Perspectives – Marc Cooper – February 2022

Looking Beyond (the word) Culture

by CEO Marc S. Cooper

The last two years have forced business leaders to rethink every aspect of their organization. While supply chain constraints, inflation and geopolitical uncertainty have of course become front-page news, there’s been another theme that’s also been keeping executives awake at night: their corporate culture.

Having been in the business for some time, I can recall when culture was the last thing companies paid attention to. Wall Street was a sharp-edged environment that often rewarded bad behavior as long as you produced, and this was the norm for a very long time. Yet, even before COVID-19, we started to see a shift emerge.

Once the main destination for ambitious college graduates, Wall Street suddenly had to compete with the rise of Silicon Valley. Young talent could now find riches and prestige outside of the world of finance, and tech companies became an attractive alternative to a workforce less enamored with Wall Street’s cutthroat reputation. New options helped to facilitate a change for how financial firms thought about recruitment and retention.

Solomon Partners has long focused on creating an open, collaborative, respectful and educational environment. It is always interesting to me when I see other firms talk about culture or have splashy website pages emphasizing it, knowing that for many places, that’s just a strategy to market their firm and it is not who they truly are. With the word culture seemingly splattered everywhere, it’s this lip service that can give the word a bad rap.

You can’t manufacture culture and it’s more than offering trendy benefits and touting work / life balance. I have news for you: if you didn’t take care of your people before the pandemic, good luck, because your talent has too many good options in today’s job market to stay — and another pay bump just isn’t going to cut it.

To us, culture is about respect and professionalism. Those two guiding principles have always been our North Star and is the key to our success and, as such, we focus on this constantly. We treat our colleagues the way they deserve to be treated and we don’t tolerate bad personalities, no matter how good they might be at their jobs. And this starts from the top. Our partners are well-rounded individuals with strong ethical foundations who define themselves not by their compensation, but by their relationships with their families, friends and communities. We work to live, not the other way around, and this attitude is something that permeates across our organization. Operating such a methodical, strategic and painstaking approach takes a tremendous amount of coordination, time and thought across the entire firm, but it’s worth it.

The firms who truly set out to establish a strong foundation and avoid “culture window dressing” will be poised for success moving forward.

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