has only just started. If we really want to get a more inclusive culture, not only across asset management but across society, then we’ve all got to work on this.”
Industry members were quick to congratulate Onuekwusi after he posted about the achievement on Twitter.
Wellian Investment Solutions chief investment officer Richard Philbin said: “Well deserved. Am proud of you, but I bet that is only a fraction of how proud you feel yourself. Congratulations.”
Square Mile senior investment consultant Jake Moeller said: “Well done @JustinOnuekwusi – well deserved indeed!”
LGIM head of inclusion and culture Colette Comerford added: “Wow, amazing news! Delighted for you.”
A limited number of freemen are admitted each year by the clerk to the chamberlain of the City of London during a ceremony at Guildhall. Given lockdown, Onuekwusi said it would be a virtual event but he would “post pictures soon”.
There are several ways to apply for the Freedom: by servitude, by patrimony, by nomination or by presentation via a livery company. Previous freemen include Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Judy Dench and JK Rowling.
According to the City of London website, the medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. “Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom’ of the City,” it said.
“From the Middle Ages and the Victorian era, the Freedom was the right to trade, enabling members of a Guild or Livery to carry out their trade or craft in the Square Mile. In 1835, the Freedom was widened to incorporate not just members of livery companies but also people living or working in the City or those with a strong London connection.”