This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Peter de Silva, Author, Director, and Trustee. Peter is an experienced chairman, CEO, president, executive committee member, public and private company director and trustee for national not-for-profit organizations and national charitable foundations. In this episode, Peter talks about the importance of successfully cultivating relationships for career progression, the financial impacts of the 2020 ‘meme’ stock craze, and leaves us with his top three pieces of advice for the CFOs of the future.
This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Peter de Silva, Author, Director, and Trustee.
Peter is an experienced chairman, CEO, president, executive committee member, public and private company director and trustee for national not-for-profit organizations and national charitable foundations. He’s a Former Harvard University Senior Fellow - Advanced Leadership Initiative, and author of Taking Stock: 10 Life Leadership Principles from My Seat at the Table.
In this episode, Peter talks about the importance of successfully cultivating relationships for career progression, the financial impacts of the 2020 ‘meme’ stock craze, and leaves us with his top three pieces of advice for the CFOs of the future.
“If I think about three or four pieces of advice for aspiring financial leaders, I would leave you with this. One, take intelligent risks. I didn't want to move to Cincinnati. I didn't want to move to Kansas City. But I did, and I grew much more quickly. I got way ahead from where I would've been if I sat in my office in Boston. So, take those intelligent risks. Second, and something that has to be learned, you need to hire people that compliment you and challenge you. The leader that hires people that look just like them and marches in line, it doesn't work. You want people who challenge you around that table. And, as long as they do it respectfully and ethically, it's all good with me. But, ensure you find people who compliment and challenge you. Third, constantly challenge yourself to improve. None of us are done learning and growing and we won't be until we draw our last breath because that's the essence of life, is to learn and grow and to develop. And my last piece of advice for everyone is to do what you love and love what you do. And, if you don't, It's time to move on.” - Peter de Silva
01:22 Peter’s background
06:12 Early career
09:28 Experience at Harvard
14:38 Meme stock craze
22:56 Peter’s book
25:43 Cultivating relationships
30:40 What’s next for Peter
31:26 Advice for upcoming CFOs
34:00 Learning experiences
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Francois Badenhorst: Welcome to the CFO Playbook, where we bring you insights and strategies on how the many obstacles facing the heads of finance functions internationally are being tackled. I'm your host, Francois Badenhorst, UK Content Lead at Soldo. In each episode, we help you grow your team, your company, and yourself. In this episode, I talked to Peter de Silva.
Peter is a published author, public and private company director, and trustee for national nonprofit organizations and national charitable foundations in the US. Of course, he's a former Harvard University senior fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative, and author of Taking Stock: 10 Life Leadership Principles From my Seat at the Table. You may be a little bit surprised about what Peter has to say about leadership in 2023.
We also talk about his experience at Harvard, why it was so valuable for him, the importance of cultivating relationships in both career and life, financial impacts of the 2020 meme stock craze, and much, much more. I hope you enjoy the show, and if you want to keep updated on the CFO Playbook, hit subscribe on whichever service you use for your podcasts. Enjoy.
So we're joined now by Peter de Silva. How are you doing, Peter?
Peter de Silva: I'm doing terrific. Thank you.
Francois Badenhorst: So Peter, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where you come from, what your story is in terms of your career, and what keeps Peter de Silva busy at the moment.
[00:01:31] Peter de Silva: Yeah. You know, it's been a crazy 35 years, quite honestly. I grew up in Boston area. I attended local college and then ended up at Fidelity Investments for 17 years. Right. I walked in the door, I thought I'd be there maybe 17 weeks, and, and I was there for 17 years and, uh, I was a, a leader in their mutual fund area. You know, the companies hadn't yet transitioned from sort of pure mutual funds to more of a brokerage and open architecture approach.
And then I got a call to move to Kansas City of all places, and I'm like, well, why would I do that? But it was a wonderful opportunity to lead a regional bank in Kansas City called U M B Financial Corporation. And I did that for 12 years and really enjoyed my time as a banker, enjoyed my time in the community and just really had a delightful, delightful experience.
And then it was off the Scott trade back to my roots, you know, back to my brokerage roots and my discount troops. And I ran Scott Trade Financial Services for a couple of years until we sold that to TD Ameritrade. And then TD Ameritrade asked me to come on and run their retail platform. For about two to three years.
And then we sold that company, uh, to Charles Schwab. So right now people don't like to see me coming because it seems like whenever I show up, we're selling companies. And certainly that wasn't, uh, that wasn't the intention, but that's kinda the way it worked out. So after I finished up their Ameritrade, I went to Harvard for 18 months.
Uh, Harvard has this wonderful program for readers. That are transitioning, if you will, and it's called the Advanced Leadership Initiative. So I spent 18 months at Harvard with some of the smartest minds, both locally and in the world, thinking about some of the most difficult and intractable social problems that we have to deal with.
And during that period of time, I wrote my book, I. I just released a book on March 23rd called Taking Stock 10 Life and Leadership Principles from My Seat at the Table, which really chronicles the last 35 years and how I, you know, managed through adversity. And I, I hope I lead the reader with a, with a blueprint on how they can improve and advance their career.
[00:03:23] Francois Badenhorst: That's a interesting story and I'd like to say it's been 35 years. I mean, that's over three decades of experience there for us to mine in this conversation. So, It's actually an interesting thing that you said there and it's something that I'm quite fascinated by and I had this conversation with my own father.
He stuck around in a job for, uh, 20 something years as well. I'm interested to know your perspective on that as someone who had a tenure that lasted that long, cuz obviously the, the inclination now is much more towards job hopping and sort of moving much more frequently. Why do you think that that inclination has come in and do you think it's necessarily a positive thing?
[00:04:01] Peter de Silva: it's, it's a really good insight. You know, I, I would say this, I stayed at these jobs a long time, 17 at Fidelity, 12 at U M B. You know, I'd probably still be at Scott Trade if we hadn't sold it. But I did learn a lesson along the way, and I, I learned this probably at my time at U M B, which is, and I'll be candid, I probably stayed too long and I stayed too long in the sense that when you stop learning, when you stop growing, when you stop advancing quickly, I think it's time to really reset and reconsider.
Whether it's, whether it's time to leave an organization and I felt like I got a little stale and I got kinda, I wasn't just going through the motions, we're doing really good work, but I wasn't learning and growing as quickly as I, as I wanted to. So that was from my own personal perspective. In terms of today's young people in particular, you know, I think there's some fundamental shifts.
In how they think about their engagement with their employer. And I'd say shift number one is a lot of young people today think about where they wanna live first and what kind of experience they wanna have, what kind of life they want to have. They think about that first, and then they think second about where do I wanna work?
And that's a fundamental difference than when I grew up. I'll never forget when my boss at Fidelity came into my office one day and he said, son, he said, your job is moving to Cincinnati. Are you going with it or not? It wasn't really, uh, an option. It was like that's going there and you have a choice, but the only two choices are you go with it or you maybe leave the company and you employers can't get away with that today.
I think there's this issue of deciding where you wanna live first, and the kind of experience you want to have, and then where you want to work second. And it's a real challenge for employers to make sure that they create an associate experience that enables associates to, one, stay connected. Stay connected to the culture, stay connected to the relationships that one needs to build, but yet allow them the flexibility to do it their own way.
[00:05:55] Francois Badenhorst: It's an interesting parallel there, that point you made around people thinking first about where they want to live. Cuz I mean, you reference the fact that you moved from Boston to Kansas City. Kansas City. I've been there. It's a lovely city. It's wonderful people, wonderful food as well. But, um, it's not necessarily, I guess, the most fashionable city.
I don't think people kind of necessarily have dreams of moving to kc. Is there something to be said for, um, especially at the start of your career, and especially if you're trying to really climb the ladder? Sometimes just being flexible and open-minded about finding opportunities and I guess more regional cities.
[00:06:27] Peter de Silva: 100%. I, I think there's a couple of points here. You know, one, and my boss at Fidelity told me this when I didn't want to go to Cincinnati, but eventually I did, and he said a couple of things that were really critical. He said, number one, you will learn and grow much faster. Away from headquarters than you will being at headquarters, which was completely counter to the way I was thinking about it.
And his view was, if you get outside the bubble and you get into one of these regional centers, you have a lot more autonomy. You have a lot more ability to impact things and influence things than if you're sitting as one of many, many, many, many people. No matter how senior you are at headquarters. So I thought that was really, really insightful and, and helpful to me.
And second, he said, you, you will get recognized. You will, you will be recognized for that role and for what you're able to do in that domain. And he couldn't have been more right. And he couldn't have been more. Right. I went to Cincinnati for two years. Uh, we agreed that it would be for two, and then I'd move back to Boston at the end of that.
And I grew faster. I built better relationships. I feel like I was able to accomplish a very specific task, uh, if you will, and the recognition flowed. And so I do think, you know, getting out of that headquarters mentality, getting into a regional center or something along those lines is very important.
And some of the biggest companies in America, ge among them, almost require. Their senior leader is to do a stint in the field so they really understand how the company operates out with its clients.
[00:07:58] Francois Badenhorst: I remember I read a biography of Sam Walton and he had this tendency to just rock up at random stores and do stuff like pack bags and other things.
I can't imagine being a warm sales assistant and seeing Sam Walton walk into to just, to just spook around. But yeah, I mean like, yeah, he had a very strong understanding that, like you say, like just getting outta that sort of bubble and not necessarily being around people that think the same way as you is also very powerful.
[00:08:23] Peter de Silva: I remember a story when I was at Fidelity. I was in Cincinnati and Ned Johnson, of course, who's a, who's an icon of the financial industry, came to see us and we had this whole thing choreographed, right? His whole day choreographed, we're gonna put him in a conference room, we're gonna give him a presentation, we're gonna show him a demo, and five minutes in, he says, you know what?
He says, I just wanna walk around. I just wanna walk around. I want to get a chance to talk to people. I wanna see the front line, I want to hear from them. And I was horrified, absolutely horrified. Like, oh my goodness gracious, he's on the loose and you know, what's he gonna see? And at the end of the day, he came back and he said, well, I saw some good things and I saw lots of things we can improve upon.
And that really stuck with me, this idea that. All wisdom doesn't come from, you know, headquarters. It, it is really in the people that do the work. That's where you find real wisdom. It always stuck with me. I guess
[00:09:16] Francois Badenhorst: there's different ways to get wisdom cuz you spoke already very highly about your time at, at Harvard, which is, it's the place if you want to attain knowledge, you know, it contrasts, I guess quite starkly with that sort of everyday experience, but like, what kind of wisdom and knowledge is there to be gained through an experience or an institution like that in your experience?
[00:09:35] Peter de Silva: Yeah. You know, so it came at a really interesting point, right? We had just sold Ameritrade to Schwab. I had a two year non-compete, so I needed to think about what I was gonna do during that period of time. And this program just sort of found its way to me, which was extraordinary. But here's what I really took away.
Here are 50 people from all over the world. From all walks of life, you've got business leaders, social impact leaders, government leaders, you name it. I mean just amazing, amazing individuals. And you know, it was really interesting during that period of time, of course, our first semester was remote because of Covid.
And so here are 50 people who are trying to get to know each other and build relationships and trust, which by the way is code for relationships. Relationships equal trust and trust equals relationships. And imagine how difficult that was. And so the first thing I learned was that the human connection, the face-to-face, you and I aren't, we are face-to-face, but we're virtual today, right?
And we can build a certain connection with each other. But you can't really build a permanent connection, I think, through digital mechanisms. And so I learned from that that, you know, it was very difficult to connect. It was very difficult. To understand different cultures and different perspectives and you know, we'd have some very difficult conversations on some of the world's most intractable social problems.
And people would be misunderstood, perspective, wouldn't be fully appreciated. And so here's what happened on the other side of that. You know, when we started the second semester, we had a two or three day offsite to kick it off. We were finally in person. And oh my goodness, everything changed. I mean, the perspectives changed, the appreciation for each other, changed.
Relationships began to get developed. Trust was developing, and conversations became a lot easier. So that's one of my big takeaways is despite all this wonderful digital media that allows us to connect this way, all good things in life happen with people and through people, and you still have to connect that way.
[00:11:32] Francois Badenhorst: A hundred percent. That's actually a really interesting point you're making about the digital interaction. Like, I mean, obviously I understand the appeal. I've got a one-year-old, I understand the appeal of, of remote work and hybrid work and all that. So what really got me thinking about this was I read a, a critique of dating apps.
This person was talking about how with dating apps, it's precisely that problem, right? So it can't completely capture. The kind of intangible qualities and things that we might find attractive in person. Right. It sort of packages things very neatly. It doesn't really capture the full kind of essence of the person.
That really struck me as a, as applying very truly to, to work. Cuz you know, I've had that experience too of like trying to have difficult conversations over video and it, and it actually makes things quite difficult, doesn't
[00:12:16] Peter de Silva: it? It sure does. I'll, I'll tell you a brief story. So when I was at Ameritrade, we were growing like a weed, right?
Was the, Meme, stock trading frenzy, and we were just growing like we, so we needed to hire thousands of people, and the pandemic was raging, and so we had to figure out how do you source, recruit, train onboard, and create sort of culture with people that you've never, never met before? We, we've never met these folks, so everything was done virtually.
Our team did an amazing job. Recruiting these individuals and training them and onboarding them, et cetera. And then about nine months later, I was looking at some data and what I saw was that these folks that we had hired during the pandemic, Were over attriting, right? So we were over-indexing, if you will, on their attrition rate and by significant margins.
And so I asked the HR team, I said, do me a favor, do a little bit of research on this and come back and tell me what's going on. And they came back and told me what I should have understood, but didn't necessarily right away. I. Which was, they did exit interviews of these individuals and they all said, look, I've never met my manager face-to-face.
I've never been inside your facilities. I've never had lunch with my colleagues and try as we might to inculcate them into our culture and into our environment. It was very, very, very difficult to do. And so when another company called up and said, we'll pay you $3 more an hour to sit in your basement and do the same job.
We would lose them. And so I think the idea of remote work is wonderful, and I think we're headed to a hybrid environment, but there has to be a connection to the organization. There has to be a connection to the culture and to the people. And the ones that I feel the worst for, if you want to call it that, is those that really want to get ahead.
Those that want to learn from role models, those that want to learn from others in the office, those that wanna have those hallway conversations, which are so valuable and those are difficult to engineer on a digital
[00:14:10] Francois Badenhorst: environment. Yeah, I mean, you already spoke about that. I mean, like that boss that spoke to you about kind of moving to that regional spot and kind of what an important kind of inflection point that was for your career.
It's hard to imagine that happening via Zoom, or even if it did happen via Zoom, you're not taking it in the wrong way. You know what I mean? It's, oh, this guy just appeared on my screen. Well, there is that risk. Yeah. Yeah. Like this guy just appeared on my screen. He's like, you're moving to Cincinnati. Like Oh.
Oh, okay. You actually referenced something really interesting. So our podcast is sort of mainly geared at finance professionals and CFOs. But you mentioned a, a very interesting societal thing that happened recently. Meme, the meme, stock frenzy. I guess just for the uninitiated, uh, listeners, could you just give us a bit of a primer on what that was?
[00:14:51] Peter de Silva: You know, there was this very strange moment in time where it seemed like the, uh, small investor was really trying to give it to the institutional investor. And institutional investors have generally had an advantage over small investors in the sense that they have, you know, they have more horsepower, they have more research, they have more access to information, et cetera, et cetera.
The internet did in fact level, the playing field in many, many respects around that. But there was a group of individual investors who, through using technology, decided that, you know what? We think we can bring these guys down. We think that if we pick a few names and we all sort of go into them at the same time and we all short these stocks, there's gonna be tremendous, tremendous pressure.
And so this thing we call the meme stock craze began and it was, it was companies like GameStop and Bed Bath and Beyond, and a and a few others that everybody piled into. And to a degree it worked. But this is a little bit of the sheep theory, as I call it. Which is, if you think about how sheep, you know, walk around in a pasture, they generally follow each other, right?
And if they go to the edge of the cliff, they'll all fall off the cliff because they just follow each other off the cliff. Well, that's what began to happen here, where, you know, even as those meme stocks began to unwind, And the trades began to unwind. Everybody was still piling in at exactly the wrong time.
So, you know, it was a, it was a very interesting period of time. It drove tremendous trading volumes in the discount brokerage industry. Robinhood certainly had a hand in that as a democratized investing for the small investor, but I think a lot of people got hurt. Quite honestly, a lot of them didn't quite understand the basics of investing.
They understood trading. And by the way, there's a big difference between trading and investing. Trading is you gotta be looking at that seven by 24. You've gotta be prepared to pull the trigger, and not only do you need to have a bi discipline, But the more important discipline is the cell discipline.
And I can't tell you how many folks rode GameStop all the way up to $250 a share and then wrote it all the way back down or AMC and wrote it all the way back up and all the way back down. So sometimes I would tell you the cell discipline is actually more important sometimes than the buy discipline.
It was a
[00:17:02] Francois Badenhorst: fascinating, and I guess as someone who had no skin in the game, a quite entertaining saga in terms of to read about it at the time. But I, I guess now that things have slightly cooled off a little bit, If we look at that now, what does that event, or I guess almost like a social movement in many respects, what does that.
Tell us about the kind of commercial landscape that we're operating in now. If you are a senior leader in a large business, is there a lesson to be learned from the whole meme, stock saga? There
[00:17:30] Peter de Silva: is, and I think there's a few, but maybe the most pronounced is, let's compare this to what just happened with Silicon Valley Bank and what's happening today with First Republic Bank, as it's now under significant pressure and the availability of technology that enables in an instant.
To move money to make a trade. It wasn't there 10 years ago, but today you look at Silicon Valley, yes, there were lots of reasons why SVB failed. We can get into that if you want, but clearly one of them was that there's very little friction. Left in the system as it relates to moving money, right? So when somebody says, Hey, it's time to get out, guys.
We think this bank has some, some challenges. It's as easy as two or three clicks in your computer and you can get that money out. We've never had to deal with that before as a financial industry and as a country. Uh, so that's true in the financial industry, but it's also true more broadly. It was true in meme stocks.
It's really easy to set up a Robinhood account, fund it with, you know, a hundred dollars and buy GameStop not knowing what the heck you're doing, but you're just piling in. You know, you're just piling in along with others. So I think the presence of the technology that we have today, the removal of the friction, if you will, in so many ways out of the system, we're still learning what that really means.
[00:18:42] Francois Badenhorst: Yeah, interesting stuff. You've mentioned your book already. It'd be interesting to find out a little bit more about that, because you mentioned that at your time at Harvard you focused a lot on, I guess a lot of the social problems that we have, and I suppose. My question would be initially, like, what would be the function of ruminating on those topics for any person that's in business, there's the classic kind of Milton Friedman thing of just like, oh, those are just, uh, externalities.
Like, why should we care? What's your feelings on it?
[00:19:07] Peter de Silva: Yeah. I don't know why you don't care. We all live in a society that in order for your business to be successful, society more broadly needs to be successful, and you can define the definition of success, but there, there needs to be, Success, if you will.
And so I, I don't think you can put your head in the sand on some of these significant social issues, uh, and expect to have success as a business. You know, one of the things that I very strongly feel is that as a business leader, you have an obligation to at least take care of the communities that give you your strength.
I mean, people do business with you, right? They buy your product or they buy your service or whatever. And I believe you have an obligation to provide support to that community when you're a banker in a local market. There's an expectation quite candidly that you're gonna give back with both your time, talent, and treasure, and we do that.
So I don't think you can separate. The social issues that the country is going through from your business issues. And I think if you try, it's probably at your own peril. Now that said, you know, we're, we're living in the week of the Bud White dilemma. Uh, you know, and in Heisel Bush is, is going through at the moment.
And you know, I'm not here to say who's right and who's wrong. But there is risk. There certainly is risk as you try to reach out to some of these communities and such. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:19] Francois Badenhorst: I mean, I, um, I just, today, I, I was reading The Guardian and I saw, uh, the singer come, rapper Kid Rock firing a machine gun at, at numerous cases of Bud Light.
And yeah, it was a interesting thing for, uh, uninitiated listeners. This is the, the controversy around Bud Light who, uh, have signed up, uh, the comedian, Dylan Mulvaney. As a, I guess a, a spokesperson would be the would thing to say. Yeah,
[00:20:46] Peter de Silva: it's a very interesting and difficult decision for business and, you know, I can play this lots of different ways.
I, I think certainly inside the company is one thing. You know, Disney inside the company is Disney and they can pretty much do as they want when they traverse that line. And start to, and imposes a strong word, but start to suggest behavioral norms outside the organization. I think that's when it gets difficult.
[00:21:10] Francois Badenhorst: It's such a tricky, tricky space. It's really, really hard. I, Disney has, has picked up a lot of trouble in Florida, I know with, with Ron DeSantis and everything. But, um, yeah, it's a. It's hard to see a way out, I guess, in terms of, you know, there's always this talk of like the culture, the culture wars that seem to pervade and seem to really crowd out any kind of constructive conversations that we could potentially have about the many social challenges that we have.
Um, that's an interesting one for, um, for senior people in business because obviously if you are employing a large workforce, that's thousands of people. That's people with different perspectives to people with different outlooks, people with different religious beliefs, to what extent. Should you try to address the world out there at work?
I think about base camp and there you basically just said, flat out no discussing politics at work. Is there a happy, happy middle ground?
[00:22:00] Peter de Silva: Well, that's a really difficult question in today's highly charged environment. I think at the end of the day, you know, you have to let people live their best lives, and you do want people to bring their best life to work, their best selves to work, if you will.
And so you're kind of. Torn between what that looks like and as a company, you know, I do think you have stakeholders that you have to consider. Your employees are a stakeholder. Your clients are stakeholder, your shareholders of one form or another. Your community, they're all stakeholders and they all need to be, you know, you need to be attentive to all of them.
But I also think the, the primary role of a company is to offer a product, offer a service, and provide a great one at that. And so, Customers will decide at the end of the day, they have the freedom to choose. And again, bud White, you know, they've lost some business. Clearly. Maybe they've picked up some business from folks that they were trying to attract.
I, I don't know, but I think that's the calculus that every business has to go through. Peter,
[00:22:58] Francois Badenhorst: tell us what the title of your book is and, and firstly where we can get it and find it and buy it and pre-use it. Yeah,
[00:23:03] Peter de Silva: thanks. The book's called Taking Stock, uh, 10 Life and Leadership Principles from My Seat at the Table.
It was released in March. You can find it on Amazon, on Apple Books, on On the Nook. Pretty much any bookstore at this point can get it for you. If they don't have it on the shelf, they can get it for you. So it's been widely distributed across the country, and I gotta tell you, I'm very gratified. I'm extremely gratified by the response to date.
We've had some tremendous endorsements from some very noteworthy individuals. The reviews on Amazon have been absolutely wonderful. I think we're five stars still. I think the reason it's touching people, it's the real world. I mean, these leadership lessons in this life that I've led for good or for bad, it's from a practitioner standpoint, and that is so different than a purely academic standpoint.
No disrespect to the academics who write lots of these leadership books, but. I'll just say what I did. So contrast that with somebody who spent 35 years in the trenches, somebody who spent 35 years on the front line and can write intelligently, hopefully about the 2008 crisis as a crisis of leadership as much as it was a crisis around finances, if you will.
So I, it's gotten a wonderful response and I hope that it will continue to, uh, to help people consider how they might use my principles, our principles to enhance their own lives. It's a
[00:24:23] Francois Badenhorst: very valid point around the sort of, I guess the academic side of things. It's like the difference between reading a book about military strategy and tactics and reading a soldier's book about combat, like they've about the same thing, but I mean one is very different than the other.
For sure. So the subtitle, the book is 10 Life and Leadership Principles From My Seat At the Table. Is there a particular one of those 10 that really, really sticks out for you that is as an absolute cornerstone of your life and work philosophy?
[00:24:53] Peter de Silva: It's awfully difficult because the 10 really work in concert with each other.
I would say if there was only one I could pick, it was this idea that you have to build mutually beneficial and enduring relationships with individuals. And we talked about this earlier. You know, the challenge of doing that in this digital age, uh, if you will, it still takes one to one. It still takes a really, a really wonderful opportunity to meet and develop relationships with people.
It's elemental. It's elemental to your life. It's elemental to your career, it's elemental to your family. And it's something I just feel very, very strongly about. And in the book I discussed this, this concept of what I call relationship equilibrium. And if you think about equilibrium, it's a state where things are imbalance, right?
Where you feel really good. So if you think about that in the context of a relationship, what that basically means is, Hey, I give as much as I get. I feel really good about this relationship. It's in balance, if you will. That could be a marriage, that could be, uh, an employer, employee relationship, that could be a friend, whatever it might be.
And we all know what happens when you get out of balance and when you have this equilibrium. Is people get divorced. I mean, couples get divorced. People leave companies. And when you ask them why, fundamentally they're saying in one form or another, you know what? I just wasn't happy here. My manager wasn't providing me development opportunities and I want to grow, but in some form or another, there's this, this equilibrium.
And so I think the goal in these relationships is to achieve what I, again, what I term relationship equilibrium. And I think if you can do that, that's the best outcome you can have.
[00:26:29] Francois Badenhorst: That's something I think about a lot. It's just my personal life. One of my favorite writers is a sci-fi writer called Kim Stanley Robinson.
And he, he has this line in one of his novels, 2312, where he says, um, love is a, is a kind of giving of attention in many respects. It's work. Um, cuz it's something that you have to kinda constantly kind of work at. It's not something that you can just kind of like do and it just kind of stays there. It's almost like a, like a plant.
You need to kind of like look after it nicely. And I suppose in your kind of career, you've probably seen instances where people have just kind of let what were once positive relationships drift into almost by default. Not even necessarily negative ones, but just kind of like into non-positive ones I guess you would say.
[00:27:13] Peter de Silva: Well, you used the right word. I mean, it's basically cultivation. It takes constant cultivation and you know, think about friends of yours, right? You've got some very close friends and you've got some acquaintances, and you've got some people that if you see, you might say hello to, but they're not even really acquaintances, if you will.
And the difference is about how, how close you are to that individual, that individual, how you look at that individual and how that individual looks at you. Um, the opportunity for the two of you to collaborate together on something maybe, maybe bigger. So, you know, I think it's really important to know the people who are in that, their circle, if you will know the ones that you have deep relationships with.
And cultivate those. And maintain those. And then you're gonna have some relationships that are, and this is gonna seem a little oxymoronic in way, but that are more transactional. They're gonna be more transactional. That's okay. We all have them. I go to the grocery store. I have a nice interaction with the cashier when I leave, but that's a transaction and that's okay.
But make sure you really know the people that you need to be close to, who want to have mutual benefit and want to achieve this, what I call relationship equal program. Have you
[00:28:25] Francois Badenhorst: ever heard of the Dunbar number? So Robin Dunbar, who's a, he's a social anthropologist. He's gonna come on the podcast at some point in the near future.
He basically quantified the number of stable social relationships you can really have with people. He put it at about 150 and then he breaks it down different. One says like the really, really, really close ones and, but yeah, 150 about people particularly, you can really kind of, Have a relationship with, and I suppose you can kind of give or take on the number, but it's an interesting idea, which is, you know, like you say, it's not just about stacking friendships aimlessly.
You have to also kind of be very kind of careful about not just sort of, I guess trying to be everything to everyone. And there's a saying in journalism where like, it's like you can have knowledge that's a. A mile wide but an inch deep. And I suppose you could say the same thing for like relationships, isn't it?
[00:29:09] Peter de Silva: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I mean, think, I think of it as concentric circles, right in the middle. You've got those very deep relationships that are absolutely, you know, critical to you. And then the next layer, you've got important relationships that you certainly wanna maintain and you wanna cultivate, and then you've got friendships, and then you've got sort of transactions on the outer ring.
And where do you wanna spend most of your time in the inner circle? You know, you wanna spend a disproportionate amount of your time securing, managing, maintaining, cultivating those relationships, because those are the ones that you know, you're the closest to. And then, you know, you'll spend some time in the next circle as well.
But it's so important to know who's in which circle so you know where to spend your time and your attention. It certainly
[00:29:53] Francois Badenhorst: seems like a fascinating topic. In terms of the, the book itself, you mentioned at, you wrote it at your time at Harvard. Were you planning to write a book or was it something that just kind of happened organically?
[00:30:03] Peter de Silva: Yeah, a bit of both, you know? So over the years I've sort of kept notes of some of these principles and some of my thoughts, and I never really thought I'd take them and write a book over them, but I think the time at Harvard sort of stimulated me to do so, and I was seeing these principles over and over again, come into focus.
They came outta my business life. But they're really applicable in life more broadly and not just in the business, in the business setting. And so that's where I decided, I'm like, you know what? I think I've got something to tell. I think I've got some information that others might benefit from. And so I decided to go ahead and put 'em, put 'em on a piece
[00:30:38] Francois Badenhorst: of paper.
So now that you've got the book out, where to next, what's next in line for you?
[00:30:42] Peter de Silva: That's a good question. I'd like to answer that. I've got a couple different paths I'm pursuing, you know, one, do I want to get back in and do another very, very large c e o type job? And, you know, at 61, I've, I've gotta think about that.
I definitely have a lot more to give, but that's, that's a lot, that's a lot of activity and a lot of efforts. So that's certainly one path. I'm on four or five company boards today, and I'm, I'm passionate about some not-for-profit work that I do as well. And so certainly that's a second path that I can pursue.
So, you know, I'm still in the middle of sort of sorting my, sorting my way through that my non-competes over. So that's good. Uh, so I can think about these things now and, um, I would say in the next few months I'll make a judgment about what the next chapter's gonna look like
[00:31:25] Francois Badenhorst: with your c e o and board member hat on.
Can you tell us a little bit about what sort of things you are looking for or would look for in A C F O or potential C F O appointee? Good
[00:31:39] Peter de Silva: question. I've worked with some phenomenal CFOs over time, and there's always five things that, that I look for principally. Number one, they need to be a great steward, obviously, of the firm's assets.
I mean, they are the, the individual and the team that is the steward of our assets. Second, and maybe the most important, they have to be a trusted advisor. When I think about some of the most important relationships I have in an office setting, in a business setting, it's always my cfo, it's my head of hr, my general counsel.
I don't go anywhere without them, quite honestly, all of them, because they really form the nexus of the team that helps to run the organization. And so trusted advisor to the C E O and to the line of business heads. You know, more and more the best CFOs are working horizontally. Not just vertically.
They're working horizontally with all the line of business heads. They're collaborating with them, they're strategizing with them, they're helping make them better. A third dimension though is I think the CFO is, is central in helping to formulate the company's strategy. And so I'm looking for somebody, always looking for somebody who has either done that or has the capability to do that.
And could participate fully in the creation and execution of the company's strategy. I also like to find someone who is, has both internal and external perspectives more and more. You know, you look for folks who can bring those external perspectives into the organization. I. And I think that's incredibly important.
And lastly, you know, they have to be able to talk credibly to the street, to investors and to other, uh, other stakeholders in and out of the organization.
[00:33:10] Francois Badenhorst: That last one in particular is such a big one. Now, in terms of the role that the C F O plays in, um, gaining investment, has that changed quite a lot in over the course of your career?
Is that something that you've seen yourself or is it just something that we seem to think is new and isn't actually that new?
[00:33:25] Peter de Silva: No, I do think it's, it's fairly new. If I go back 25, 30 years, it seemed like the CEO was the one always going around doing the capital raise and, and was the one talking to the street.
You know, if you watch CNBC today, I'd say a third of the company representatives that come on or CFOs. Not always the C E o. I think the C F O has gained a lot of credibility in the C-Suite. I think they have a lot of credibility on Wall Street, and they're a critical, critical member of the leadership team, both internally and externally.
[00:33:57] Francois Badenhorst: Very, very interesting. We're pretty much out of time, Peter, uh, but I always like to, to finish every interview with, uh, like a question that looks back a little bit more over your career. I'd like to know, I mean, you'll be so eloquently about your experiences and so on. I'd be interested to know whether there is a mistake that really, really stands out as something that was a big learning experience for you in your career.
[00:34:21] Peter de Silva: Yeah, we've made lots of mistakes. We've all made them. The question isn't whether you make them because you will. It's whether you learn from them. Right. And pledge not to repeat that mistake again, and I mentioned this earlier, but it's worth repeating. You know, I think I stayed too long at certain places, and it wasn't that I was bored.
I was busy as could be, but it was, I wasn't learning, I wasn't growing, I wasn't stretching. I wasn't. Developing at the pace that I wanted to develop, and I can at least think of two instances where I allowed that to happen. And I, I wish I hadn't, I wish that I had moved on a little bit more quickly. So I, I think everybody just needs to sit back and consider when you're at that point, you know, what's, what's the next, be next best opportunity for you to, for you to take.
But I'd say this though. I, I think, you know, if I think about three or four piece of advice for aspiring financial leaders, I would leave you with this. One, take intelligent risks. I didn't wanna move to Cincinnati, I didn't wanna move to Kansas City, but I did and I grew much more quickly. I got, you know, way ahead from where I would've been if I sat in my office in Boston.
So take those intelligent risks second and something that has to be learned. You need to hire people that compliment you and challenge you. You know, the leader that hires people that look just like them and marches in line and gets, it doesn't work. You want people who challenge you around that table, and as long as they do it respectfully and ethically, it's all, it's all good with me.
But ensure you find people who compliment and challenge you. Third, constantly challenge yourself to improve. None of us are done learning and growing and, and we won't be until we, we draw our last breath because that's the essence of life is to learn and grow and to develop. And my last piece of advice for everyone is to do what you love and love what you do.
And if you don't, It's time to move
[00:36:11] Francois Badenhorst: on. Yeah. Peter DeSilva, thank you very much, uh, for your time today. You can buy Peter's book, taking Stock 10 Life and Leadership Principles from my seat at the table, by the sounds of it, anywhere that sells books pretty much. But, uh, obviously you have Amazon and you know, your local bookstore.
So, uh, yeah, give that a read. It sounds really, really interesting, Peter, I might pick up a copy myself.
[00:36:33] Peter de Silva: Fran, thanks. It was wonderful to be with you.
[00:36:37] Narrator: This show is brought to you by Soldo, the brighter way to manage business spending and expenses. With Soldo, you can control every expense, track spend in real time, automate financial reporting, and then use those insights to fuel your growth. Learn more at soldo.com.