Today’s guest is Gray Matters Capital Vice President and COO Trice Kabundi.
Often described as a game-changer and secret organizational weapon, Trice has built and managed business initiatives and teams in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the US. She is skilled at bridging strategy and operations. She’s no stranger to capturing the big picture and driving tactical execution. With a relentless commitment to developing talent and fostering high-performance environments, she has garnered a reputation as a trusted servant leader.
As the first-ever Chief Operating Officer of Gray Matters Capital, Inc., an impact investor with $200 million AUM across emerging markets, Trice led the restructuring of the 15-year-old foundation and a successful culture turnaround. Before Gray Matters Capital, she served as a Director at World 50, a private company designed to help the senior-most executives of the world’s largest organizations stay ahead. She headed a client group of senior legal executives throughout her tenure, designed sessions for business leaders, and curated connections between some of the most well-known business, government, and cultural figures.
In the other streams of her life, Trice serves on the board of the premier Atlanta fine arts center Callanwolde, advocates for more equitable systems, and is actively engaged in growing and expanding her family’s agribusiness. She also regularly contemplates tiramisu for breakfast and why her family doesn’t believe in 5 am kickoffs for their road trips.
In This Conversation, We Discuss:
- The yin and yang, the marriage-style relationship between the CEO and COO
- How to get into the rhythm of knowing your CEO
- Reflecting and journaling your interactions with your team
- Establishing a solid morning routine
- The differences in doing business globally
Connect with Trice Kabundi: LinkedIn
Gray Matters Capital – https://graymatterscap.com
Get Cameron’s latest book “Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable
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The post Ep. 188 – Gray Matters Capital VP & COO, Trice Kabundi appeared first on COO Alliance.
I’m Cameron Herold, the Founder of the Second In Command show. Very quickly, before we jump into our episode, you need to know about two important ways that we can help you and your company grow. Number one, check out the COO Alliance. It’s for COOs, presidents, VP Ops or whoever is your company’s second in command to the CEO.
The COO Alliance is the world’s leading community for the second in command, and it gives COOs the tools and connections to grow themselves and the company. Head over to COOAlliance.com to learn more about our members and the results, the program and our 10X guarantee. If you qualify for membership, you can set up a complimentary call with our team to discuss if it’s right for you. I will tell you about number two in a bit but first, let’s start our episode.
Our guest is the Vice President and COO of Gray Matters Capital, Trice Kabundi, often described as a game changer and organizational secret weapon. Trice has built and managed initiatives in teams in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US. Skilled at bridging strategy and operations. She’s no stranger to capturing the big picture and driving tactical execution. With a relentless commitment to developing talent and fostering high-performance environments, she’s garnered a reputation as a trusted servant leader.
As the first-ever Chief Operating Officer of Gray Matters Capital, an impact investor with $200 million assets under management across emerging markets, Trice has led the restructuring of the fifteen-year-old foundation and a successful culture turnaround. Prior to Gray Matters Capital, she served as a Director at World 50, a private company designed to help the senior most executives of the world’s largest organization stay ahead.
Over the course of her tenure, she headed a client group of senior legal executives, designed sessions for business leaders and curated connections between some of the most well-known business, government and cultural figures. In the other streams of her life, Trice serves on the board of Premier Atlanta Fine Arts Center, Callanwolde, advocates for more equitable systems and is actively engaged in growing and expanding her family’s agribusiness. She also regularly contemplates tiramisu for breakfast and why her family doesn’t believe in 5:00 AM kickoffs for their road trips. Trice, welcome to the show.
I read the tiramisu for breakfast and started laughing because I’d gotten back from yoga. I’m like, “That would be perfect now.”
Post-yoga snack. I have this obsession with a tiramisu that’s never waned. I am that person, even being mid-30s. I’m like, “Explain to me again why we can’t. There’s espresso, a good amount of carbs and dairy.” It’s a breakfast item.
It’s fine. At the end of the day, we are all going to die. We may as well enjoy that one meal.
You brought it there. Having my African background in an African family who are superstitious, I’m pretty sure, at any point they read this, they are like, “Why is Trice talking about dying?”
Do you chase down the tiramisu? Do you have a list of restaurants you still have to go to or do you make it? What’s the deal with it?
I do not. I do not make it. I can cook but anything that starts requiring baking or that level of assembly. The problem is that where I love cooking is that it allows me to have a recipe be open to interpretation. I learn the hard way about baking and making such things that it’s not open to interpretation. It’s more of a science. That’s where I find a lot of my creativity too. I’m like, “Sugar, half a cup? We can go a little bit more,” and it doesn’t rise and like, “What went wrong?”
That’s what I found. With cooking, you can improvise but with baking, you are supposed to follow it to the science. I’m like you, I like to improvise, so I’m terrible at baking.
To answer your question, the best tiramisu other than being in Italy that I’ve had was in Ethiopia at the Hilton Hotel there. It was an Italian restaurant and it’s beautiful tiramisu.
I leave for Italy for six weeks. I will be fondly sending you energy vibes of my tiramisu adventures. If I find any good ones or good spots, I will send you a note and let you know where they are.
I appreciate. Funny enough, on October 3rd, I leave for about a month in Brussels. It’s that time to get out.
I want to go back a little bit. Before you tell me a little bit more about Gray Matters Capital, I want to find out about this World 50 organization. It sounds crazy fascinating.
It is crazy fascinating. Being part of that community, I’m still very much connected to the team there. Your first year at World 50, we called it an MBA on steroids. In many ways, the work that you do, Cameron, is very similar, which is why I love what you are doing. The idea of World 50 was, and they were founded many years ago, that it gets lonely at the top. Their first foray into their current business model was bringing together a bunch of marketing executives.
It was either HR or marketing executives. In a room, they brought in some celebrities who could talk about some of the work that they were doing. Going into it, it was no ego. It was an informal conversation. It was the premise that there would be no advertising, no solicitation, all of your peers of these Fortune 500 and whatever was set in the room was Chatham House Rule that never left the room.
That launched them into this belief of like, “There’s something here,” because the execs left with so much value saying that, “It is lonely.” Being able to talk about these key issues and learn from each other in an informal environment was the best gift ever. The concept of the 50 was that you bring 50 of the top executives in a particular function together. You stick them in a room and a community.
If you are thinking about this in terms of an analogy to a firm, these communities are like client groups. They are managed by a director whose main job day-to-day is to immerse themselves in the challenges, the opportunities, and the futures of these particular organizations or functions. That was the beauty of the model, and it’s since launched. At this point, they have 30 communities. They acquired one that’s focused on healthcare.
They’ve acquired G100, which I don’t know if you are familiar with. It turned into this much larger global organization where you’ve got Supply Chain 50, which has the top chief supply chain officers. You’ve got Legal 50, which was one that I managed, which was your senior legal executives. You’ve got one for CFOs, marketing folks, and private equity-backed CEOs because that’s a whole separate other sets of issues that you are dealing with and contending with there.
Were the events that they were running in person, were they virtual or was it a hybrid?
Nowadays, it’s hybrid simply because they were very much pushed into it. The model is a lot more hybrid but prior to the pandemic, you had some virtual events and there were a lot of virtual offerings. You had podcasts and calls where you would bring in, whether it was a board director or another peer. The in-person gatherings were also the secret sauce because it’s phenomenal.
Have you been to TED or TEDWomen at all?
I have not been to TED.
It’s an organization you should be at. You would probably walk around bumping shoulders with half the people that you already know that are there. It’s a pretty interesting global organization. Why would you leave World 50? How did they pull you away from that?
I was doing pretty well. I was very happy where I was, let me say that. I left on a very high note. I won an award. That was the second time ever named after the godfather of the organization for developing and mentoring people, which is one of my passions. I had been one of the first to switch over from the product development side of the organization to the client-facing. A lot was there, and it was great. My family, in the beginning, thought I wasn’t saying because they were like, “You are leaving World 50?” “We are not doing this.”
“We are not leaving your job.”
That is the African way. It’s a collective we. When you screw up, it’s you but then when anything else is going well, they are like, “We are not moving. We bought a house? We love our new car.”
“We love our new job.”
I said and contend this, “There is only one person while I was with World 50 who would be capable of getting me to leave, and that was Erika Norwood,” who is the President and CEO of Gray Matters Capital. That is because Erika and I have a storied history of years ago. We didn’t even realize we were going to become these. We didn’t see ourselves as the founders of the startup.
There was an organization that had been incubated within Gray Matters Capital that was a global training program that leveraged social enterprises in India as training platforms to teach people both profit and purpose and how you could take that mindset back into your organizations. We spun it off together. We learned a lot from working together, building a new thing, going through the startup challenges, and going from having all of these resources to not have those resources. It was a phenomenal experience. Eventually, my journey took me to Zambia, which then took me back to the States in World 50.
When she eventually was tapped to succeed the founder of Gray Matters Capital because we had formed a friendship. We would always have conversations, and I knew what she wanted to do. We met up for dinner, and she said to me, “I need your help drafting a couple of JVs and thinking through how I structure out the leadership team and where it’s going because my vision for the next era of where GMC can go is large. I’ve got to turn this thing from being founder-led and founder-centric to principle-led and principle-centric.”
Part of me knew that she was also pitching me on a role but I was like, “I don’t know because I’m still in an awesome spot.” Things came to a head. This was early 2020 because one of my bosses calls me in at World 50, and she’s like, “We want to promote you to take over this particular client group. Let me know what you are thinking but it’s got to happen soon.”
I go back to Erika and go, “Erika, we do this dance where you dangle something in front of me. I think about it, and I go back and forth. We negotiate, and then I eventually give in. I have been offered something, so we’ve got to have that dance and figure it out now.” We talked quite a bit about what her vision was, what she was looking for, where the organization was going, the health, the assets, and the degree to which the founder heavily let go. At that point, I spent a weekend away meditating on the decision and thinking through it.
I came back and said, “I think that for where I am now and what you are trying to accomplish and my belief in the mission for the transition that this organization is going through, that it’s a good time for me to join.” Part of our conversation too and for me, this was the important part, was that I told her, “I might not be the best person for the job once we get through the transition, and I know that. That’s going to be up in the air in something we have to discuss.”
“Especially knowing you and your working style and what I think will be needed, I could be the perfect person now.” We agreed, like, “Let’s get you to commit for 2 to 3 years.” On her end, I said, “If you leave, then that changes the context but here’s the agreement going into it. That way, we are not making any promises we can’t keep, and we are not breaking hearts along the way,” but we know.
It sounds like she was able to pull you into the future. I have a registered trademark on something called the Vivid Vision, which is when the CEO crafts a 4 or 5-page description of their company three years in the future. It sounds like she gave you a verbal description of all aspects of the company. Is that what sucked you into the excitement of the role, seeing what had to be built or was it a combination of the fact that you already had some track record with her as well?
By the way, I love Vivid Vision. Maybe a little bit later, I will tell you that we did something similar. I should have like stolen it from you instead of trying to go through my own. One, it was that vision and where Erika excels and can sometimes frustrate as she’s such a visionary. She’s such a compelling storyteller that, combined, she has sold a lot of people with a lot of things. She’s delivered but great at that. That was what sucked me in.
Also, it was the track record because like I said, “If I was going to leave World 50, it had to be for something that offered me a little bit more certainty than what would’ve felt like taking a Hail Mary on a first-time CEO, going through a founder’s succession, attempting to rebuild all of those things.” It was a risk to take. My track record with her, I knew. I said, “This is not going to be easy, and it’s going to be a marriage.” I need to make sure that what I believe in going into that I know this person well enough to be committed to that marriage even at its lowest points.
That’s the core thing that has to happen between the CEO and the COO. I call it that yin and yang like the two-in-the-box model that if they don’t get that real trust, that real business marriage, it won’t succeed. It’s the most critical relationship in the organization. Was the fact that you had that past relationship detrimental at any point in your journey of working together? I can’t imagine it has been easy every single day. It never is.
No, I’m pretty sure I wanted to quit a couple of times. I think so because when you have that relationship, there are moments you take things more personally than you should. It doesn’t just remain business. There are times when you take things more personally than you should. There were moments when she was unhappy to something or if she reacted in some way to something or if she engaged with someone in a particular way.
There were moments where I would personalize it, and a part of it was like, “Erika, come on,” or I would take something home because I knew or because I felt like that’s my friend and that’s also my boss. There are those aspects of it that were hard, and she felt it too. She hasn’t outwardly expressed it but I know things aren’t always going to be done in a way that she would’ve liked either.
She probably struggled onward, “This is somebody that you have been friends with or you’ve had a healthy relationship with.” We weren’t friends that met up every week but maybe once a month. On top of that, “This is someone that you’ve mentored in the past and that you’ve had a different level of a relationship.” Giving feedback to that person, sometimes I didn’t hear things the way I needed to hear things at the beginning. It took a while for us to get into what felt like a very healthy rhythm.
How do you get into that rhythm? How do you get to know the other person? Is it trial and error?
It’s trial and error, and there’s a lot of self-awareness that goes into it. You have to want to make it work. You have to say to yourself, “When it’s not working or when it is working, what are the things that we are doing that allow for that to happen?” You also have to have the right level of check-ins in a place where it’s not just talking about the business but it’s talking about how you all are coordinating and the rhythm that you have and what’s working and what’s not. Also other things, for example, we did the how-to fascinate like, “I am the secret weapon, and she’s the maverick leader.”
Is that Sally Hogshead?
Yes, and even when you look at her Enneagram, I completely forgot what hers is but I’m a three. When we know these things about each other, and we know like, “This is the hot button. This is how she likes things done. This is how she doesn’t like those things done,” we intentionally worked at it. We intentionally took opportunities to spend time with each other and talk through things. That was not about, “What is the fire that needs to be put out? Where are we going? What’s going on with the founder? What’s going on with these hires?”
It was more so, “Where are we? What’s in sync? What’s aligned? What are we intentionally working towards?” It was also an opportunity for me to get to see a different side of her and for her to get to see a different side of me. She hit the nail on the head when she said, “It’s interesting to me that when we first worked together to when we are working now, so much professional growth and development has happened. We have to relearn each other in that way outside of that friendship that we had formed.” In many ways, I probably wound up being one of her most respectful direct reports because I was very intentional about giving her that respect that was due to her because of what she had done and not trying to cross those boundaries.
You said that you were also self-reflective. You had the introspection to probably see what your contribution to some of the problems was as well versus you trying to figure yourself out as well as figure her out the whole time.
I overthink. I’m sure a lot of people do. The greatest gift I’ve had is that I call them my personal board of advisors. With the Enneagram, they tell at your worst, essentially what they are saying, “This is what you do.” I focus so much on that because I don’t want to be that. I had to build in rhythms to be intentional about not getting to my worst. One of them is meditation and focusing on those things, and being reflective.
I remember one of the members of my personal board of advisors said, “You would do well if you journaled once a week at minimum about what’s happening and what you are learning. One of the best executive tools you can have is to be able to go back and read those things and see the growth and learn even when you think about mentoring other people or self-mentorship.” There are a bunch of things that I have to put in place that I still put into practice.
I make my morning matcha before I do anything and go out to the patio. That’s a moment when I reflect, “It’s Monday. Let’s think through last week. What did we get right? What did we get wrong? When we spoke to people, did they leave the room feeling empowered to do their jobs or did they leave their room, pardon my French, feeling like s***?” I think a lot about that. Not to say I get it right all the time but where I feel I get it wrong and try to self-correct, apologize or assess.
It sounds like you’ve got a pretty solid morning routine. You mentioned like, “Why can’t our family trip start at 5:00 AM? I co-authored the book, The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs with Hal Elrod. What’s your morning routine other than the morning matcha? Do you journal? What is it?
I do not journal in the mornings. I journal in the evenings or I have these random about where I’m almost always waking up at 3:00 AM for an hour, and I will journal maybe then. My morning routine is built around negating what I think are the negative workaholic tendencies that I can bring into the workplace.
I still sometimes suck at it. Even in my own family, they are like, “I don’t work for you.” I’m like, “That’s great. You don’t work for me.” Hearing back through 360s from my team, they are like, “She doesn’t expect it of us but her work-life balance can suck.” I tried to negate those things by saying, “I need to find a moment of calm and what I like to go back to.”
My biggest belief that drives me and why I was able to leave World 50 is that if I don’t love what I am doing, I don’t think I’m going to be of service to the people that report to the organization that I’m serving or me. I know that about myself. That reflection helps me because it lets me hit on things that I know are going to be problematic or I’m somebody who can quickly become personally affronted from a principal perspective if I feel you did something wrong. I can harbor it, which is typical.
Number three, I will harbor it. I will hold onto it, and then before you know it, you might do something like clicking your pen wrong in a meeting. I’m like, “This is why I can’t stand this individual. They are awful human beings. Look how they talk,” and they click their pen. I think about those things, and that’s what helped me get through a rough patch with Erika, where the organization was burnt out. We had to learn pace the hard way.
I had been wondering why it was miserable for a whole two months. I was miserable and would get up, and I loved Mondays. I loved what I did and would get excited. All I cared about was making sure my team was okay, but I was not happy. Eventually, we had a conversation, and the conversation was at our one-year mark or something where I said, “Let’s see what’s working and what’s not working if we are still tracking.” I told her, I said, “Erika, I’ve got to be honest. I’m not happy. I come to you with solutions but I need help working through this one because I’m not happy.”
What was it?
It was the fact that there was so much that we were trying to get done in the organization. There was so much change that was happening. We are bringing on new board directors. We are building these new charters for the committees, and the team is feeling the stretch. We are understaffed, and where I needed my focus to be, I could not have my focus there because we also had a lot of like-founder responsibilities that were coming in.
Usually, she would handle those but I was getting a lot more of what her usual engagement was because she was very much focused on some other things. The stretch made me feel as if I could not even focus on doing what I was brought in to do well. I had to tap into other areas and some of those. Also, our communication cadence had gone off.
After two months of getting a bunch of it from coming up and from the top, even some of the structures I had set into place for myself and for time management and what you prioritize. Even my assistant, at the time, was like, “I feel like we had a train on the tracks, and it’s gone off. I’m still trying to figure out what went left,” because we were doing well. We had to have that conversation.
It was such an important conversation for us to have because Erika herself said, “I know if you are bringing this up, you’ve put a lot of thought behind it. We know some of the issues, happiness matters.” One of the key things we’ve always said about our values as an organization is that people need to find joy in the work that they are doing. It’s on you to find joy in your work but it’s on us to create and curate an environment that allows you to do that. When it’s not there, we work to figure out you know why or if it means you need to be elsewhere.
We worked through it, talked through it, and we discussed some of these priorities. We discussed some of the changes that were happening at the governance level. We even discussed the cadence of understanding when certain great ideas come to her that they can’t be implemented overnight with all of these other requirements.
It was another exercise at going back and recalibrating and then being transparent with the organization to say, “I know we have all been stretched. I know that I’ve contributed. I know where that’s come from. I know I haven’t been myself. Let’s talk about how we get back to peak performance in a way that everybody feels is healthy and what we are going to put on pause, what we are going to keep moving forward with and where we are going to hit the brakes a little bit.”
I like the whole thought process through it all as well. Give us brief a brief overview of what it is that Gray Matters Capital does and the scope of the organization, so we have some idea there as well.
Gray Matters Capital is a fifteen-year-old private operating foundation. We operate globally. We were started by a gentleman of the name of Bob Pattillo, who’s a high-net-worth individual who made a lot of his money in industrial development. He created this prototype warehouse system that launched his organization to be the 7th or 8th largest industrial real estate developer in America at the time.
He came across microfinance. I loved the idea and was also passionate about women being able to empower themselves. He believed that market-based solutions were the drivers that would get us to stronger global development. He committed 94% of his wealth to start this. He was one of the earlier ones. This was before you had that 99% pledge.
He said, “94% of it, I’m committed.” That’s what he did. Initial investments and, for you, Cameron, a quick education. Being a private operating foundation, when we make investments, we are impact investors. Even the way the IRS looks at our activities, and the investments we make, the primary consideration has to lead to social impact.
It has to be an impact that’s aligned with your state admission. They take that very seriously. If you are an environmentally focused nonprofit and you happen to make an investment in an organization that is going to improve the lives of girls around the world, and that’s a great thing that you did, the IRS could come back and say, “You didn’t invest.”
For us, the first thing is it has to have that social impact, and financial return comes second but like any organization, even if grants. You don’t just get a grant because you’ve got a great idea to save the world. They look at your track record, how you manage finances, and the team and like, “Is it going to be effective?” It’s the same thing for us when we look at business models, and I say yes, but that’s the investment side of the foundation. We invest in enterprises that have women at the core of their business model.
Is this Muhammad Yunus’ model of investing in women because they have a greater payback and come together with five others who also want money? It was Muhammad Yunus. I don’t know if he was the first.
It’s a similar concept where one, you will always find hearsay, “Other than being a good thing to do,” because women are underrepresented and underserved. It’s also, “Good business,” because, to your point, women do pay back loans at a higher rate than men are likely to pay them back. Women are known for being more collaborative.
You see the returns in communities where if a woman gets a job or she’s educated, what that means is it is multiples. Great multiplier effect but also the business of it. The consulting firm McKinsey released a report that said, “If now we were to implement a number of gender for initiatives and policies around the world, then we would find that by 2030, we would add $13 trillion to the global GDP.” It’s not just a good thing to do.
It’s economically a good thing.
It’s an economically incentivized activity because you increase productivity. We know that that’s a core indicator when we look at global economic growth.
I have been doing microlending through Kiva for many years. I was at the TED conference when Kiva launched their model and got excited about it. Every time I did a speaking event, I would take a portion of my revenue from speaking and put it into Kiva. I would say that 97% of my investments are in women. It’s because there’s something that seems more like you said, a multiplier. I don’t understand the bias I have towards it but it feels like the right place to put money. That puts guys at a disadvantage but they will be fine. They will figure it out.
I have also worked with a lot of speakers in my World 50 days, and I have such a soft spot for people who do what you do. Maybe use this as a tagline that’s like, “Get Cameron out there doing more speaking events,” because that is phenomenal, so kudos to you. That’s incredible.
The other thing I’ve done that I would like more speakers to do during my speaking event, I pass a bag around. I have people take a bill, any denomination, and they write their name on the bill. They throw it into the bag, and at the end of the event, the EA from the group counts up all the money. That money goes to a charity that the group feels passionate about. I draw one bill out of the bag, and whoever’s name it is gets an hour of free consulting or free coaching from me. I’ve raised thousands of dollars from the stage every time I do a speaking event. It’s such an easy thing to do.
One more thing too that I want to hit on is that it is so critical for people to realize what’s happened with the pandemic and why you see so many organizations fighting, especially now, to negate the effects of what happened during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we were 99 years away from seeing global gender parity actualized, so all of the gender gaps were closing. Already that’s a struggle because you are thinking about the number of generations that you have to wait to see gender parity.
It’s because of the impact of the pandemic on women that we lost a generation or we added a generation. We are now going to have to wait until about 136 years in the span of 2 years of this pandemic to see those gender gaps closed. That’s how detrimental the pandemic has been to the development. It’s very important to hit on that because that’s why we do what we do at Gray Matters Capital.
How many people are full-time and part-time?
We oscillate quite a bit, depending on what we are working on. We’ve gone from thirteen people working on the funds to all the way to 30 or 40. One of the key indicators that we look at is Ops to AUM. For every dollar that we are managing, “How much are we spending on operation costs?” We try to keep that as lean as possible. Now, if you look at our external asset managers, contractors, and internally ourselves, we are roughly around like twenty-something.
Where do you deploy the capital? Is it global? Is it in the US? Is it in certain regions globally?
We are slowly expanding more into East and West Africa but the bulk of where we’ve deployed the capital has been in India. We have some money invested in Pakistan. We are in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Columbia and Mexico. We have a couple of investments in the US as well as one. Interestingly way enough, it’s a microfinance institution that did well and wound up being on the British stock exchange that we had to have a conversation with IRS, like, “We did not invest in making money back. We just wanted to change the world.” That’s all we wanted. “It was not financially motivated.”
How do you choose the regions that you put the money into?
Primarily, the way India came about was by one, the regions that we look at, and I will back up. The key criterion here is that it’s not just investing in an organization, and we say, “Great.” You are based in Nigeria, and I will give you an example. One of them is called Sonicare, and essentially, it focuses on maternal health and goes into rural areas with these portable sonograms to allow women to have access to that level of maternal care.
Our argument here is not just that, “We want to see how great you can do in the rural parts of Nigeria. Fabulous. Keep supporting you.” The goal is, “Are you able to prove in that market that you can make it and that you can scale beyond that particular market because you’ve developed a solution that works across other developing or emerging markets?”
We look at that scalability context. Typically, what we found is, “Where you’re going to achieve that level of scale. Where are you going to be able to see that whatever enterprise you’ve invested in has the ability to touch more lives? Is it generally in markets where those things are not as developed or where the infrastructure is still being developed?” You are going to reach exponentially higher numbers of people.
It’s going to take less capital to get there. The ability to almost experiment and say, “Does this work here?” We find that if it works in India, the chances of it working in Nigeria, Ghana, and Zambia are pretty high. That’s generally what’s led there. India was that other entry point. We did quite a bit in India. We got into this modular school business in Kenya, which is one thing to know about Gray Matters Capital when you have an entrepreneur as your founder. Everyone winds up being entrepreneurial, so you have a lot of hits and misses.
We were in Kenya, and eventually, we launched an internal fund called coLABS, which I personally do think is one of the futures of Gray Matters Capital. Where we said, “We are going to be sector agnostic but way more intentional about how women are at the core of that business model.” You’ve got to clearly be able to show that you are able to generate revenue, and we are going to focus on East and West Africa. That’s what coLABS has done and shifted. We go to those developing emerging markets where we think that a lot of that infrastructure isn’t as developed as it could be.
Talk to me about what you see in terms of the differences in doing business globally like doing business in some of these different regions around the world. Have you noticed any completely different ways, and have you noticed any better ways?
What has been interesting for me, at least, is the way that one leadership is also contextualized depending on where you are. I’m a very informal leader. I’m huge, and tell people like, “I serve you, and this is how I work.” I found when I go into Africa that, people sometimes do a double take. In some of those rooms, it’s because I’m a woman walking in.
They are not used to reporting to a woman but in some of those areas, they are like, “What do you mean I can call you Trice? I don’t have to call you, ma’am. I don’t have to do this and that.” Within the Western context, in particular, in the US, we are very keen on even CEOs of major corporations being like, “Call me Bob.” Whereas you get to some of these areas, and it’s like, “Call that person, Mr. CEO, the most important person in the room.”
The formalities are still very much present.
That is very strong. I also think that while we have our own approaches here in the US to garnering trust and connecting with people to get a business deal signed, generally, we still err on the side of within the business context. That sometimes, what we don’t value as much as you do in other operating contexts is the relational aspect. In some areas, the cultural aspect, the regional aspect, where you are coming from, who you know and by how you know them and how they can credential you.
There’s so much of that richness that exists in a lot of these non-Western contexts that sometimes it’s hard for people who enter and want to get straight into a business to not get that, to not understand that, “I need to ask about your family. I need to ask about your parents or I need to build and cultivate those pieces because they are so critical and important and how I show up.”
Even if I might have a different belief system, it has so much weight attached to it that you could lose respect and credibility easily if I don’t emphasize those pieces and do your best not to ask what’s important to this company. If somebody is briefing you to say, “Culturally speaking, contextually speaking, what are some of that faux pas? What are these pieces? What matters to them? Where are they coming from? Why?” That’s as important.
Your experience of having grown up in the Republic of the Congo and also having worked in Zambia, do you think it gives you a leg up on doing business in North America where you see a different perspective that than maybe North America or Americans are blind to?
Quick clarification because I always wished I had been able to grow up in the DRC. My dad’s job with the UN, where it took us, was in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Senegal. I traveled off into the DRC but was raised in multiple African cities. I’m grateful for it now. If you would ask twelve-year-old me when she came here if I was grateful for it, Cameron, absolutely not.
Twelve-year-old girls are all not grateful. Come on. I’ve got two boys, and they were fighting all the time. I’m like, “You are ready to get out of the house.” Show me a twelve-year-old girl that’s grateful.
Before, I was like, “You gave me this awful accent, and they think I’m Jamaican. What’s going on?”
Where my parents sent me when we landed was a Southern conservative Christian school in the South that had never seen me before. I walk in like an African and proud. They are like, “What is this?” This does not look like the kids on TV with the descended bellies who need us to send them a dog come up. Anyways, I do think that it has because it has allowed me to ask certain questions that I learned along the way that a lot of my peers weren’t asking.
What it enabled me to do was I had to have this innate curiosity about the other because that was the only way I knew I was going to survive where everyone landed. Organizationally and even from a leadership perspective, when I landed in areas, I was known at World 50 for walking around. I never sat down. If I wasn’t working on calls, I walked around. I almost said, “You have to take this anthropological view to things of stepping in, immersing, understanding, asking questions and figuring out the cultural dynamics.”
I used to say often, “What you think might be is not necessarily the case. You got to observe and understand.” Once I was able to nail those things down and say, “Now I get it,” that’s what made things so helpful for me. I was being able to then operate in most any environment. I remember when my boss sent me to India for the first time ever.
I had friends who were like, “Weren’t you scared that you landed in Mumbai at 1:00 in the morning and the driver couldn’t find you, and you had to make your way to the hotel?” I was like, “No,” because my parents, growing up, were like, “Eat that food. Go there. Don’t say you are better than anyone. Go learn their culture. Go hang out with your friends during Ramadan so that you can understand what it means to be Muslim and how beautiful that part of it is.” They threw us out there, and even now. People around me are more fascinating than I ever am. I could literally sit here and ask you questions all day. Ask my general counsel. I will pull her in and be like, “Lawyers are so fascinating. Tell me more.” People are fascinating, and that has always been a leg up.
That’s come from me for sure. I’ve got two final questions. One, I want to go back to. You mentioned that you and the CEO that did something similar to the Vivid Vision concept. You had some vision exercise or something that you did to get on the same page with Vision. Can you walk us through what that was briefly?
I took about almost a month off between gigs when I left World 50. Two weeks in, I put some time on her calendar and said, “Erika, I’m going to need you for 3 to 4 hours.” From there, what we did was we went through, and I essentially asked her to walk me through like, “What are some awards that the organization has won 3 or 4 years from now? When you are giving your acceptance speech, what are some of the things that we had to sacrifice to get there? What were some of the people that we brought on to get there? What’s the name of the award? What does the organization look like? Who are our core stakeholders in the nomination videos that were released where people are credentialing or endorsing us? What are some of the people, and what they’ve said about us?”
I still have that folder. At times, when it’s so easy to get lost in the midst of change, I’m so big on like, “What is your North Star?” That whenever we would have conversations around strategy or where GMC was going, I would take us back to that document and be like, “This is where we envision this thing going. Are we still here? Is this still where we’re going?” It was so helpful.
That’s so similar. You should check out the book, Vivid Vision or if you want to fast track on it, watch one of the TEDx Talks I did called Your Vision Statement Sucks. The book, Vivid Vision is a powerful example. It sounds like it lines up close with what you are talking about. I want to go back to the 22-year-old Trice Kabundi, and I want you to give yourself some advice. What do you wish you knew when you were back starting in your career that you know to be true now but wish you would known back then?
I would say fail fast. I am more comfortable failing now at things than then. I was such a perfectionist. I had a ten-year plan and everything. It had to be perfect. I was like, “I knew where I was going and if something didn’t work out and failure was the most alien thing. I cannot fail at anything. I can’t fail.” I think about the opportunities I miss and how much time I spent being so hard on myself to achieve that perfection. I’m like, “Fail fast and keep moving.”
Trice Kabundi, the VP and COO for Gray Matters capital. Thanks so much for being on the Second In Command show and sharing with us.
Thanks for having me, Cameron. I appreciate it.
It was amazing.