Bring Action and Drive Diversity

Brandon Hawkins CFO Hub

SPECIAL EPISODE: Diversity Matters in the Middle Market. Brought to you in collaboration with the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).

 

For today’s conversation, we are joined by Brandon Hawkins, Chief Revenue Officer at CFO Hub. Brandon shares the story of how he benefits from having a diverse pool of people in his corner, both professionally and in life, and what motivates him to implement diversity within companies. In addition, he shares with us which characteristics he looks for in staff that go beyond technical skills, and why ultimately, he is just looking to work with good people. Brandon’s message around diversity is a hopeful one, but he also shares the struggles he faces in the form of finding buy-in from companies and finding the right messaging to implement effective change.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Why Brandon is committed to hiring, recommending, and referring diverse employees.
  • How having multiple sets of eyes on a problem can eliminate some of your blind spots.
  • What they are learning as a result of their hiring practices and why diversity creates magic.
  • The effect of having a diverse pool of people in all aspects of your life.
  • Which characteristics he looks for in staff that goes beyond technical skillsets.
  • Why, ultimately, he’s just looking to work with good people.
  • What we can do to get organizations thinking more about diversity.
  • The struggle of finding the right messaging around diversity for effective change.
  • Why putting in the time is such a powerful tool to improve who you are as a person.
  • Why it is so important to choose to keep up with the new ever-evolving generation.
  • How every time you leave the house, you’re on stage, and why you should make the most of it.

[INTRODUCTION]

[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

[EPISODE]

[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 Brandon Hawkins, Chief Revenue Officer with CFO Hub, an outsource financial services firm working with middle market companies. Brandon and I discussed how those of us in a position of influence have a responsibility to bring action and drive for greater diversity. All right. Let’s jump in.

Brandon, welcome to the Diversity Matters Podcast. Excited to have you here today.

[00:00:54] BH: Thanks for having me. I’m excited as well.

[00:00:56] AD: Maybe let’s start with – let’s get just a quick background from you. Just share with our listeners a little bit about yourself, your career history, and then we’re going to dive into some of the core of the conversation here.

[00:01:05] BH: My name is Brandon Hawkins. I am the Chief Revenue Officer at CFO Hub, based here in San Diego. Office is all over the country and looking at some international offices as well. I am a historic banker. I started my banking career in January 6, 1990 with Wells Fargo in their middle market. Unlike so many folks, retail was just not the way for me and I got lucky that I got picked and earned my way into a corporate banking position where I was one of one. One of one in that phase.

I was there for about 13 years in typical banking fashion, you go to a handful of banks in your career if you’re doing it. And ultimately ended up at City National Bank where I lead their private banking group for their de novo office here in San Diego. I learned a whole lot about all the different mechanics involved in finance, whether it’s personal or corporate, and it’s really fair to me and my team while here at CFO. I’m also, most importantly, I’m the father of three adult amazing children. Tyler is 28, Kyle is 25, and my princess, Brooklyn is 20. All amazing children. In fact, one of them may intern for me this year, if I get lucky.

[00:02:05] AD: Well, how cool is that. You don’t look old enough to have kids that old.

[00:02:08] BH: I appreciate that, man. I appreciate that. If I let my hair grow, you would see the George and everything I got going on.

[00:02:14] AD: Love it. Let’s jump into the core of the conversation here today. I’m going to talk to our listeners for a quick second. Before we’re recording, Brian and I were chatting a little bit about DEI. We’ve had a couple of conversations around this. We actually met out in LA at an ACG DEI event. We’ve talked and socialized on this topic quite a bit over the last month here. Something you’ve said a few times, Brandon, to me that really hit home was, you want to move to action when it comes to diversity. I really would just love to say, why don’t we start with what does that mean? What does it mean to you to move to action? Let’s peel into that a little bit.

[00:02:47] BH: Sure. I mean, I would say that so many times, in this area of DEI, we find ourselves aggregating data, holidays, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas. Aggregating significant dates in American history, or even world history where people of color were included. I think that’s cool, like people need to know that. But one of the things that I’m really passionate about, especially whether it’s ACG or other organizations that I’m involved in is that, most of these organizations are with C-suite folks, decision makers, business owners. Meaning, we have the ability to make a hire, we can hire it, we can recommend, we can refer, we can get folks, diverse folks into the room.

I’d like to see us flex our muscle a little bit more than just and there’s nothing wrong with, but I want to be more than an aggregation of cool dates for a calendar. I want to get people hired. I want to give people opportunities to get in the room, so other people in the room can meet one and see the true benefits of having a diverse workforce. I know for my firm, we love it, it works out great for us and we want to continue to do more. But I’m encouraging my other business friends. and colleagues, owners, partners, leaders in their respective businesses to do that as well and we have the power to do it.

[00:04:00] AD: Let’s back up there. I want to start with you said, have the ability to hire, recommend and refer. So if I’m hearing your right, what you’re saying from all of this is, while there are lots of ways to ensure diversity and to work diversity into organization, you’re saying that for our listener base and we’re talking specifically around the ACG audience in this example. And being what our executive leaders, and decision makers and prominent people within their organizations that have influence over the decisions that are made inside of an organization or influence in how people think of others. You’re advocating for the idea that we in that position should be using that influence, using that ability to hire, recommend and refer folks that are diverse. Am I hearing that right to start with?

[00:04:50] BH: That’s absolutely correct. I think that’s a great power, and strength and responsibility that we have. You get the opportunity to be a leader, do something with it, like really do something with it. In this time, unlike any other, we’ve got the juice to make things happen. It’s frustrating to a certain extent, quite honestly, that things aren’t happening faster. Like the conversations that you and I are having and have had, my dad had and his dad had. We have enough juice to make something happen, so I’m just really committed to doing so. As you know, from our conversation, I’m on it, like I’m talking to people every day and kind of trying to challenge all of our CEO, CRO, COOs. You got the juice, do something with it.

[00:05:30] AD: And you said, we have the responsibility. I really do think it’s [inaudible 00:05:33] on us. If you are in a position of leadership, a position of influence, it’s incumbent on you to look to bring change, to drive value to your organization, but also to do the right thing. Part of that really comes to building a diverse workforce, to building a diverse set of people in a room. And you said that you want to get diverse folks in the room so that you can meet, learn and see the true benefits of what diversity brings. Right? Assuming that we know as a leader, as someone of influence, we have the responsibility to hire, to recommend, to refer. But let’s maybe go to the root of that is, why are we doing that? What’s the value? Why do I care? Why do I want to make that change to begin with?

[00:06:14] BH: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of reasons. But obviously, well, maybe not so obviously. That’s why we have this. But I come to believe, and I think many others have as well that a diverse workforce is better for several reasons. One, second set of eyes, different set of eyes, different life experiences. How I view some interactions may be totally different than how you view some interactions. We can see the same exact thing in a totally different way, based on our upbringing, cultural differences, things of that nature. Having those additional inputs in any business decision, I think is a good thing. You want to have a diverse opinion, basically. If everybody is saying the same thing all the time, I don’t know that you’re moving forward or moving forward in a fast enough speed.

[00:06:57] AD: Well, something you said there, and I think this is really important. I’m a true believer in every one of us knows the world one way and that’s through our eyes. It’s impossible to know it any other way. Right? We can gain experience, we can talk to others, and try to build empathy and understanding of other situations and other life experiences. But the true reality is, we’re never going to understand anything outside of our own life, our own eyes, or our own perspective. It’s simply impossible as a human to understand anything other than your own experiences. We as individuals interact and function with the world based on our past experiences, our lived experiences, and our thoughts and our beliefs behind that.

What you’re driving at is, if I build a diverse set of people around the decision-making table, around the business organization, what’s going to happen from that is, I’m going to have a diverse set of perspectives, which is ultimately going to allow us as an organization to see things from multiple angles, and very likely pick up on nuances that otherwise may have not been seen. At the end of the day, you make a better decision from that, right?

[00:08:08] BH: I think you’re spot on. I think having multiple sets of eyes coming from very different perspectives can eliminate some of your blind spots. Even in the sales and marketing capacity, as a chief revenue officer for my firm, I’m always looking for different ways for us to generate revenue. My way isn’t the only way. There’s a person who’s much younger than me, a person who’s older than me, a female perspective. These are all the things that I can’t experience necessarily anymore. I’m not young anymore. I’m not a woman. These are just unique experiences, just like mine, as biracial. My parents are one. My mom’s white, my dad’s black. I have a different experience than maybe somebody who has two black parents or two white parents. It’s just the benefit of the differences in our experiences, our life experiences that I really think make the best stew. It’s the whole American story.

[00:08:53] AD: You said something. You said, “My way isn’t the only way.” That’s really important to embrace that mindset. I want to ask you something and put yourself. You’re an experienced individual that has – you had a successful career at a multiple firm and you’ve seen a lot of – seen a lot in your career. You have a lot of wisdom, knowledge and experience. Kind of that gut feel, that instinct that you’re able to use as a business leader today. How do you remain and maybe the right word is humble enough to remind yourself and to remember that? Yeah, just because you know how to do it doesn’t mean you know all of the ways to do it. Doesn’t mean you know all of the answers. How do you really stay centered on that?

[00:09:32] BH: Two ways. I get my my bookcase intellectually every single day by somebody on my team. Jack Mark and I have the mindset that a year or two, and really a year from now, if we all apply for our jobs at the company, we couldn’t get hired. We just wouldn’t be good enough. We’re learning by how and who we hire that we don’t know everything. We’re learning some really cool stuff out there as a result of our hiring practices. It’s just something that worked. I don’t know if we got lucky. I know we meant to do it. We set out to be diverse and I think we’ve just been really fortunate that the talent that we do have believes similarly, but not exactly. Those extra different perspectives make the magic in our firm, and I believe it does in others.

[00:10:12] AD: You’re saying that you need to hire people that have similar core values or similar ethos. You have to, in some ways, have some commonality and some similar shared beliefs to truly function in work as a successful team together. But, everyone on your team and saying everyone is clearly a broad statement, but saying individuals on your team have different experiences. They have different career tracks, they come from different educational institutions. They come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. They are of different races, different genders. All of that combines together to bring this array of experiences and array of ways to look at things that ultimately drives that better decision making, right?

[00:10:51] BH: Yeah. I agree wholeheartedly with that.

[BREAK]

[00:10:58] ANNOUNCER: Today’s episode is brought to you by Connection Builders, helping middle market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUES

[00:11:06] AD: Now, you and I, in a previous conversation, were chatting around the same topic. You’d also mentioned some other benefits and I think you said something around retaining better talent, or attracting and retaining clients. That you’ve seen your employee and client base ultimately be stickier, because you’ve built diversity. Can you share some thoughts around that and what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced are about?

[00:11:27] BH: Yeah, I’ll tell you that we get a fair amount of comments and compliments, quite honestly, from our prospects, and then ultimately, our clients around our diversity. You can check our website, you can have your interaction with our leadership team and our consultants. Top to bottom, very diverse, very culturally, gender very, very different. Our clients actually love that because in the accounting sphere in the finance lane, folks tend to look a lot alike. From my experience in banking at the numerous banks I was at, I was one of one in just about every institution I was at. Lots of other people in the private industry, they started somewhere else. They started at a bank. They started at another company. Now, they saw the same thing I saw and then they get to see my firm, other firms like ours, and they say, “Wow! They’ve got people here who look like me. Maybe they’ll understand me a little bit better. They tend to be a lot more open, and honest, and giving of the information. The working relationship is just better.

There’s a really awesome energy around what people really see and believe that you’re doing the right thing the right way. It resonates with them. It resonates with the right ones anyway, and they stick to us and we’re really proud of that. Quite honestly, it doesn’t take much. It really doesn’t. Ask them good questions. Listen, take action.

[00:12:42] AD: Let’s come back to the not much, because I completely agree with you. I want to peel into that a little bit. But there’s two things you said that I think were important is, number one, typically speaking and thinking again to our target audience, and specifically, in this case, we’re talking around the ACG audience, which are largely deal professionals, accountants, lawyers, bankers, everyone in and around the professional services world. Typically, there’s a relatively standardized career path in most of those fields that you follow. In many cases, there’s like a relatively standardized series of educational institutions you attend. I understand there’s some reasons for that. There’s some training that comes into all of that and there is an experience that is built up. It’s very much as a professional service provider. Much of your work is about apprenticeship as much as anything and learning some of that underlying experience.

Because of that, it can oftentimes create a limited funnel, a very narrow, homogenous type funnel. The argument that I hear you making is that, by intentionally diversifying and looking for ways to break that homogenous cycle, and really trying to bring in more diversity, what it happens is, on the externally facing side, now, not non-service is the actual clients that you’re working with. They tend to not have nearly as traditional of a pathway, right? Especially if we’re talking about middle market, lower and mid-market companies that are typically more entrepreneurial in nature, typically have maybe a family element mixed into it.

There are things about that that very much create businesses that are wildly untraditional pathways, right. And you talk to any entrepreneur, and they probably share similar experiences, and challenges, and mindsets and the things they’ve had overcome. But they probably all got there a wildly different way, and came from different places and different backgrounds.

[00:14:30] BH: It’s rare when I have a client interaction or potential client interaction where they were a banker. It was, “I went to school to be an engineer. I’m a 32-year-old man, I went to Harvard to be an engineer, and now I design women’s apparel.” To me, the coolest part because as somebody who’s been on the other side, where as a banker, “Where’d you go to school? Tell me your credentials and tell me who you know.” Well, that’s cool, but it’s really not what you know or even who you know. It’s who knows you. It’s like, if you go to a nightclub, and you wave at the bouncer and the bouncer is like, “Hey!” You know the bouncer, but you [inaudible 00:15:04]. If you go to the club and the bouncer is like, “Hey, Brandon!” I’m getting in, right? How do you effectively cultivate those types of relationships? You have to have a diverse pool of people in your life. Again, in every aspect of your life, you’re always better when you have a bigger pool.

[00:15:21] AD: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that’s a really – it’s a point that I didn’t fully wrap my mind around until this conversation we’re having right now, where it’s like, “Okay. The reality is that the client you serve, and again, as a professional service provider, one way or another, you’re working with some kind of middle market business that likely has very entrepreneurial roots and spirits that create all of that, that diverse background and experience. If you focus on building your diverse talent base and your diverse team around that, it’s going to allow you to effectively build better relationships and serve those clients better, because you have a wider array of experience and knowledge that’s going to connect, and resonate and build that underlying relationship with those people. I think that’s so spot on.

[00:16:03] BH: Yeah. From an accounting perspective, there are – when you’re in financial services, particularly the space level that we play, there are some credentials that are really important, right? You want somebody as a CPA. You want somebody who maybe worked in public accounting, had that big firm experience, and then went out into what we call the real world, and worked in a private company and kind of cut their teeth there. Then they generally come to us. However, on the sales side, that’s the accounting side, which is the majority of our team. But on the sales side, I’m looking for coachability and scrappiness. I can coach all the other stuff. If you are willing, if you are scrappy, if you’re willing to do the work, put your nose down and really hustle, and you’re coachable. You’ll take tips. I’m looking for you. I’m looking for you right now.

[00:16:43] AD: Listeners, if you’re a good fit, reach out to Brandon.

[00:16:47] BH: Please. [Inaudible 00:16:49]

[00:16:51] AD: What’s really interesting is, you’re right. As a service provider, there are technical skill sets. And certainly, earlier on in your career, there’s a series of technical knowledge that you do have to have. But when you’re talking about more senior level advisors, and individuals that are more consultants than anything, problem solvers, question askers, people that are – their job is to dig in and understand what it is not necessarily the specific technical elements, actually execution of the technical work. The reality is the skill set to do that successfully is a lot more grit, and hustle, drive, communication skills, ability to connect with people that the things that you don’t learn technically, and you learn way more by life experience, and other challenges and other things you’ve gone through that help mold and form you into that skill set. Not the training. Not the education. Not the jobs you worked before necessarily.

[00:17:43] BH: Yeah, I’ll tell you. I’ve never been asked, where did I go to school, except for by people who went to the great San Diego State University like I did. My two partners did. But I don’t ever get asked that. It’s more about, “Where did you work? Tell me about your life experience? Oh, I noticed that you’re a volunteer high school football coach for 20 seasons.”  It’s those commonalities, particularly on the sales side, right? That really shine. And again, got a diverse pool of employees, of partners in your organization. You can speak to a lot of things, you can look in the bag, and I see you got pictures of some trees there. I like things like, “Let’s talk about – we have some commonality there.” It has nothing to do with where I went to school. It’s you and me as a human. I think we’re getting there. We’re not there yet, but when we start really looking at, looking for good humans, not somebody with like – you know me with the same haircut, because people want to – they like to deal with people that they look like. Let’s try to bring people who feel the way we do. They don’t have to think like we think or look like we look, but feel. They have to have the same passion, the same credibility, the same integrity, the same grip or close. If you can do that, we could teach all the rest of the stuff.

[00:18:48] AD: I couldn’t agree more. What I would say is, anyone who is in a hiring decision or in a position of making some of these decisions, and influencing the design of your team, and that the individuals on there. Step back and ask yourself, what really makes you special, what really makes you, and your firm and you as an individual in your team special. I’m going to argue, it’s not going to come down to your technical skills, because everybody else does the same thing too. It has way more to do with the way you think, the way you approach things, what’s important to you. Tenacity is a good word that comes out. Passion is a good word that comes out. Grit and hustle is one that I like to say. It’s things where – that’s what drives people and that’s what drives success. When you start stepping back, and really assessing that in saying, “Okay. Well, what does make us special? What are we really looking for? You realize that maybe some of the historical check the box items that you were looking for in the resume just simply don’t matter, and they’re not really the value drivers that you’re trying to get to.

[00:19:49] BH: Oh! I can tell you. I failed miserably a bunch of times just doing that. Somebody is interested in a job. You go to LinkedIn, you see all of this wonderful stuff and you’re like, “Oh my gosh!” They are perfect on paper, and then you meet them and then just not necessarily a good cultural fit, personality fit. They might not be the nicest human. They got all the degrees in the world, but they just aren’t a nice human. Ultimately, we want to work with and work for around people who are just good, good people.

[00:20:14] AD: Let’s talk about that a little bit. Let’s talk about the actual taking action hiring. What do we do to get more organization thinking about, and seeking out, and trying to increase the level of diversity in their hiring process in what their ultimate talent pool looks like?

[00:20:32] BH: Yeah. I think there are couple of things. I think, number one is the people in hiring positions have to have some guts. You have to be willing to take a shot, especially in the minority community. There’s this weird thing about. Well, we don’t like to hire our own people, because there’s this collective thought. Like if I hire a black person in my firm, and they don’t do well for some reason, it could be, “Look at how they do. Look at how they are.” A lot of folks in the position of power, men, women, people of color don’t necessarily hire because they don’t want to be part of this collective failure if it happens. In the greater population, that happens every day. People get hired with no experience on nepotism, and good looks, or whatever all the time. We need to step into our power. We got to position for a reason. We earned it, right? Do something with it. Again, go out and actively seek a diverse pool.

The one thing that we have challenges with, and I had this personally, is how do you ask. We have to be very sensitive and aware of how we communicate with people, because we don’t want to offend anybody, and put anybody off and miss out on good talent selfishly. But how do you ask the question if you were a hiring manager and you want to have a diverse population, a constituency? And maybe you don’t know if anyone in your constituency is from the LBGTQ community. You don’t know, necessarily, right? But you want to include those folks into your team. How do you ask somebody from that community or how do you go find people without doing it the wrong way, without being discriminatory or offensive? That’s something that I struggle with, because I’m an active communicator, out a lot talking to folks. I want to make sure I’m delivering the right message, but also asking the right questions sometimes I would know.

Even within my DEI committee in ACG, we’re repository of some information. But we don’t just –because I’m diverse, doesn’t mean I know all things about diversity. There’s a struggle there. How do we deliver the right messaging, and how do we attract the right folks without offending anybody?

[BREAK]

[00:22:34] 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.

[INTERVIEW CONTINUES]

[00:22:44] AD: Let’s peel into that. What I hear you saying is fear, right? It’s the fear of doing something wrong. I’m going to speak from my own perspective for a minute around this, and I’d love to get your reactions to it. I’m a white male in an industry that’s typically dominated by white men, and we’re making some great strides in trying to continually increase the diversity. But for myself. I can say this and I’ve said this before in other podcasts that I’ve done. That for me, I didn’t really open my eyes to all of this until the murder of George Floyd. That’s what made me step back and say like, “Whoa! What’s going on here?” It was kind of – it wasn’t that I had necessarily strong opinions one way or the other. It was just – I didn’t really have opinions and because of that, I didn’t have knowledge. I didn’t have a way of talking, communicating.

Shout out to Rich Grant here. I can remember the first conversation Rich and I had in this and this is like, I mean, year and a half ago now. It was like June of 2020. Rich and I, I can just – the question and this took so much guts for me to say. We were recording a podcast, I said, “Rich, what’s it like to be a black man in the industry?” To me, it felt like earth shattering. It was like, “Oh! I’m going to say something so wrong” and it’s “Oh! I’m going to mess this up and everyone’s going to hate me and Rich is going to think I’m a bad guy.” Listen, I’ve done quite a bit of work in this area and there’s always more to do and there’s always more to learn.

In my own experience, one, the more I talk about it, the more I think about it, the more I read about it, the more I spend time using my brain to process through these thoughts, the better I get at communicating, and talking, and thinking on the subject as a whole. First off, you have to go do it to get better at it. There’s no other way, and you have to overcome that fear and be willing to take that step to go out there. Now, listen, you’re going to screw it up some times. That’s okay. You might make someone mad. That’s okay. Did you come at it from a truly genuine, authentic perspective where you’re trying to make good, you’re trying to make an impact, and you’re really doing your best? If you can look yourself in the mirror and say that, that’s all you can do, period. You can’t do more than that, but you’re going to have to take the risk if you really want to affect change. If you want to step outside of that comfort zone and go and say, “Okay. Hey! I see we have a whole bunch of folks that look the same here. Let’s go build diversity. Well, we’re going to do that by going, and asking and talking to people that I don’t fully understand the right way to talk about, but I have to learn if I want to do it.”

[00:24:58] BH: I agree with it and the good news is, you couldn’t have picked a better person ask that question than Rich. He’s just an incredible human being. I’m sure he gave you the straight shot on that one. It’s not easy. Certainly, it’s not easy, but I wouldn’t trade. I mean, it’s certainly tough in many instances, but I love being well black and white, but it’s heavy. Some people say it’s exhausting. I wouldn’t use that word. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and we just continue to get better and we continue to have more and more allies. I think those are all positive things.

[00:25:29] AD: When it’s not easy, and this is something I really try to embrace as a mindset. Things that are easy, everyone does and there’s not a lot of growth that comes from it. The things that are hard are the things that very few people do and the growth comes from. You’re right, it’s totally, it’s not easy at all. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone from any side, regardless of your background, your race, your gender, anything, your orientation. I don’t think any of that has to do with it being easy or not. It’s just simply a topic that we don’t typically spend time conversating around and socializing around. Inevitably, it’s going to be hard and that hard, that challenge is the opportunity to learn, and to grow and to get better at. It was putting in the time. If you want to grow, if you want to improve who you are as a person, that’s what you need to go do.

[00:26:13] BH: I totally subscribe to that. It is tough too, because I mean, there’s the fear on the other side. Who wants to be in today’s environment? The white guy who asked the wrong question. Because it could go sideways. People start yelling at you and then all kinds of names and they miss here, miss construe what you’re really trying to do. I understand it’s also very difficult, but that’s where we have to try to meet the middle with, “Come this way. I’ll come this way. Together, we’ll figure it out.” I’m really impressed with what I’ve seen, particularly in the last year, and I attended in Los Angeles. Also, because of my experience coaching, high school football, I see these kids, these young people coming up and I’m actually encouraged. There has been some years in the 20 I’ve been doing it, “Well, oh Lord! We’re in trouble.”

But over the last five, or years or so, these are really thoughtful, conscious, caring humans of all else, and they seem – like my eras. that everyone gets along really, really well. It’s still clicky in high school, but – you click, and you got the jock, and you’ve got the actor, and you’ve got the punk rocker and you’ve got the kid who is in the LGBTQ community and it’s all cool. When I see that at such a young age, when they still have a chance to like grow, it’s just encouraging. I’m confident about that and I’m confident what some of those old ads are doing now, finally.

[00:27:27] AD: A point to remember there, that young generation you’re describing, that’s the future. That’s who’s going to be running your company in the future. If you want to be successful, you got to figure out how to resonate with that generation that is rapidly evolving, and rapidly changing the way they think and view the world. You have to keep up with that.

[00:27:44] BH: Yeah, you do. I think you also – as well as – cultural diversity, gender diversity, we can’t be ageist. I remember when I first started in banking, I was told numerous times, “Man, you don’t have enough gray hairs to do this job. You just don’t have enough experience yet.” You got to take some shots. You got to be willing to take some shots. As a leader, that’s one of the elements that makes either a really good one or a really bad one, right? The shots you take and the ones you don’t.

[00:28:05] AD: Speaking to a good chunk of our audience has some form of a finance background. I think back to fundamental finance courses in undergrad, and we learned the capital asset pricing model. Everyone remember the Cap M, or the dividend discount model. Really, what – if you really look at that mathematical formula, which drives most valuation in the financial markets in one way or another? If you really look at it, it’s risk over return. The higher the risk, the higher the return tends to be, right? I mean, that’s mathematically at least how it’s supposed to work. Which means, if you want higher return, if you really want to achieve that greater return, that greater success long term, you’re going to have to take greater risk. Simple as that. What you’re describing is taking that risk, stepping out and you’re going to make hires that maybe don’t work out. It’s going to happen. It is what it is. But if you don’t take that risk, if you don’t go out and try that, then you’re going to stay in this confined bubble and you’re going to miss out on all of that upside opportunity in the long run.

[00:29:02] BH: Yeah. I think you hit it right on the head there. Just like somebody in an asset fund, whether that’s a stock account, a REIT or others. Good counselors will tell you to diversify your portfolio. Do that with your people. Do that with your people too. Start there. I think some of the best ideas come from a room full of people who don’t look alike.
[00:29:22]AD: I love that. Last point I want to hit on and you and I talked about this a little bit before. This idea that. all too often, unfortunately, within organizations, you have one individual that’s a DEI champion, someone who is really pushing the efforts and ensuring that the firm and the organization is embracing the diversity related initiatives and working to train and develop the people internally to think that way. But oftentimes, unfortunately, there’s a disconnect and a lack of influence between that DEI advocate and the hiring manager. The person that’s truly making the decision, right?

[00:29:57] BH: I see that nine out of 10 times. It’s usually somebody in HR, a really competent, capable HR professional, who sits and looks at resumes, screens people, and talks to him and does all the research that they need to do. But that’s all they’re doing. They’re not being fully utilized. They’re just here. With his resume, they are apparently who they say they are. Good luck. I believe that if you truly want diversity in your workforce, let that HR person, let that DEI person be part of the hiring. Now, are they the ultimate decision maker? No, maybe an equal decision maker? Sure. Because I think that’s the one of, anyway, the best ways to truly get a real assessment and you still could be wrong. But would you – I would hate to be wrong if I didn’t ask everybody else in the room. There’s only 10 of us in the room at any given time, right? You don’t have a company like ours with 33 people. We don’t have 33, necessarily decision makers on hiring. The three, or four or five of us who do that, we should all be able to do that together. That should be HR, the CRO, the CEO and anyone else. But if you got a DEI person, and you’re talking about making a hire, that person needs to be involved in hire. It’s just smart.

[00:31:03] AD: That disconnect cannot exist and truly be successful in the long run with this, right? If you really want to diversify your organization, whoever is in that position of making that decision has to have – they have to really mean it and really care about it, and want to put the time in, and put the extra thought and everything we’ve talked about. Put the work in, go through the fear, think about those things. Because if not, then at the end of the day, the final decision won’t have that baked into it. If it’s not there, then everything we’re talking about, you’re losing those benefits.

[00:31:33] BH: And you could just be selfish, right? As a business owner, be selfish, you want to have the best business, be diverse, right? You want to make sure you don’t have any blind spots, be diverse. You don’t want anybody yelling at you, because you’re not diverse, be diverse. Like that’s the answer to most of the questions, right? How do I get more revenue? Be diverse.

[00:31:50] AD: Could not agree with you more. Brandon, this has been an awesome conversation. I’m going to give a quick recap of what we hit on today, and if I missed anything, jump in at the end here. We started talking about this idea of move to action, and you brought up the fact that as a leader, as someone of influence within an organization, we have the responsibility to build diversity within our organization. The reason we have that responsibility is twofold. One, it’s just frankly the right thing to do. But let’s talk business and economical sense. The reality is, if we are fiduciaries of our organization, our job is to produce good returns for our equity holders, our business, our partners, whatever it may be. The reality is diversity. The benefits of building a diverse team is what is going to drive that.

I have the responsibility to do my best to do everything I can. If I’m in that leadership position, that decision making position, that of influence to drive that, to build the diversity, to try to hire that within my organization. That benefit as we talked about, different perspectives. Everyone sees the world from their own perspective. We only know the world through our own two eyes. By gaining different perspectives, you make better decisions, you are able to see things differently.

Now, more than just making better decisions, you are also able to build better client relationships. Because as we talked about, externally, the clients, the businesses that we tend to serve as a professional service provider, those clients tend to have really diverse backgrounds and really different ways that they got to where they were. By building that team, you’re going to not only be able to generate and build better relationships, serve clients better, answer better – come up with better decisions, all of that comes along by building that. You’d said one thing that’s really important that you embrace. My way is not the only way. It’s recognizing.

If I’m in a position of power, I’m in a position of decision maker, position of influence within my organization. Recognizing that my way isn’t the only way is the best way to open your mind to looking for that, that additional diversity. Now, let’s talk the – second part of this really comes down to what we got to hire. Like this is everything we’re talking about, is we need to do it. First off, we got to look for what a real fit is and recognize, “Yeah! There’s some technical background. There’s some certain technical skills that we may need people depending on the role that they’re in. But when we really sit down, and I challenge everyone that’s listening to really sit down and ask yourself, “What makes you special? What makes your firm special? What makes you unique? Why do people work with you?” I’m going to really make the bet that you’re not talking about the technical skills. It’s the other things. The tenacity, the drive, the grit, the hustle, the things that you really make you who you are. Look for that. Go look for that in people and recognize that that has nothing to do with some of the other more traditional things that you look for.

If you find, and you can find people with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences and build that, you just got to look for that right fit. To do that, it really takes – it takes guts. You have to overcome fear. You have to take risks. That’s on two sides. One, that’s on the side of – I have to – I have to take a risk to go make that higher rate. It may not work. Then we talked about, if you want to – it’s risk return. I need to go take that. But also, I have to as the person doing that, I have to take a risk and go out of my comfort zone, and ask questions, and learn, and talk and build myself up and become a better person because of it. But I’m going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations, or have some uncomfortable dialogue from time to time. As long as I’m coming from a good place, that’s what matters. You’re going to have to do that if you really want to be successful in this process.

Then finally, we dove into the idea that if DEI in the hiring process are important, then whoever the hiring manager is needs to one, themselves very much believe in it and have to – not just say it, but truly embrace it, put the time and the energy. The work, the hard work in to develop yourself around that, to understand it better, to be thoughtful. Everything that you and I have talked about here. But also ensuring that if you have an internal DEI advocate or someone who’s driving that, they need to have some kind of influence, some kind of conversation, some ability to influence that final hiring decision. Because just advocating for it internally, just educating your team, that’s great and you should absolutely be doing that. But the real key is you have to be looking to hire, to hire diversity if you truly want to have success with this. Brandon, what I miss?

[00:36:02] BH: You didn’t and you have done so many of these. I always wonder or I wonder, what are you hearing? You’re talking to a bunch of guys out in the field, are you optimistic about what’s going to happen for us? Are you pessimistic? Do you see a sea change coming? When you know you’re in deep, what do you see?

[00:36:22] AD: Excellent question. I appreciate you asking. Yes, I do. I’ve seen – again, I only know the people I talked to. I only know the world through my own eyes. By a function, by virtue of some of the work I’ve done around this, it has put me around people that are probably more forward thinking than others around it. I probably have some skewed perspective from that way.

But I will say, I’ve seen a radical shift in individuals seeking out, and understanding and in trying to discover all this. What I can say and this really speaking to listeners on this, this is hard work. Diversity work in general is really hard work, because it requires us to have to step back and say everything we thought our perspectives, our views, the way that we see and believe the world to be might not be the only way it might be different. There may be things that we have to deconstruct of our past to think differently, to look differently.

That’s really freaking hard work. It takes a ton of emotional bandwidth, a ton of energy. I see people putting the time and it’s not going to happen fast. It’s going to take time and we’re making progress. I think the world as a whole is making the right direction. I really – talking to our ECG audience, I think we’re making an excellent job. There’s a lot of room to run, there’s a lot of work to be done here. But if we keep doing it, we’re going to come out the other end in a better place because we put that time in.

[00:37:35] BH: I think those of us and those who are still to come, who are willing to roll up their sleeves, shows a little grit. The rewards are there internally, financially for your community perspective. I mean, if you’ve got children, your children are watching. My kids are watching me. They’re watching how I hire. They’re watching how I move and I want to make sure that I make them proud and make them hopeful. Not only mine, but others. Every time you step out the front door, you’re on stage. Do something good with your stage.

[00:38:01] AD: I love it. I love it. You’re on stage, do something good with your stage. Brandon, this is excellent, excellent conversation here. For our listeners, how can they get in touch with you?

[00:38:09] BH: You can find me on LinkedIn. It’s Brandon Hawkins or you go to linkedin.com/backslash, I get things done all together. You’ll find me pretty easily. I look just like my picture, like my dating profile picture from years ago.

[00:38:20] AD: Love it. We’ll make sure that’s also linked in the show notes below. Brandon, I appreciate you coming on here. This has been an excellent conversation. I appreciate your time. I’m sure we’ll be talking again soon.

[00:38:31] BH: We absolutely will, man. I’m a big fan, a huge fan and I love what you’re doing out there. I appreciate you even having me, so it’s good to talk to you in LA. It’s almost as good to talk to you via Zoom.

[00:38:39] AD: Awesome. Thank you.

[00:38:40] BH: We’ll talk again.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[00:38:42] 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.

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