SPECIAL EPISODE: Diversity Matters in the Middle Market, brought to you by the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) and Connection Builders.
Ernie Lyles was always incredibly ambitious, and at the Howard University School of Law, Ernie gained the confidence which made him realize what he was capable of. Starting his finance career with a summer internship at a bulge-bracket investment banking firm, he excelled. Ernie Lyles is the founder and CEO of The HiGro Group, a New York-based private equity firm focusing on middle-market companies. Ernie shares his view on how diversity offers organizations a competitive advantage and why properly understanding and embracing this complex concept is the best way to optimize success.
Key Points From This Episode:
- What Ernie’s path to investment banking looked like, and the success his company, The HiGro Group, has experienced over the past five years.
- The complexity of the concept of diversity, and the importance of having a universal understanding of it.
- Why having diversity in your organization gives you a competitive advantage.
- Limits of having a homogenous workforce.
- The history of Howard University, and what Ernie gained through being educated there.
- Disadvantages of not being exposed to the achievements of people who look like you.
- The summer internship that changed the course of Ernie’s life.
- Examples of the many different layers of diversity.
- Advice for leaders who want to enhance diversity within their organizations.
[00:00:02] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast, where industry leaders share their compelling growth stories and the unseen challenges they have overcome. Our goal is to inform and inspire our listeners to take action and make diversity, equality, and inclusion a pillar of your organization. This is a production of the Association for Corporate Growth, ACG, and Connection Builders
[00:00:24] AD: Hi, everyone. Welcome to an episode of the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we’re joined by Ernie Lyles, founder and Chief Executive Officer of The HiGro Group, a New York-based private equity firm focusing on middle-market companies. Ernie shares his view on the value that diversity brings, and how organizations can optimize their outcomes by being committed and creative in their approach to sourcing talent. All right. Let’s jump in.
Ernie, welcome to the Diversity Matters Podcast. Excited to have you here today.
[00:00:57] EL: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Alex. It’s a pleasure.
[00:01:00] AD: Ernie, why don’t we start off and let’s just get a little bit of background, and share a little bit about who you are and what you do and then we’ll take the conversation from there.
[00:01:07] EL: Yeah, man. Again, thanks for having me. Ernie Lyles, I’m a founder and CEO of what’s called The HiGro Group, which is a private investment vehicle. That’s my day job. I love it a lot. But I think there’s probably a lot more to my background than just being a private investor. I think for context, and where I think this matters, is really knowing that, unlike a lot of folks who are in the private investment world, I kind of came up through a unique route, I actually grew up in West Virginia, so I wasn’t necessarily the typical type of person that had the Wall Street training, or the Wall Street background. But I grew up in West Virginia, was fortunate enough to meet some great people along the way. During actually what was law school instead of business school at HBCU, historically black college or Howard University, actually got the opportunity to be an intern at a very large global investment bank. That one shot turned into 10 years of good training with some great mentors, which I’ll go into a little bit later. Ultimately, that gave me enough confidence to be crazy enough to be an entrepreneur. For the last five years, I’ve been building The HiGro group where we’ve had some, some really good traction and success, helping great companies, helping great people, acquiring those companies and growing them and really making an impact in the world.
[00:02:31] AD: Excellent background. Excellent story that you have. I want to dive back into that in a minute. But really, where I want to start our conversation for today is around this idea of demystifying diversity. This is something you and I talked about before when we were prepping for this, is kind of the theme around, let’s demystify what does diversity actually mean? But before we even get to that, why do we have to demystify to begin with? Why don’t you share some open thoughts around that?
[00:02:55] EL: I’m glad that we came up with that title, first of all. I think, the context, I think that when we started talking, we immediately said, “Oh! Tell people why diversity is good,” or, “Why should we have this conversation?” Or, “We need to have this conversation.” It’s like, well, wait a minute, I think there’s a big issue around folks really having their own views and definition of what diversity is. I thought that, you know, if you go and you talk to anybody, I think, about 90% of the people across the globe go, “Oh, yeah. Diversity is good.” But then if you start to say, “Well, how do we enact this? How do we enact that?” That’s when they start backing off. I think, to some extent, before we could have real substantive conversations, I think we need to really clarify what diversity is and sort of gain a full understanding of that, so that way, folks can celebrate it, but also enact it. Because I think a lot of folks want it, but I think we just need to have sort of the same equal meaning for it.
[00:03:52] AD: I completely agree with that. I do think for most people you talk to, that they will agree that diversity is important, it’s something they want to strive for. But to your point, there’s not always a clear understanding of what do we mean by that? For the context of our conversation today, when you say diversity, what do you mean? What does diversity mean? Then ultimately, why is it important?
[00:04:11] EL: I think diversity means a range or a breadth of things. Not one single point. Those things, sort of generally speaking, candidly speaking, a lot of times when people hear diversity, they immediately go to race, or gender or what have you. Right? It is incredibly complex, and it needs to go to race, it needs to go to gender, needs to go to the type of person one is. But it also needs to reflect different ideas. It reflects different experiences, different educational backgrounds, all of those things that I think, as we’ll talk about a little later, will show that when you do have diversity, it’s really a means for competitive advantage. That’s what we think about when we think about diversity.
[00:04:51] AD: Why is it competitive advantage?
[00:04:53] EL: If you’ve ever only been able to do like one thing, I consider that person born. I grew up playing basketball, and the first thing they tell you once you get to finally dribble with your right hand is like, “Okay, yeah. But this person can’t go left.” You begin to predict the same pattern that they had, this one single move, one direction. That’s challenging, and it limits your ability to excel in a way. Sort of a one trick pony, as they say. I believe fundamentally in people, organizations in the same way I would athletes, to have sort of a range of tools to be able to deploy, so that no matter the situation you’re up against, you’re fully equipped to be able to take advantage of opportunities.
[00:05:38] AD: I think the point you’re driving at is, in today’s world, especially speaking to our kind of target audience behind this show, being the ACG community, the deal professionals, within M&A professionals, investment professionals, attorneys, bankers, everybody else involved in that ecosystem, the reality is you’re dealing with a very dynamic and complex world and you’re making decisions constantly. That’s the root of what you do, especially you as an investor, you’re making complex decisions about an ever-changing hyperdynamic world. If I’m going to do that, doing that with a homogenous mindset, where everyone has similar worldview, similar experience, similar background, what happens if I’m approaching it that way?
[00:06:26] EL: Well, look, sometimes you win still, so let’s be clear. Right?
[00:06:30] AD: Fair enough.
[00:06:31] EL: I think there are plenty of homogenous, very successful, folks, particularly financially, but like, is that optimized? No. I think what you’re shooting for is optimal outcomes. I think when you start to talk about the complexity and where the world is going, what you don’t want to be is suboptimal. Because ultimately, they’re going to be more and more folks and we see it today that aren’t homogeneous, that you’re competing against, but it’s not a death knell. If the goal is to create alpha, and to be competitive against your peers, then you want to have sort of the best thoughts. You want to have the best range of experiences. You want to have people who don’t necessarily think like you, talk like you, look like you. We can go deeper into that. But you know, I think what you’re trying to do is achieve the best outcomes. As the world changes, that’s going to be a requirement just to stay relevant.
[00:07:24] AD: I like the word optimize. You don’t have to have diversity to be successful. It’s not a requirement. But the idea of when you do build a diverse team with a group of individuals that don’t think like you, that don’t necessarily act like you, that they come from different world experiences, it does bring additional insights that can help you better solve problems and ultimately, optimize the outcomes, optimize what the end result is. I think that’s a good framing behind it. You’d mentioned alpha and this idea that I can gain above market returns by making better decisions. How I make better decisions is because I have a more diverse team. Let’s talk about how that happens. By me having a diverse team, how do I actually make better decisions? What does that actually do for me?
[00:08:13] EL: It starts with intent. I think success, going back to the point of being “successful” without diversity. As a kid who grew up in an incredible small town, the town was incredible. I think that I probably could have stayed there for all of my life and to some extent, defined myself as successful that way. But the reality was, there was a much larger world. I even look at New York as being fairly small now, even though I came from a town of a couple of thousand folks. The reason is, is because I was inquisitive, had a bigger vision about what the world is, I’m also competitive. If I’m in the minor leagues, if you will, and say, “Well, you know what? I’m the best batter in the minor leagues.” Great, I guess I could feel good about that. But I define success as a constant evolution, a constant new challenges, et cetera.
I don’t think anybody could be successful if they limited themselves to a very homogeneous way of thinking or a homogeneous set of folks that you deal with. Then candidly, when you get to the major leagues, what you realize is you’re outdated. You’re either outdated, you’re irrelevant, you’re stuck, so there’s a rude awakening, if you will. Either, “Whoa! This is what the players are doing. And guess what, like, I haven’t been playing.” That’s a terrible way to be, depending on that original intent. For me, I’ve always been about, “What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?” Those who think like that, that’s where you see the best companies, the best firms, et cetera, who think like that. Relatively speaking, homogeneous success, sort of, but to me, that’s not really success. I think that’s sort of a path to complacency.
[00:09:57] ANNOUNCER: Today’s episode is brought to you by Connection Builders, helping middle market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers.
[00:10:06] AD: You point out the opportunity for learning and growth and constant evolution, I think is the terminology you used. I completely agree with that. If I hear you right, it’s pointing out the fact that if I am surrounded by a more diverse set of people, I will naturally have a broader range of thought, and a broader range of perspectives shared with me. Because of that, I will have the ability to continue to see new things, and more opportunities to grow and evolve as a person, or as a business, as an organization, however you want to put that. But this idea that by being around it in general, opens up that opportunity for me, opens up more ways to think about that, to see that. If I don’t see that, you only know what you know. If you don’t have someone sharing that perspective, you’re going to miss out on some of that evolution, that growth opportunity.
[00:10:56] EL: Absolutely. No, yeah. I think you have to think about, I mean, at least for me, what is next in sort of other growth opportunities, and it doesn’t come with having everyone who maybe went to Howard, for example. That gets stale pretty quickly.
[00:11:13] AD: You know a broad range, where everyone’s coming from different places and different experiences.
[00:11:17] EL: Yep. That’s right.
[00:11:19] AD: I want to talk about Howard for a minute. I want to understand, help me understand. What was your experience there? What was your experience coming out of that? I ask you to share that just more so for others that are listening that had a different undergrad or graduate experience. Just share some of your perspective around that.
[00:11:33] EL: Wow! I love it. Okay, cool. I can’t wait to tweet about this talk with Howard. We call it the HUSL; Howard University School of Law. For those who may be unfamiliar, it’s based in DC. Howard University was a school build up post the Civil War to educate black folks and that’s always been the heritage. As a result, the law school in itself has also had that mission to not only educate, but sort of uplift a lot of black folks. The way that we’ve done it alongside the country is by having groundbreaking leaders, things like Brown vs. Topeka Board. That was sort of built by one of our students, Thurgood Marshall, great civil rights leaders like Vernon Jordan, et cetera. All of that context I gave you because, what Howard did for me, was put me in a place, actually that made me become even more comfortable in the diverse way that I grew up, which is really unique. I grew up in West Virginia. I love to tell people that because I love to see their face, particularly in New York, they go like –
[00:12:38] AD: West Virginia?
[00:12:39] EL: “West Virginia? Blackfoot? Like what?” I was like, “Oh! Yeah.” I always go, “Yeah, there’s me and then there’s Jim.” Which is totally untrue. It was an incredible town, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. We were diverse, but what that did, that experience at Howard did is – not only did it give me more mission. It allowed me to some extent, be placed in the majority to where I felt like, probably for the first time, no matter what the outcome was, the outcome was solely based on my own performance. All of the dynamics that come with folks dealing with someone that doesn’t necessarily look like them, and trying to be diverse, even well intentioned about that, they’re just different biases, et cetera. Sometimes people don’t even know it, or sometimes, you may even internalize it and you didn’t even see it and these little things.
Howard erased that and it just kind of said, “Look, your score is your score.” There was no excuse about it. There was no – I couldn’t claim anything different, and that was incredible because it gave me confidence in a way that said, “Yeah. I’ve been performing one way, and I can continue to perform and this is like the real results.” That also gave me – it actually really, we talked to some of my best friends from childhood who weren’t black. It actually gave me – they would probably tell you, a lot more confidence in myself and building up our relationships. Just an incredible experience. I think the biggest outcome, more than anything else, I met my wife there. The kind of storybook –
[00:14:17] AD: That’s a big plus.
[00:14:19] EL: That’s a big plus. It’s a huge plus. Yes. First day, I always tell people there was a lot of little Claire Huxtables, if you were a Cosby Show fan, back then that were running around the school and I was able to find one. It was a very good experience.
[00:14:36] AD: I appreciate you sharing that. I want to highlight a point of what you said and make sure I heard you right in this. I think it’s a really important element. You mentioned that getting to Howard gave you confidence to be yourself, to fit in. I’m a white male. I’m going to make the assumption that most white males that are listening to this probably didn’t get to college and feel like they fit it in. They probably felt like they fit in long before they got to college. That’s a big difference. I heard from you that you fit in and gained some confidence through that and allowed you to start really excelling in your life because of that. Is that fair?
[00:15:07] EL: Yeah, that’s right. I think there’s an interesting dynamic, the challenge particularly of growing up in the ’80s and to some extent, the 90s, was there was not a lot of places of diversity, particularly around what I do now, which is Wall Street. So I saw the movie Trading Places, and that was more of a comedy. But to the extent that there was like this resounding image of a black professional, or black lawyer, or what have you, it just wasn’t enough to override a lot of the other images around diversity, right? How could you have an overwhelming abundance of folks who look like they should be going to Harvard Business School, and going to work on Wall Street, et cetera, when you look at the numbers and they just, there wasn’t a lot, right? There were only a few and a lot of them are my mentors.
What ends up happening in those situations is – look, a lot of folks didn’t know about Wall Street growing up, especially in West Virginia anyway. But you end up sort of aligning yourself with the imagery, if you remember your high school years, that you see. For someone like myself, who is I think, humbly speaking, fairly smart, incredibly ambitious, but the ambition doesn’t necessarily get as directed in the way that it could or should because of the lack of sort of visibility into what you can do. I didn’t really know about Wall Street until much later. When I was able to get exposure to Howard, it was like, “Whoa! There’s a bunch of kids who are like me. Nerdy, not afraid of it, but still cool. Everybody still loves Biggie and we love Nas and everything else. But like, best believe that on Sunday night, we’re studying and that’s cool.” I didn’t really have that per se, to say, we can have the right balance. I think that’s what Howard did. That’s what a lot of HBCUs do. It gives you, in some interesting way, a range of diverse black folks to be around. It’s kind of the diverse thing again, to say, “Okay. You know what, I am more like this, and therefore I can perform.” We just didn’t have that when I grew up.
[00:17:11] AD: I want to come back to the differences in diversity and what diversity means in a second. But I want to say this to listeners for a minute and this is – I really do believe this that, we as people tend to become the stories that we tell ourselves, and the stories that we tell ourselves are generally rooted in experiences we have, and what the world around us tells us, what we know, what we’re aware of. Our parents, the way we’re raised, our socioeconomic status, or all these things play a big role in what we tell ourselves. Oftentimes, I like the – you’ve kind of said, “I’ve got all this ambition,” but maybe that ambition wasn’t being funneled in the right direction at your younger age, until you finally – you got to a place where you’re confident. You see this, you have these ideas, and then you can start funneling that ambition in the right place.
I think everyone at some level can relate. Everyone has probably had some experience around that. But the point that I think is so relevant to this conversation around diversity in particular, recognize that when you look at individuals that didn’t have a traditional pathway to a financial services career as in your example. Those people without that traditional pathway, there is a level of once they can see it, and understand it, get exposure to it, they may all of a sudden be very good in that. They may have an opportunity to run that. But we’ve got to find a way to help people see that, and be comfortable, and create the right internal dialogue that says, “Hey! I can go do this.” For you, if you didn’t feel confident that, “I can go get a law degree,” or “I can go work on Wall Street. I can go do these things,” you never would have gotten there. The ambition is one thing, but you have to have that confidence to go do it. Part of that was being in an environment that made you feel comfortable and confident that you could go do it, right?
[00:18:52] EL: That’s right. It just was this feeling that I was a lawyer, and I would go over into business school class. I didn’t get any credit or anything like that. I’d sit in on an Excel sheet and they’d be like, “Who are you?” “I’m just teaching myself financial modeling,” right? But I was like, “You know what? Here’s the mandate and I’m going to figure it out.” I would be remiss though, to also say, if I didn’t say that, it also requires someone above you, leaders above you to see beyond what they traditionally see, and to say, like, “This person can figure it out.” Right? The good thing about me, the benefit that I had was in my summer internship where, unlike law school where they like – if you have a summer internship, it’s basically a cakewalk until you come back full time. Back then at least, in 2005, getting investment banking intern was like, “We’re going to just like – we’re going to bring 50 people and we know 20 are just going to like suffer and be terrible and not make it. We’re going to say [inaudible 00:19:55] that make it.”
Someone, or multiple folks said, “You know what, like there’s more to this kid. There’s more to this kid than this law degree or this like not having an ivy, or growing up in a state where –” I think I may have met my almost 20-year career, one in West Virginia and on Wall Street. If you find another, please let me know, but that’s what we’re dealing with. You need that leader, or leaders, managers to say, “This is what I’m valuing outside of the norm.” This is actually going to create alpha. The thing about what my firm had was, the general math is that, when you bring on – it takes two or three years to get your payback when you hire a full-time associate. I stayed for 10 years. When I left, there were two of us left in our class. So, they got more than their money’s worth on that investment. Whereas, this was obviously during the downturn, et cetera. 60%, 70% of the folks were gone in like three years. The one they took the biggest bet on, the riskiest bet paid off way more than what everyone else sort of did.
[00:21:07] AD: Why do you think that is? I don’t think that’s necessarily unique to you individually. When you take a bet on someone, those are people that typically tend to do pretty well. I see that in you. What caused you to do well and stick around?
[00:21:20] EL: I think it was confidence given to me, internal, but also very much like the Howard experience. The same way I bragged about getting that confidence. Within investment banking, I also had confidence boosters, and I’ll be very clear, men, white men who saw me as someone who was hungry and willing to do anything it took to succeed. And every scope of work that I got, every assignment was, to me, just more of an opportunity to show I could be great. Ultimately through that, became sort of heightened level of intensity around attention to detail, around timeliness, all that, but it was always a shot, because I just wanted a shot. As you get the shot, and it was like, “Oh! This person is good.” You get a second shot, it’s like – it goes back to basketball. You just keep feeding me, keep feeding me, keep feeding me. But you need those opportunities, and then the confidence builds.
I went from a, here I was – it’s a majority black kind of base that I was building learning about myself, et cetera to feel like, “Okay. I can do this. I can make this jump.” If I perform well, I can figure it out. It’s all about my performance.” Then I got the shot, and then you get the shot and then you start to go, “Okay.” You get the confidence and people go, “Oh! This kid is awesome.” Then they started extending the shot, putting me in places of opportunity that were much more responsible than like my peers, right? It was like, “Oh! Well, send Ernie down. He can talk to the CFO. I’m busy.” Like, “Whoa! What do you mean? He’s only an associate. Associates don’t do that.” “Well, Ernie can do it.”
Those opportunities were sort of the second wave of confidence. Folks were willing to look at the diversity in the way I approached things. I wasn’t just the same person who wanted to be in front of Excel all day, like I wanted to be able to talk to folks and then they valued that.
[00:23:21] ANNOUNCER: Today’s episode is brought to you by the Association for Corporate Growth, the premier M&A deal making community with a mission to drive middle market growth.
[00:23:31] AD: Your point you said earlier, a leader has to be able to see beyond the normal characteristics or look and take a chance, open up that opportunity. What I am hearing from you is, because someone did that for you, it not only gave you confidence, but it also gave you that opportunity. I’m sure there’s a level of motivation and drive like, “Hey! I got this shot. I’m going to go prove this to them now. I’m going to prove that you gave me this shot, I’m going to prove this to you.” I think that’s what drives some of that success there. Let’s dig in for a minute on diversity as a whole. We say diversity, what are the different ways we can think about diversity? Obviously, we typically think of it in terms of race or gender, but let’s peel back what are some of the different ways to think about that.
[00:24:17] EL: I think socioeconomic is huge. Geography is huge. Ideas and just general background is huge. I think that generally speaking, what happens is that groups of people are kind of lumped into one. But if you dig a little further, someone from the south could be credibly wealthy, you may not know it, right? Or what have you, so just digging in. But those are kind of the big factors that I like to see. Anybody who knows me is like, the first question I always ask is like, where someone is from. I don’t want to know, like where are you from from, not what firm you worked for or whatever. Like, where are you from, how’d you get here? Et cetera. Because what I’m trying to do really is just understand the uniqueness of that person.
Even that where are you from thing isn’t enough, because that could have its own sets of biases too. But what unique characteristic can I pull from you that shows some sort of alignment. That’s my thing every single time. I literally phase out when people go, “Oh! I was at X and X firm or this and that.” It’s like, “Okay. Great. So are 2000 other people.” But like, “What about you?” That’s how I think about it.
[00:25:30] AD: I like that. It’s looking for the uniqueness in every individual and understanding that those unique aspects does create some of that diversity, different ways of thinking. I want to go to one of the points you said that I think is really important here, socioeconomic. I bring this one up, because I do know and again, talking to kind of the financial services, the deal world, the private investment world, the community as a whole. This is a career path that typically requires a very good education from a well-respected school, followed by the right mentorship and potentially the right networks to help get you into the right internships or the right starting positions to then get you into the right B schools. There’s this process, social economic drives a ton of outcomes there, a ton of those outcomes. Do you have any general thoughts around that? It’s a tough one.
[00:26:23] EL: You described the perfect good old boys club. If you’re offering memberships, let me know. Let me be a part of that, because that path seems really nice. No, but I mean look, but also outdated. I think when I was interning, look, there are pockets of, particularly around finance that still have this. I still think you see a lot more of this in like the hedge fund community. It’s a little more closed, less regulated, less corporate, less public. Investment banks used to play this game. Surprisingly, now, like I get to see people who have gone to state schools that are analysts and associates. I’ve seen women who have gap years, who have now come back. They’re vice presidents, executive directors and managing directors.
I see white men from the south with accents who are thriving and you can tell they’re not from New England or whatever. The funniest thing about all that is, that’s much more of like a really recent phenomenon. Really, like four or five years. Genuinely, a lot of it is particularly in the large, larger firms. It’s because a lot of the more privileged folks have moved on to other things. Folks have started taking shots at thinking about new ways of defining talent. The funniest thing more than anything else, and you see this and everybody on this call of yours, we’re having like the best M&A years you could ever imagine, right? Houses not falling down. It’s become democratized, yet like, the financial system is still working. As a matter of fact, it’s like blowing up. It’s like amazing.
In 2008, you think about the crop of people who were leading things. I mean, it was a disaster. I started seeing this – I’ve managed people, have been managed, used to have a couple of people from Yale. I always tell people, my favorite analyst was from Yale, my worst analyst was from Yale. Didn’t make a difference. We started seeing kids come in from Indiana University, amazing, super smart. There wasn’t any issue. Like lo and behold, people were just smart no matter where you breed them. [Inaudible 00:28:29] humans. That’s what we’re dealing with. That’s how I think about that a little bit.
[00:28:33] AD: I like that. I think you and I might have talked about this in one of our calls when we are prepping for this, and just kind of the idea of, you talk about a 22- to 24-year-old that’s graduating, undergrad coming in. Everyone just think back for a minute and think about how smart you are at 22 years old and think about who you are today. It doesn’t diminish the value of going to a well-regarded educational institution. But it does point the fact that if you find a 22-year-old that went to a no name school, a state school, somewhere that maybe isn’t in your traditional route of recruiting, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to find smart individuals that can learn, grow and be very successful in your organization. If you want diversity, the reality is in many cases, you may have to go look outside of that traditional talent pool, if you really want to find a broad range of diverse talent.
[00:29:28] EL: That’s right. Look, I think it goes beyond sort of the New York centric kind of view, or California centric or whatever. I mean, I see a lot of our folks who are leading certain regions, they all sort of go to that local grade school that’s the most elite. I think, it doesn’t make a difference at time. I think the best folks can look at talent and go, “This is what I need to fill the gap today and in the future. You can do both. You can, I always say tie your shoe and chew gum at the same time by just sort of saying, “Let’s just not do the same thing every single time. Let’s just not be able to dribble to our right and try to do the same move every time.” It’s boring, predictable and you end up losing.
[00:30:09] AD: Couldn’t agree more. On that note, what I want to ask you is, speaking to other leaders, speaking to other individuals that are in a position of influence that say, “Well, I want to increase diversity, because I know that it will help me ultimately optimize my ability to make decisions and optimize my outcomes.” What should people be doing? What should they be thinking about?
[00:30:28] EL: They can call me. I have a great – no, I think what it does is – I mean, one is be genuine about it. Just be genuine about it. I think, like everything that you do in business, anything worthwhile doing, it shouldn’t be like this quarter’s initiative, or even this one year’s initiative. I think, be prepared, be committed to investing in a vision that’s going to go beyond just kind of a one-year approach or recent news approach. There’s a way to react to certain things and I get that. Totally get it and I’m glad about that. We’ve seen that obviously over the last year. But true alpha is generated over the long term.
One is, just be committed. Two, be creative, truly think outside of the box in a way. We’re talking about diversity, so it is going to require a broader range of thinking as to how they approach. Is there, for example, this controller that you may have had in office who never has missed a number ever? Should that person be converted over into a junior associate, for example, or perhaps we should go and look at this other school? It’s not just a hiring thing, it ends up being, maybe, why is all of our businesses only kind of doing business with businesses in this region, or other businesses that look like this, or our management team only looks like this? It’s not just the hiring thing. It’s holistic. Our choice of law firms, all of those things are critical and it just requires vision, commitment and being a little creative.
[00:32:05] AD: The point that we started with is really that, when we talk about diversity, we know that it can help us have a competitive advantage. It doesn’t mean that we can’t win or succeed or do well without it. But it does mean that with it, we are going to optimize our outcomes, we’re going to optimize what the results are. We said the term alpha, the idea that we’re going to generate a return above that of the market. That really comes by finding that diversity. Now, talking to you specifically, you had said that some of what helped you really be successful was finding confidence. You’d mentioned your experience at Howard, then your experience getting into Wall Street and how you had people that surrounded you made you feel comfortable and gave you that confidence, gave you that opportunity.
Because of that, you were able to be your best self, to continue to excel and you obviously have an internal drive and motivation that kept you going along the way. But someone gave me that opportunity, believed in you so you could believe in yourself. That’s what helped you really drive that. I say that for everyone, you want to find talent that maybe doesn’t look the traditional way, you’re going to have to go and find those people and give them confidence, create that environment that does help give people that confidence.
Then, we talked about diversity being more than just race, gender, socio economic, being a big one, geography, background. All different ways of stepping back and saying, “At the end of the day, I want people that look and think differently, that really have different perspectives on the world. Because when they look at the world differently, that’s how I’m going to get those other ideas.” Now, the way that we’re going to make that and we’re going to pull all this off is one, we have to look in different places. We have to recognize that what we’re doing now probably isn’t working if we’re only looking in one place. If we really want to be successful, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take something, an investment of time. We have to create that vision of what we want to do and we have to be prepared to really invest in that vision, knowing that we’re not going to see results overnight.
Then most importantly, to really be successful here, we have to be creative. We have to think outside of the box. We can’t be looking at – especially if you’re working in a firm, working in an organization where you look around and say, “Listen. We know we need to increase diversity here. You have to change what you’re doing. Because if what you were doing was working, if what you were doing was hitting the mark, we wouldn’t have that conversation. You wouldn’t be in that position. So you’re going to have to step back and be creative about how you look and think about finding and sourcing the right talent in your organization. What do you think?
[00:34:35] EL: Wow! That’s pretty good, man.
[00:34:37] AD: They’re all your thoughts. I’m just – listen, Ernie, I really appreciate you coming on here. I think this has been an excellent conversation. I think we covered some awesome points.
[00:34:47] EL: You say that to everybody.
[00:34:49] AD: No. No. Maybe. I mean it. I mean it though. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?
[00:34:57] EL: Just hit me on LinkedIn. Ernest Lyles is my real name. Just hit me on LinkedIn, follow me and my kids on Instagram, Ernie Lyles. But no, LinkedIn is easy. Then if there’s a meaningful conversation, much more happy to schedule some real time and invest in that through just our website. You can find out more about HiGro, you can find out our SPAC that we recently priced, have in the market as well. On the business side, we can make it much more official. But in general, LinkedIn is easy.
[00:35:29] AD: Awesome. We’ll make sure that’s linked in the show notes below and to our listeners, make sure if you have questions, reach out to Ernie here. Especially if you’re trying to figure out how to source and build a diverse talent pool, I think Ernie could be an excellent resource to help you think through that. Again, appreciate you being on here. Had an awesome conversation and looking forward to talking again soon.
[00:35:46] EL: Great. Thank you. Thank you, listeners.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:35:50] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast. We hope you enjoyed our content and encourage you to take action today. While no individual will bring all the change necessary, we can all make an impact. If you enjoyed our content, please share with your network. This is a production of the Association for Corporate Growth, ACG and Connection Builders.