I am so excited to introduce you to a very unique individual in an industry that is all too common lacking in anything unique. Tammira Philippe is the President and CEO of Bridgeway Capital Management, an investment management firm that stewards $5 billion in assets. They’re based in Houston. One thing I know about the financial services industry is that, A) It is generally dominated by white men. B) They tend to not be nearly as generous with the money that they’ve made as they could be. C) Are not necessarily focused on the culture of their companies.
Tammira has such a unique perspective on all three of these things and has taken the financial management industry to a new level. They have turned the corner to become an organization where they truly are all these things, generous, full of servant leaders and she is a woman of a very diverse team, truly a leader of leaders.
Tammira Philippe, welcome to the show. I am so excited to talk with you about your unique culture, your amazing perspective on leadership and also how maybe, you and I could help some of our fellow CEOs think differently because if you can think differently in investment banking or in the financial services sector, there is no reason why every industry can’t be better.
Thank you for having me, Kendra. I’m so excited to be here. I always walk away learning as much as I’m able to share. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Let’s start a little bit with an overview of Bridgeway Capital. Tell us a little bit about your firm and the types of people that work with you and for you and how many people you have. Give us a little insight into what your staff looks like.What we can do as a leader is really to listen and to allow this diverse group we've brought together to identify the things we have in common and how we want to work together. Click To Tweet
You gave us a great intro and I would add. The way we like to talk about ourselves after several years is that we see ourselves as leaders in what we call relational investing. That’s the idea of uniting results for investors with returns for humanity. That is the big idea that got me so excited and intrigued when I joined Bridgeway back in 2005. I’ve been here for many years and been President and CEO for about a few.
I’ve worked with this incredible team of people and we’ve evolved and grown together. We have about 35 people. We refer to everyone who works at Bridgeway as a partner and we can get into that. We do all participate in the ownership of the firm, but that’s one small piece of what we mean by being a partner at Bridgeway. It’s this special relationship that we cultivate. We have people from all walks of life. As you mentioned, a very diverse team by all measures. We simplify it down into cognitive and identity diversity.
We look for cognitive diversity like personality types and life experience. We have accountants. We have marketing people. We don’t know if it takes a rocket scientist, but we have one, anyway. Our head of research is there is a rocket scientist in his original undergrad and post-grad life. We also measure identity and diversity in 67% of our professionals, so the entire firm identify as either a woman or person of color or both. By our industry standards, as you mentioned, that is more rare than we would like it to be. That’s why we do appreciate the opportunity to share what’s worked for us because we want to see more companies be able to achieve those kinds of metrics.
I have so many people in my circle that are in the financial services sector and do not focus on this. It’s always disappointing to me. I mentioned to you before that I sometimes feel like I’m an island in the sea of CEOs in the sense that I think differently about work. You and I connect on our philosophy around what culture is and what work should mean. Can you share a little bit more about that? You’ve talked about conscious capitalism in the past as well as having a more conscious culture. What is that for you?
It’s hard to sum it all up. One of the things that I like to think about with respect to culture is that culture is how we do things at Bridgeway. It’s created by this team that I have the great fortune to lead. What I can do as a leader is to listen and allow this diverse group that we’ve brought together to identify the things we have in common and how we want to work together.
One way that we’ve simplified it down at Bridgeway is that we ascribe to a servant leadership philosophy and that we are very intentional about providing tools and having regular development sessions where people get the opportunity to learn. What do we mean by servant leadership? How do you do it? What we mean very simply is, how can I serve first?
Leaders are looking at the people or projects they’re leading and thinking, “My job is to support and help this team grow and to reach our outcome.” It’s not to dictate. It’s to serve. That’s the best way I could simplify it down in a short answer and I’m sure that there’s more to elaborate on there, but that’s something we’re focused on.
That servant leadership model is almost perfect, but very few companies subscribe to it and live by it. Have you found any resistance to it when you’ve brought in new staff?
What we find with new people is curiosity, which is something we’re looking for. You can be resistant to it, but you have to be curious about it. We’re not scared of resistance because we think that’s engagement and let’s talk about it. The biggest resistance we get is a myth and a misunderstanding about it because some people think that it means, and we talk about this internally, the idea of being kind versus nice. Some people think, “If you’re a servant leader, that means you’re nice and you don’t get the outcomes.”
The outcomes are crucial. Our profits are the best way we measure whether we’re delivering value to our clients, which is what we’re focused on. It’s delivering that value but the going back to kind versus nice. The definition I like to use is nice is telling people what they want to hear and kind is telling people what they need to hear. We focus on a culture of kind because we tell people what they need to hear because we’re all aligned behind this idea of striving for excellence.We have to think different to have different outcomes. Click To Tweet
We believe what we’re doing and trying to do is it’s hard to do. We work in a very competitive business and have to think differently to have different outcomes like you talked about. This is one of the ways that we see that we’re thinking differently. If our people are coming every day and want to go the extra mile because they’re doing work that matters and they see how their work is impacting the outcome, then we’re going to have better outcomes than the competition. If a person is coming to work every day and they are able to bring their best every single day then we think that that results in better outcomes as well.
Do you feel unique in this industry?
We feel unique, but our goal is to not be so unique for sure. Every firm has its own characteristics that set it apart. I think the investment we make in a collaborative approach is pretty distinctive. We do that in our portfolios. Everything we do is team-managed. We even do it in the way that we lead the firm. I’m definitely a very collaborative leader. I’m doing everything I can to listen more than I’m telling.
The gift that I have is to be able to listen and hear those common themes. That’s what I believe my role is. It’s to be able to listen to a bunch of diverse perspectives as a leader and to be able to elicit out what is that common theme that we’re aligning around and how can I repeat that back out to the team then help everybody see that vision and stay aligned behind making it happen.
You have a unique definition of leadership in addition to being a servant leader but let me pause for a second. Before I ask my question, let’s talk about the generosity that you have as well. It sounds like you’re donating about 50% of your profits to organizations in need. Is that correct?
That is correct and that’s been there since the founding. I’ll elaborate on that a little bit. When I first heard about it, I said to myself, and this was before I joined Bridgeway. I was like, “Can accompany do that?” I asked lots of friends. I have an MBA. I asked my peers like, “Have you ever heard of a model like this? Can a company do that?”
What I ended up concluding is look, no one’s done it yet, but if we can be the first and we can show and be a case example of all the synergistic benefits of that, the people that we attract, like everybody else is striving to deliver these great outcomes for clients. It’s super competitive. People can have choices on where they work, but if we can not only be focused on our clients the way our competitors are but have this added benefit that what you do every single day is also making a big impact in the world. That would be very hard to replicate or compete with.
The 50% idea was the idea of our founder. It’s been there from the beginning. We’re very hopeful that 50% may not be the right number for every company but the idea that you can attract a different set of people who want to align behind a common goal of delivering whatever your product or service is and make a difference in the world at the same time. That team cohesiveness that comes from attracting people that are aligned behind that is something that we’ve seen make a difference in our business.
You’ve inspired me. I want to do that. I want to up our game on what we do now because I’ve seen what you are doing. Some of the places you’re donating to, can you describe some of that? Some of the organizations.
I’ll summarize it because I mentioned that we have a very diverse team. We are basically divided into two major aspects of how we think about giving back. One of them is we had this thought that, “We want to all unite around one thing.” We established a Bridgeway Foundation that is focused on very tough problems on this planet. That’s around the idea of ending genocide and mass atrocities. We are aligned and united around giving back with time, money and support to the Bridgeway Foundation, which has some of the world’s experts and is also collaborating in a servant leader way with other organizations to make a difference in that area.The outcomes are crucial. It is the best way we measure whether we're delivering value to our clients. Click To Tweet
Even the CEO of Bridgeway Foundation has written a whole book called To Stop a Warlord about some of our efforts to do some innovative things in that realm. The other big component that we’ve learned about giving back that fires up our team are that everybody has a little personal passion. Some people start at Bridgeway and they’re like, “I don’t know what mine is.” We encourage each person to think, “What do I care about?” The things we give, we also do matching and what we call designations.
We support people with time to get involved in things they care about. That’s very personal and we have a very diverse team, so the list is long and it changes. People are empowered to get involved in organizations that have made a difference in their lives. A lot of those tie to education. There are a lot of partners that are interested in education.
There’s a lot of initiative around this. A lot of partners who’ve come together, gone to other countries and served in other countries to help local communities with either a water project or maybe a cleanup. A group went and did a cleanup project with an organization that had, um, was, was trying to get some land prepared for a community service facility. There’s a lot of diverse interest among the partners. There are a lot of organizations that we’re giving back to in different ways.
What’s your personal contribution? What do you like to provide?
I have a lot of interests. I simplify it, personally, besides uniting around our common vision of ending genocide and mass atrocities, which I’m thrilled to be involved in with people who are so creative and innovative and able to work on a very tough problem. Personally, I’ve been involved with some of the educational institutions that I went to that made a huge difference in my life. I’m a first-generation college student, so that was a real difference maker for me. I want to give back to that, including a foundation where I serve on an investment committee that gave me a scholarship to college.
I’m able to give back that way. I have this entrepreneurship interest and have been involved over the years with an organization called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. That helps give people a second chance and take skills and interests they’ve had and been using on the wrong side of the law and think about how to use that to better our world on the right side. That’s been very rewarding to feel like I can give back in that way. That’s two of them, but it all falls under, for me, a broad idea of how I make a difference for social justice.
With that, then some of the things you do is work with high school students with the scholarship program. Tell us your definition of leadership and what you often hear from people.
That is one of my favorite things. As I mentioned, I got to be interviewed for this scholarship. I’ve been doing it for a few decades now. Most years, I still get to hear what does a top high school student think about leadership? I love the answers I get. The most common answer that I hear is that we need to lead by example. I agree with that. I think that’s so important and that’s a big part of my personal definition of leadership.
It was a scholarship candidate that gave me the simplest definition I’ve ever heard, which is leaders need to know the way, show the way and go the way. I loved that. I’m sure he probably got it from somebody else. Know the way, I think along with leading by example, a leader has to be able to articulate a vision. A lot of times, that vision comes from listening to the group and saying, “Where do we need to go?”
At some point, that leader has to have the vision to go with the going the way is leading by example and being involved in the execution, but showing the way is a big part of leadership. Trust and communication and being able to communicate that vision and connect with people and empathize with people is a big part of earning that trust that leaders have to have because leaders have to have followers. You have to show the way to the followers in order to go the way even if you know the way.How Am I Contributing To The Problem That I’m Trying To Solve? Click To Tweet
I also think how you manage the setbacks too because there is always setback. Do you have an example of a setback you’ve experienced in the past as a leader? How did you recover from it?
There are so many examples, Kendra. How do we narrow it down? I’ll give a recent example. We are in asset management and certainly, our world is like a rollercoaster. The stock market goes up. It goes down. Many of us have worked in this business for a long time, but you never get used to it. You learn to manage it better. We have a mantra at Bridgeway that helps me during those tough times that mistakes are the jewels from which we learn and grow and what I find myself doing.
I learned that at Bridgeway. This started right after I was hired. It started with the person hired after me. Now, we pass it to all new hires and it’s a baseball. It has that phrase that I said written on it. We give it to each new hire. The previous hire says to them like, “This is what we believe in. We want you to know that mistakes are valued here because they’re jewels from which we learn and grow.” Acknowledging that we all make mistakes. Usually, they tell a story about a mistake they’ve made so that we can make that a part of our culture.
That new hire, they pass it along when they’re ready to pass it along. Sometimes, we hire people close in time, and it becomes a funny joke, which is also in our mission statement of having fun, like, “You got to hurry up and make a mistake, so you pass it.” Sorry, I went on a tangent but coming back to we all have setbacks.
One of the challenges that I’ve had is it’s pretty hard. Our clients always struggle when the market pulls back and staying the course. We like to say the best equity investors think in decades, not days. How do we say that creatively and differently each time in such a way that it inspires the right discipline in our clients? That’s the hard job that we have. One of the things that helped me is we’ve had a pull-back in our business and it’s certainly something.
I was getting down about it. I was maybe wondering, “Are we working on all the right things?” Frankly, I saw a video by a basketball coach that was talking about, “You keep waiting for it to get easier and it’s not. What happens is you get better at managing hard better.” I loved that. Frankly, it helped me see things from a different perspective and be grateful for the opportunity to work through these challenges.
In my early days as an entrepreneur, I struggled with cash, as all new entrepreneurs do. I remember feeling like, “Is this ever get better or easier?” A coach of mine said something very similar, to say, “You’ve got to get to a place where the highs are not so high and the lows are not so low.” Now I say, “It’s still a roller coaster, but it’s more of like a Disneyland rollercoaster, like a Six Flags roller coaster.”
The other thing, going back to one of the things that I’ve personally learned in our servant leadership work, one of the tips and tools we have for a leader that I use pretty frequently is, how am I contributing to the problem that I don’t want? Let’s say somebody is late with the thing and they said they would do it and they haven’t done it. I’m thinking, “How do I talk to that person? What do I say and how do I get them to deliver on what they’ve said?”
Now I take an extra step and when I’m doing well and I try to be very intentional about asking myself, “How am I contributing to this problem that I don’t want? Were are my expectations clear? Can I ask the person that? Was the deadline clear? Did I offer enough resources or did I ask somebody to do it that I had already asked five other things of?” It’s a little bit of a process and a checklist that I do individually as a leader. I would say we’ve made a part of our culture at Bridgeway by teaching everybody these tools and refreshing these tools on a regular basis through sessions a couple of times a year to inculcate the culture that we want to develop.
That is a great statement. I’ve never thought of it that way. Let me share with you something that happened to me while I was researching you and researching Bridgeway. I went through this moment where I felt like I wanted to be your customer. I was like, “These are amazing. This is the kind of company that I want to give my money to.” I think that that’s a remarkable experience that I imagine I’m not the only one.Listen to a bunch of diverse perspectives as a leader, elicit what is that common theme, and then help everybody see that vision and stay aligned behind making it happen. Click To Tweet
I’ve heard you say that your culture brings in the right kinds of employees. You probably don’t have the challenges others have with keeping employees and finding employees. That’s one big benefit of having these values so instilled inside your company. Another one is clearly, what my experience was, which is it’s got to be bringing in more customers for you. Is that true?
I would say yes and no. As I mentioned before, it’s a very competitive business. We believe and we want it to continue to be a tie-breaker like all else equal. If we’re delivering investment excellence, which is the primary criteria that our clients are looking for, do we have in terms of the kinds of investment strategies that we’re offering? Do they fit into the way that client has been advised to allocate their financial assets? I would say that’s the number one thing and we’re not a fit for everyone inside their equity portfolio.
When we are, so once we get that, when we do meet that criteria among our competitors, all else is equal if you can get the investment outcomes and have these other outcomes. We do get feedback that that’s a difference maker. More and more, we are doing a better job of telling our story so that people do know that part of Bridgeway. They can have the feeling that you had where they are like, “I get investment outcomes that are comparable to other options and I get to work with the people and be served more accurately. Be served by the people that are going to put my interests first and care about something bigger than all of us.”
In a way, we’re achieving those returns for humanity that I talked about collectively with our clients. That’s exciting but full candor, I don’t think we’ve told that story as broadly and widely and as well as we could have. That’s a growth opportunity for us of the learning experience because we’ve probably been too hesitant about tooting our own horn or not wanting people to think that we’re doing this for marketing reasons because we aren’t doing it for marketing reasons.
We’re doing it because we think it makes a difference in the world. We think it makes a difference for the people that work at Bridgeway and because we think it ultimately makes a difference for our clients. The focus that we have to deliver those outcomes for our clients comes from that commitment that we have to something bigger than any one individual.
We work with a lot of different types of businesses, all small businesses that are growing. One of the conversations we get into a lot is managing multiple generations in the workforce. For sure, what we know about the Zoomers, which is what I’ve heard them be called now, the Gen Z, as well as then in Gen Y and the Millennials, is that they do want to work for an organization that cares. That is probably something that will continue to be important to communicate as the Boomers and Generation X, probably our generation, start to move out of the workforce. I think it’s important and it was a unique experience for me when I was doing that research. There’s something powerful there for you.
On that note, I want to say thank you so much for your time. You inspired me as a leader to think differently about how I want to contribute back as well. It made me feel like I have a kindred spirit with you. Thank you for your time, Tammira.
Thank you, Kendra. The thing I want to say, I have so much affinity for you and probably all the readers is this idea of staying curious and we’re always learning. I appreciated the opportunity. It seems like that’s what you’re doing and there’s so much more that all of us, as leaders, can do to have people feel like their work matters. That it is something where they can come every day and make a difference. I’m trying to do that every day at Bridgeway. I think the more that all of us work together to make that happen that it’s going to have knock-on benefits into the world, our families and our communities.
Tammira Philippe, thank you so much for joining me and best of luck to you and to Bridgeway Capital. We’ll stay in touch and find out how things are going. Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Kendra.
About Tammira Philippe
Tammira Philippe is President and CEO of Bridgeway Capital Management, an investment management firm that stewards $5 billion in quantitative public equity strategies for clients. Bridgeway is a leader in relational investing, a statistical, evidence-based approach that unites results for investors and returns for humanity by innovating in asset management and donating 50% of the firm’s earnings to organizations making a positive impact. Beyond Bridgeway, Tammira has board experience on the Stanford GSB Advisory Council, Texas A&M Computer Science & Engineering Advisory Council, CFA Houston Strategic Advisory Board, and the Investment Committee of the Terry Foundation, a scholarship provider that supported her undergraduate education. She is passionate about promoting education and social justice, two areas that are fulfilled through her professional work and volunteer service.