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Northwestern University

Paths: Sean Harte

Sean Harte ’87 spurs economic growth for his clients and his tribe

Growing up in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, a working-class, ethnic enclave on the city’s northwest side, Sean Harte found few role models, particularly any who shared his Native American bloodlines.

That all changed when Harte, an enrolled member of the Menominee Indian tribe, arrived at Northwestern in 1983. He encountered classmates who would become prominent surgeons, public-sector leaders and corporate executives, as well as thought-provoking professors such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills.

“When you don’t have role models in your life, you look for them, and I found plenty at Northwestern,” the now 51-year-old Harte says.

Inspired, Harte developed the self-confidence he needed to pursue once-unthinkable goals: an MBA from Dartmouth followed by positions at Lehman Brothers, Chase Bank and Mesirow Financial, where he established the Chicago-based firm’s commodities unit.

“My whole experience at Northwestern opened doors I didn’t think were available to a kid from Albany Park,” Harte says.

It’s a ride he easily could have missed.

At 17, Harte had decided to forgo college for a job as a trading-floor clerk at the Chicago Board of Trade. For three years at the bastion of capitalism, Harte relished the market’s intense beat; he was tempted to stay, but sensed he needed to learn more about the foundations of business. He decided to apply to Northwestern and major in economics.

Harte enrolled as a commuter student and paid for his tuition through savings, scholarships, student loans and work-study jobs. Each summer, he returned to the CBOT to work in the trading pits. The value of his liberal arts education quickly became apparent: he was becoming a more nuanced thinker, able to approach economic issues from multiple perspectives.

“I became better at sifting through ideas, which is critical when you’re trying to analyze issues that influence lives and markets,” Harte says.

In 2010, after working for some of America’s largest financial companies, Harte began to hunger for an entrepreneurial endeavor that would strengthen his ties to his Native American roots. He founded the Keshena Group, a commodities and financial futures brokerage with offices in suburban Chicago and the Menominee Nation Reservation in Wisconsin. With a multi-million-dollar tribal investment, the firm is expanding into traditional investment banking services as Tribal Capital Markets, LLC.

Harte now works to improve the economic prospects for his clients and his tribe, has served on the Menominee Nation’s budget and finance committee, and has emerged as a role model for others.

“I feel I’m among the next generation of tribal leaders, and that’s a duty I embrace,” Harte says. “I recognize how important it is for people to see leaders who are connected and committed.”   

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