Vincent Mai grew up in South Africa in the Eastern Cape. He attended Grey High School in Port Elizabeth and studied accounting at the University of Cape Town. He is a qualified Chartered Accountant.
Mai moved to London from South Africa in 1965 to join S.G. Warburg & Company, the former Merchant Bank founded by Sir Siegmund Warburg, where he became an executive director. Mai stated that Warburg had a considerable influence on him.
Mai left London for New York in 1976 to become a partner at Lehman Brothers. Having worked with a number of European and U.S. businesses on their strategic and capital-raising needs, Mai became head of Lehman Brother’s international investment banking business and co-head of all its investment banking activities.
In 1989, after fourteen years with Lehman Brothers, Mai became CEO of AEA Investors, a firm founded in 1968 to make investments on behalf of S.G. Warburg & Co., as well as the Rockefeller, Mellon, and Harriman families. He later became chairman of AEA in 1998. Mai took a hands-on approach to his tenure as head of AEA and was actively involved in AEA’s decision-making process on all its investments He also implemented operating improvements in AEA’s portfolio companies and worked with management teams to build businesses. By the end of his leadership in 2011, AEA was named among the ‘Top 10 Consistent Performing Buyout Fund Managers’ by research firm Preqin. During his time at the company, Mai also served on the boards of many AEA portfolio companies and chaired the AEA Mezzanine Fund and the AEA Small Business Fund.
During his career, Mai has served as chairman of the board of directors of Burt's Bees, and has been a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, of which he remains a member.
Mai is chairman of the board of Sesame Workshop, producers of Sesame Street, the children’s educational television program. He also serves on the boards of the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Juilliard School, and is a former trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Mai is also a member of the advisory board of Global Integrity. Additionally, Mai formerly chaired the board of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center.
In 2009, Mai was honoured at the National Leadership Awards, a dinner co-sponsored by the Merage Foundation for the American Dream and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The awards recognise the outstanding achievements of US immigrants.
In December 2012, Mai was honoured at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights' Ripple of Hope Awards Dinner
Vincent's son, James Mai is a founder of Cornwall Capital featured in the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis.