Dawson Her Many Horses is not your typical Wall Street guy. In fact, it was not where he’d first pursued his career. Recognizing the unique relationship between tribal governments as sovereign nations and state and federal governments, Dawson first set out for a career in law with a desire to serve as an advocate for Native American people.
This passion led him down a path into the banking world, where he has fast-tracked his career through a number of unique positions. Now serving as vice president of gaming industries at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Her Many Horses credits his flexibility and willingness to keep an open mind as the main drivers for his quick advancement.
“I grew up wanting to become an attorney,” Her Many Horses points out, “but I was open to suggestions and found a different path that still allowed me to achieve my passion of helping tribes.”
While studying at Columbia University in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in political science, Her Many Horses prepped himself for a future in law by taking an internship in the Office of General Counsel at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
This was an exciting opportunity, he says, and a far cry from his days growing up in a rural part of the Midwest.
“I grew up on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota, so it was a great experience to be able to take the subway down to Lower Manhattan two to three times a week,” he says. His experience at the Office of General Counsel was so propitious that he was hired on a part-time basis while continuing his education as a full-time student.
It was during this time that he was approached by a Merrill Lynch banker about the prospect of helping the firm build its Native American banking efforts through the gaming industry. “Gaming is a big driver of opportunity in Native America,” says Her Many Horses, “and the more we talked, the more the idea appealed to me.”
Presented with a real opportunity to improve the lives of Native American people, this conversation sparked the shift in his career from law to finance and economic development. Upon his graduation in 2004, Her Many Horses was appointed as director of Native American business development for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he developed and managed the Native American market strategy for Merrill’s investment banking, wealth management and asset management businesses.
Though his degree was not in finance, his hard work and dedication then led to a position as an investment banking analyst in the Native American gaming market in San Francisco. Her Many Horses went on to work for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association briefly before going back to school to obtain his MBA at Dartmouth College.
After college, he returned to Bank of America Merrill Lynch as an associate in its Charlotte office in North Carolina. His tenacity there afforded him the opportunity to leverage a VP position in the firm’s Las Vegas office, where he works today with clients all across the country.
All in all, Her Many Horses’ dedication to Native American tribes established an extraordinary career, leading him through a diversified set of roles in various locales across the United States. This includes sitting on the boards of the American Indian College Fund and Native American Finance Officers Association. As one of the youngest vice presidents in his division and founder of the Native American Professional Network at Bank of America, he encourages others to have the same flexibility with their careers in order to succeed, but cautions that it won’t be easy.
In the end, he says it comes down to doing what you love. “I encourage people to keep an open mind,” he says, “From a career perspective, this is also important, as job mobility in the corporate world is inherent. If you want to be successful in life, it’s going to require long hours and hard work. I encourage people to figure out what they’re passionate about and do it. A lot of our gaming clients, for example, aren’t located in Las Vegas, so I’m catching flights to different parts of the country three or four weeks a month. But I love working in gaming, as I see how it benefits our clients, particularly our tribal clients. So it’s a labor of love.”