John Burnett’s Biography
Provided by the Burnett campaign
John is a natural entrepreneur with an innate business sense. At six years old, he started selling candy to classmates, optimizing the opportunity to sell sweets before and after lunch. A few years later, he honed his culinary skills and baked oatmeal cookies from scratch, hiring his mother and three sisters to sell the homemade goodies to their coworkers and friends.
John’s first job was passing out flyers for a jewelry store in Queens Village after school when he was in the eighth grade. By the time he reached his sophomore year in high school, he was managing the jewelry store. After graduating from Andrew Jackson High School, he worked as a cashier at Pathmark. “It was my first experience as a union guy,” said John. “For me it was normal, both my parents were union workers.”
John’s first encounter with investing money began while growing up in East New York and Jamaica, Queens. His mother insisted he tithe 10 percent of his snack allowance at the church his family attended in Brooklyn. “Don’t rob God,” she’d say. “If you sow good seed, it will come back to you.” That moral voice has guided John throughout his personal and professional life.
After one year at Borough of Manhattan Community College – “I was bored and itching to go where the money is – Wall Street “ – John started his 20‐ year career in finance as a margin analyst at then, Dean Witter Reynolds, which became Morgan Stanley. “They invested in a 20‐year‐old kid who, at the time, had only a dream and a willingness to work hard.
Looking back, Dean Witter and me both got an incredible return,” said John. John subsequently worked at Smith Barney where he rose to vice president and Merrill Lynch as director. But there was one pledge John failed to keep to his parents and that was to graduate from college.
So, while managing a budding Wall Street career, he enrolled at New York University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in four year by attending class after work, while leading a division at Citigroup. “Every year, I enrolled in 10 to 12 credits per semester and about 16 credits during the summer while leading my division. My mother was sick with congestive heart failure and I made her promise she would live to see me graduate. She died a few months before I walked across the stage, but she knew that I had the determination to reach my goal and she was there with me in spirit.”
John went on to earn a MBA at Cornell University and continued to climb the corporate ladder at Merrill Lynch and The McGraw‐Hill companies.
Throughout John’s career in the financial services industry, he learned how to manage money and people in a highly interdependent global economy where a tsunami in Thailand or terrorist bombing at a London subway can have a substantial impact on investment within minutes.
John has overseen financial advisers and global wealth portfolio managers at the world’s most prestigious financial institutions including Morgan Stanley, Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch. He has led global compliance training initiatives on business ethics, corporate governance, enterprise risk management, audit reviews and regulatory examination; all of which served to enhance operations, effectiveness of target operating models and organizational policies to achieve optimal results.
When he was asked how his experience relates to the responsibilities of comptroller, John stated: “My parents relied heavily on their pensions, especially later in their lives when they were challenged with heart disease and cancer. I will never forget that as New York City Comptroller, we are not just seeking a positive return on investments, we are investing for people like my parents and millions of New Yorker’s retirement and wellbeing to secure their future in good health and in challenging times. My experience working with myriad investment products, audit and governance affords me a unique perspective on what is needed to optimize pension fund performance and operational effectiveness of our city agencies.”
Recent CBSNewYork coverage of John Burnett: