I met him in the summer of 2006. I still remember our first date – we went rollerblading around the Stanley Park seawall and we bonded over our mutual passion for creativity and he shared with me his vision for creating a company to help match people to their ideal corporate culture. And in July 2008, his company, Jiibe, described as “Monster meets Match.com with a dash of LinkedIn” was named as one of the top 20 Canadian Web 2.0 companies by Backbone magazine and KPMG.
Fast forward to today. Sadly Jiibe didn’t make it through the recession, but our relationship did and we are now married with two young boys. I now realize how truly visionary Greg was, as back in August 2008 in an interview, with Sean Moffitt, he stated: “Jiibe wants to help people identify the best companies and shift the other companies towards that ideal…the greatest insight was finding out how many companies are really open to this global transition towards greater authenticity – greater trust. Those companies, from the data, clearly will attract the best people and have the most engaged staff.”
Greg has been the muse behind Brady Capital Research (BCR), as he made me aware of the exposing disruptive force of social media and inspired me to look into corporate culture. One of the first business strategy books I read, back in 2006, was “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time”. I have to admit that back then, I was still mired in the numbers-focused mindset of a traditional sell-side analyst and didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom of Howard Schultz’s words: “Whatever your culture, your values, your guiding principles – you have to take steps to inculcate them in the organization early in its life so they can guide every decision, every hire, every strategic objective you set.” But as I reflect in the BCR Insight I wrote six years later, titled “Starbucks: The Value in Values”, this “was really the turning point in my career as a Analyst to start thinking about companies in a more holistic sense.”
The exciting news is we are starting to see the emergence of a new class of visionary leaders that are embracing this kind of higher level of thinking. At the 2013 Wisdom 2.0 Conference, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, confided: “Nine years ago I would have rolled my eyes at culture and values. …Today I would argue that culture and values are our most competitive advantage.” And in their highly insightful business strategy book “The Method Method”, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, co-founders of Method (a Certified B Corporation company), write: “In our surplus economy, success depends on creating brands and products that stand out, and such innovations are best delivered through open, collaborative cultures…In contrast to other critical corporate assets, a vibrant company culture doesn’t show up on a balance sheet. It cannot be inventoried, valued, or written off.”
At Brady Capital Research, we look for companies that have authentic core values and strong corporate cultures. In our recently published in-depth research report titled “Zillow: Disrupting the $75 Billion Realtor-Centric Machine” we discuss how Zillow’s greater purpose to “lead a revolution in online real estate to empower consumers” and its authentic core values create a strong corporate culture, enabling it to build a thriving ecosystem. As Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, states in his September 2013 LinkedIn Influencer article titled “How I Hire: Nothing Matters More than Cultural Fit“: “At Zillow, and other technology companies, our people are our most important asset.”
One of the best presentations Greg and I attended at last year’s SXSW Interactive Conference featured John Gerzema who spoke on his just published book “The Athena Doctrine”: “In a highly interconnected and interdependent economy, masculine traits like aggression and control (which are largely seen as “independent”) are considered less effective than the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit.” As I listened to John Gerzema speak, I couldn’t help but think of Jiibe, as most of the culture traits on the left side of the spectrum were “masculine” (e.g. internal, competitive, restricting, guarded). It’s interesting as when I took the Jiibe survey back in 2007, I was still firmly entrenched in the male-dominated hyper-competitive capital markets mindset, and was proud of the fact that I scored mainly to the left. But the world has changed in the past seven years as social media has led to a new Social Era characterized by transparency, connectedness, and stakeholder empowerment. Quite honestly, I am struggling to figure out where I fit into this new world as everything that used to have value (my CFA designation, my ability to analyze companies, my professional contacts) was premised on a model of closed walls and scarcity. Although I was in denial at first, I have realized that I need to shift the way I work and I have started to become more cooperative, balanced, empowering, and transparent.
I think more and more companies will soon face the reality that in order survive and thrive in this highly disruptive new Social Era, they will also need to figure out how to shift their culture towards being more open. This will create a significant market opportunity for culture change consultants, as although online culture assessments can identify the culture gaps, the reality is that most large companies will need experts to champion and guide their culture transformation. The good news is there is no shortage of culture change experts as according to LinkedIn, there are nearly 250 firms and over 20,000 professionals in the US and Canada alone.
Through the Conscious Capitalism community, Greg connected with Gerry McDonough, the Co-Founder and CEO of LeadFirst, and has been working closely with him and his team the past two years while building Diialog, his new enterprise version of Jiibe. In addition to allowing LeadFirst to offer a leading-edge culture management platform to its corporate clients, Diialog saves LeadFirst valuable time and money as it is much more cost effective and efficient. In December, LeadFirst piloted Diialog with the HR department of an energy company and since then, they have rolled it out to a media company and a healthcare company.
It is great to see companies using Diialog, but what I’m even more excited about is that Greg is staying true to his greater purpose of “helping people find their ideal culture” and will be launching Open Diialog early this Fall. Although it took eight years for the dots to connect, I think it is now the ideal time to start “An Open Diialog on Culture”.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.” – Steve Jobs – Stanford commencement, June 2005
Disclaimer: I have a LONG position in LinkedIn Corporation (LNKD-NYSE), Starbucks Corporation (SBUX-NASDAQ), and Zillow Inc. (Z-NASDAQ).