#96 Michelle Greene, President of the Long Term Stock Exchange
Michelle brings legal, policy, and operational expertise to her role at the Long-Term Stock Exchange. Her experience includes serving in senior roles at the New York Stock Exchange and the US Department of the Treasury, as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., Inc. and as a securities lawyer. She teaches at Columbia University and has served on numerous non-profit boards and as a member of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Michelle is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.
Bigger Than Us Episode 96
This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.
Host Raj Daniels 01:59
Michelle, if you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?
Michelle Greene 02:04
Well, I think one interesting thing that probably doesn’t usually come up is that I helped to knock down the Berlin Wall. I was studying abroad at the time, in what was then called the Eastern Block, and arrived in Berlin from the east and got a hammer and hammered away and I still have pieces of it in my house today.
Host Raj Daniels 02:25
That’s amazing. I remember watching that on TV. Were you one of the people that climbed up on top of it?
Michelle Greene 02:31
No, I was knocking on one side while others were knocking on the other side, and every now and then we’d make a hole where the two sides would meet and a huge cheer would go up and we’d all rush to see the people on the other side and, you know, make the hole bigger so that we could all come together. It was an incredible experience.
Host Raj Daniels 02:47
It sounds amazing. Can you kind of walk us through what led up to that moment?
Michelle Greene 02:52
Yeah, so during college, I was studying economics and history and politics. And I had an opportunity to study abroad in what was then the communist Eastern Bloc in Budapest. I attended Karl Marx University, which my grandparents were sure meant I would never get a job. And we had these fabulous professors who were part of the underground democracy movement there. And when the Berlin Wall first, like the very first hints of it started, they said, class is canceled for the week, get on a train, go to Berlin, this is history, you should be there. So we did. And it was this incredible experience. We actually got pulled off the train at gunpoint in Czechoslovakia on the way there, but got put back on and made it to East Berlin. And then we traveled you know, from the east, which was a whole different experience too, to the wall. And then, you know, joined in with so many others who were, who were helping to bring it down. It was just this kind of euphoric time. It was incredible to be there.
Host Raj Daniels 03:57
What an encouraging story. I personally wish that maybe academia would take more opportunities like that. You know, last year there was the climate strike on Fridays that Greta Thunberg led. Yeah. And I have three young daughters. And I encourage them, I said, look, if you want to skip school and go protest or strike, I think we need more of that. I think it ties the children or young people back to the community. I kind of feel that way about election day a little bit. You know, I’ve heard a few companies are giving Election Day off to their employees. But I feel like if we want more social engagement, community engagement, I think these are the kinds of opportunities or these are things we should encourage our youth to do. So, you know, kudos to your professor back then. And I hope that we kind of move back generally from a society standpoint in that direction.
Michelle Greene 04:47
Could not agree more and actually, I have a high school daughter, and her school said, we encourage you to take time to go to the climate strike. We’ve talked with the students and they don’t want it to be a “just take the afternoon off.” So we are going to do detention for anybody who leaves to go. But the detention will be a learn-in about climate change. So I thought that was just a really smart approach. So it was, you know, the kids who really wanted to engage, took the time went to the climate strike, and then went to detention to learn about climate change. So I do think educational institutions encouraging that kind of behavior is really a reason for hope.
Host Raj Daniels 05:26
Absolutely. And what a small price to pay. Detention, where you get to learn about climate change and participate. It sounds like a win win to me.
Michelle Greene 05:33
Host Raj Daniels 05:35
So Michelle, switching gears, can you give me an overview of the Long Term Stock Exchange?
Michelle Greene 05:42
Absolutely. So on the Long Term Stock Exchange, we just got our official approvals last year, but we’ve been working on it for a number of years. And really the idea behind it was that we want companies to show up in the world differently, and we want there to be a public market and an incentive system that rewards those companies that are thinking about more than just next quarter’s results. So how can you, as a company, really be thoughtful about your impact on the world, on your workers, the environment, the communities that you’re a part of, both geographic and otherwise? And, of course, shareholders are one of those stakeholders as well. But for those companies that are really planning for the long term, making decisions for the long term, making the smart choices that mean that they operate well as a company, but also as a member of a broader community. How can we create a system that both highlights that so that those investors, because a lot of investors do want to invest in those types of companies so that those investors know which companies are in fact operating that way, and that those companies can operate in a system that doesn’t push them with a quarterly cadence, but rather that rewards this longer-term perspective? So that was really the reason we were founded.
Our founder is Eric Rees, who’s a fairly well-known figure in Silicon Valley and beyond. He wrote a book called the Lean Startup that’s really about innovation. And part of the reason behind the Long Term Stock Exchange was because this relentless quarterly short term cadence really impedes innovation. And so how can we create a public marketplace that encourages innovation? And we are a mission-driven company, obviously, and in addition to our stock exchange, which has a different set of rules, because we want to change the rules to change the system. We also have a software business, which creates tools that help companies to operate in this kind of away. So the reason for the stock exchange is really the ability to change the rules and that ability to create a system that operates differently.
Host Raj Daniels 07:58
So I’m familiar with Eric’s work, I had my own technology startup that I launched in 2014. I read his book. And also during that time, things like Lean and Agile were becoming more popular. And I, you know, we ran some agile sprints during my startup. And I found a disconnect between those processes and taking a long term view. How have you found the company that you’ve spoken to? You know, you mentioned smart choices? What does it mean to make smart choices? And how do you how have you found the companies you’ve spoken to align with the idea around Long Term Stock Exchange?
Michelle Greene 08:38
Yeah, so what I mean is, I think you see in the public markets today, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver quarterly results. And when you talk to folks who work in companies, what you’ll hear is that there’s this relentless quarterly cadence to the operations of the company often because of that pressure around quarterly results. So in the moment of making choices that will impact those quarterly results, it’s very hard when that’s the pressure for companies to take the long term view. So just to give an example, I think human capital is a great example, right? Human capital, in our current system, is effectively booked as overhead when you invest in your people. Which is kind of crazy. Because if you’re really a company that wants to succeed over the long term, you know that investing in your people is in fact an investment in the future of your company. And so being willing to make an investment in your people being willing to make an investment in long term r&d, being willing to think about what is the impact of our action going to be on the environment, what’s the impact of our actions going to be on the community and being willing to make those choices day to day.
Currently, you’re making them in a system that’s pushing back very hard to not miss those quarterly numbers. And sometimes the right choice does involve missing those quarterly numbers or does involve innovation, as a great example, does involve making an investment spending today for something that won’t pay off, perhaps for a long while, but that ultimately will be better for the company and better for the world. And so how do you create a system that removes that quarterly pressure and encourages and incentivizes those decisions that are really about long term value creation and thinking more broadly than just this quarter’s results?
…how do you create a system that removes that quarterly pressure and encourages and incentivizes those decisions that are really about long term value creation and thinking more broadly than just this quarter’s results?
Host Raj Daniels 10:35
You’ve taken me back in my memory a little bit. I was in consulting back in 2012-2013. And I remember being inside a large fortune 500 company, and it was coming up at the end of a quarter. And I asked one of the employees there, how do you think we’re going to do you know, where are the numbers gonna land? And they said, essentially, everything’s already baked in. It sounded like the company had already contorted to meet the numbers that were going to come out
Michelle Greene 11:00
Yeah, unfortunately, that’s the incentive system as it exists today. There’s this real desire to, you know, bake that into, really. And there are some academic studies that back this up as well to really even engage in financial engineering if that’s what it takes to meet those numbers. So there are studies showing the companies are much more likely to do buybacks if they were just about to miss their quarterly figures than if they weren’t. And then in the year following those behaviors, you also see some of these long term investments go down. So I think it’s, it’s real. That’s the pressure that companies feel and they do bake it in and they do, unfortunately, take some financial engineering steps to try and make sure it comes out right sometimes. We want there to be a system where there’s no incentive to do that. And in fact, there’s a disincentive because what the real focus is on is not your quarterly numbers, but rather, what does success look like for you as a company over the long term? How are you defining success and that doesn’t mean that there’s no accountability in shorter time periods? Of course, there is.
But it’s accountability for metrics that are meaningful in terms of your overall long term trajectory and where you’re trying to go. So you set and share a long term strategy your investors, your stakeholders can buy into that, you’re clear about how are we going to know if we’re succeeding along that trajectory. And there are metrics and accountability. But it’s accountability for metrics that matter, for metrics that really speak to how the company is moving toward its long term goals. And that I think, is something that in today’s world, in particular, is really beginning to resonate more with companies.
Host Raj Daniels
And can you give an example of a few of those meaningful metrics?
Yes, so in the very early days of the internet, companies like Google were looking for things like eyeballs on a page. And at the time, that was not a common metric, but it was a way that they could say, that’s not money in this moment because we didn’t have the same type of advertising regimes on the internet that we do now. But it was a way that they could say, okay, how many people are actually engaging with us? Because that tells us something about future revenue. Or if you’re a company that wants to expand into new geography, you know, you want to get some measure of, are we in the future going to be successful in our growth into this new marketplace. And so you may measure that by the number of offices you’re opening there before you can measure the revenue that’s coming in from there. So that there’s all sorts of different examples, but the idea is that these are leading indicators. Indicators of future growth or future profit that are not looking backward but in fact looking forwards and are aligned with your long term strategy.
Host Raj Daniels 13:57
So if companies decide to transition from reporting quarterly, what is the cadence? Do they set it for themselves, or do you ask them to set it at a specific time?
Michelle Greene 14:07
Yeah, so just to be clear, at the moment, we’re not trying to change any existing SEC rules. Quarterly reporting is required by the SEC. And for right now, that’s not something we’re trying to change.
Quarterly guidance is where a lot of this pressure comes from, and we don’t think quarterly guidance is helpful. And one of the things that the pandemic has actually helped to do is help companies to move away from quarterly guidance. You see, many companies that have stopped giving quarterly guidance in the pandemic. So the quarterly guidance is really we feel the detrimental piece.
But in terms of how you define long term on the Long Term Stock Exchange, it is something that companies define for themselves. They have to report a series of policies around five different areas and those policies have to be updated annually, they have to be reviewed annually to see if they need updating. But the requirements around reporting remain what the SEC has determined.
But the idea is really that it’s not the quarterly reports that are important. It’s the context in which they’re conveyed. So companies can provide information about what their own definition of long term is, that’s one of the listing requirements. So for, for example, a consumer goods company, you know, a clothing company, something like that they have a much shorter timeframe for planning and for other purposes, then say an energy infrastructure company, which, you know, by definition is going to have a longer time horizon. Now, that doesn’t mean that they have to have the same time period, but they have to tell their stakeholders and their investors, what do we identify as the long term? And what are the different time horizons that we use for different purposes? So you may be seeking to succeed as a company indefinitely, forever. You may think about your vision in a 20-year time horizon, but you may do your strategic planning in a three or five-year time horizon.
So the idea is really, let’s give the investors and the stakeholders the information about what are the time horizons that the company sees as most relevant? And how is the company holding itself accountable over those time horizons, so that the quarterly reporting can be ingested by outside parties in the context of this broader strategic plan that has a much longer time horizon than one quarter? And the metrics that become relevant are not the quarterly EPS which of course would still be reported under existing rules, but rather the relevant metric is how you’re doing against your own long term plan and against your own long term metrics and leading indicators. And that becomes the way that success is judged rather than this relentless quarterly EPS focus that really doesn’t actually tell you a lot about how the company is going to succeed over the long term.
Host Raj Daniels 17:14
And what are the five areas you mentioned?
Michelle Greene 17:18
The way that the new rules or the listing standards work, because when a company lists on the stock exchange, and currently companies list on either NYSE or NASDAQ and there are sets of rules, listing standards that they need to follow.
What we’ve done is we’ve added five additional requirements into the listing standards. And those really relate to some key areas of long term success as we see it. And what we’ve taken is a principles-based approach. So we have underlying core principles and companies need to adopt publicly. They’re publicly available, five policies that correlate with each of the underlying principles.
The first one is around stakeholders. And that’s the most prescriptive because it does require the company’s share their approach to things like diversity and inclusion, and how they reward their workers when they’re over the long term on the company succeeds to how they approach the environment and how they approach the community. So it gets a little bit more granular than some of the other policies, but that’s because our underlying theory is that those companies that are thinking long term about engaging effectively with their stakeholders will be more successful over the long term. So stakeholders is the first policy.
Then there’s also a policy about shareholders. Shareholders, of course, are a stakeholder as well, but specifically, how is the company effectively engaging with its long term shareholders? Because we do think that this ability to really create long term value in a different way requires that alignment between the long term investors and the and the visionary companies. And you hear that desire from both the investor and companies. So one of the policies is also around long term shareholders.
The third policy is around long term compensation. And this is both for executives and the board. And it’s about how the company chooses to align the compensation of its executives and board members with long term success of the company.
Then the fourth one is around long term strategy. And this relates to how do you put forth your strategy for the long term? How do you operationalize that in the way that decisions are made on a day to day basis? And that’s the one that’s really about changing the narrative. So the narrative is not about the quarterly focus, but rather the narrative is about what is this long term strategy? What do we as a company consider long term? What are the time horizons that we use for different purposes and how do we hold ourselves accountable?
And then the final one is around the board and the role of the board in ensuring that the company is focusing on long term success and having direct oversight and direct responsibility for that focus on the long term, because we see a lot of board members today who will say, we as board members spend far too much time looking backward and auditing and not enough time looking forward and thinking about the long term strategy? And so making that a more explicit responsibility of the board.
And as I said, these are all principles-based, because we felt that it was really important to give companies the room to be creative and to come up with new solutions. And we didn’t want to create a ceiling, we wanted to create a floor for the many creative approaches, companies might take two different pieces of this. But one of the requirements for all of these policies is that they are in fact aligned with the underlying principles.
Host Raj Daniels 20:55
So like any new idea, there must be challenges. What are some of the challenge lunges or the hard conversations that you and your team have had with some of the companies that you’ve engaged with?
Michelle Greene 21:06
Yeah, of course, anything new. I think there’s of course, a risk aversion among many companies, you know, the moment of an IPO. This is both for existing public companies, and for new companies that are becoming public. And it’s also something that you can do as a dualist. So you don’t need to leave your existing exchange, you can add the Long Term Stock Exchange on. Or if your IPO and you’re doing a direct listing, or however you may be becoming public, you also don’t need to do it solely on the Long Term Stock Exchange, you can also do it with another exchange.
And then I think the biggest tough conversation that we have is about this sense of perceived risk. I think companies feel like particularly at the moment that they go public, this is a big moment for them and something new is is risky. When we dig deeper into that conversation and get at what are really the components of risk that they’re concerned about. Often we can alleviate a lot of those, just because of the way that the market works. There’s kind of not actually a liquidity risk, which is a big concern. And the opening and closing auctions take place on what’s called your primary exchange, which if you do a listing with us, and another exchange is the other exchange. So we’ve thought about lots of ways to mitigate that sense of perceived risk that companies may have.
But I think the opposition to something new is always that it’s a change and changes make people uncomfortable and feel risky. And so we’re definitely having those conversations with companies.
I think the other piece is, in terms of the policies themselves, companies want to get it right. And one of the things that we really struggled with was, how do you both allow for an appropriate amount of company-specific approaches, but also the right amount of accountability? And I think companies themselves as they’re putting together their policies, and these are really, we’re talking to some incredibly visionary companies that are thinking about really creative, interesting new approaches. And they struggle as well with how much of that do we bind ourselves to? Because what if our creative new approach actually has issues and we need to pivot? You know, how do we leave ourselves the right amount of flexibility with the right amount of accountability? So those are some of the conversations that we’re having,
Host Raj Daniels 23:32
And how would you hold some of these companies accountable?
Michelle Greene 23:35
Look, this is the reason we created the exchange. We feel like if you look at what’s out there right now, there’s a lot of pledges and letters and frameworks for companies that are saying that they’re focused on the long term or they’re focused on stakeholders or they want to be focused on those things. And it’s very hard for those companies that truly mean it and operate in a different way to differentiate themselves from those who see this as kind of the shiny issue of the moment and are signing up for something.
And so part of what we wanted to do was to find a way to really bind companies to a particular way of operating. And that’s something that the companies that we talk to, these visionary companies, are excited about because they want to show that yes, this is a meaningful commitment. And we intend to operate this way because it’s who we are. It’s in our DNA as a company. And so they welcome the opportunity to show that commitment through a set of binding listing standards. And it’s also a way to really differentiate from those companies that are just saying it. So the listing standards, the way that listing standards work on an exchange is that exchanges are what’s called SROs, self-regulatory organizations, and they have the power to enforce the listing standards, the regulations. And that comes with the ability to delist a company that is not meeting those standards.
So it’s a pretty strong and binding, you know, the power of the securities laws are behind it. If you as a company say you are going to do certain things pursuant to these policies, you have promised to do those things. You are bound to that. So it’s a very meaningful commitment. But one, as I say that, that the companies we’re talking to, are kind of eager to make in order to differentiate themselves from those who kind of don’t mean it.
Host Raj Daniels 25:28
And I think that opportunity to differentiate is going to get more important going forward. I’ve spoken to a lot of different individuals, companies, I think the millennial generation and Gen Z, are asking different questions of the company. So I think those that are willing to take that first leap, if you will, will inevitably benefit from the long run.
Michelle Greene 25:47
Absolutely. Look, I think there’s a lot of trends right now that are working in favor of this sort of an approach. You know, we’ve seen increased employee activism. As you say that the generations that are coming up in the workforce now are much more focused on working at a place that shares their values and willing to even take less pay in order to do that. And I think there’s a lot of customer pressure as well. We’re seeing customers increasingly caring, not just am I getting a good product at a good price, but how is it being produced? What does the company that’s producing it stand for? So I think there’s a whole bunch of realities happening in society today that are really rewarding the companies that think this way.
Host Raj Daniels 26:30
Absolutely. So Michelle, I want to change direction here. The crux of our conversation is a why behind what you do you have accomplished background. Why now? Why LTSE? What drives you, what motivates you?
Michelle Greene 26:44
Yeah, so in terms of why now I’ll start with why now LTSE. My immediately prior job is working at the New York Stock Exchange and I built and launched their global corporate responsibility program. And this was a while ago now at a time when that was a relatively new field still, and a lot of companies were just starting to think about it. I worked with a number of different companies helping them develop their own ESG, or sustainability, or corporate responsibility programs. And what I found as I was working on those sorts of programs in big major companies was that they needed to, to be effective, they needed to really be central to the company and aligned with the company strategy. And some companies thought about it that way. But a lot of companies were doing it as kind of a, you know, a nice to have, or in a silo type of activity. And the conclusion I eventually came to was that to really integrate this different view of the role of a corporation in the world, what was most effective to do that was to change time horizon. Because a company that’s very fast focused on the next quarter is not thinking about their community or the environment or diversity or investing in their people.
…the conclusion I eventually came to was that to really integrate this different view of the role of a corporation in the world, what was most effective to do that was to change time horizon.
Because, you know, for right now for next quarter, you won’t necessarily get a payback on that. But the companies that are truly thinking over a longer-term time horizon, they’re not thinking about those types of issues, because they should, and it’s good to and it’s part of their sustainability program. They’re thinking about those types of issues because when they think about succeeding, they have to be thinking about those types of issues.
So what I found was time horizon was really a way to make this idea of changing corporate behavior front and center for the corporations themselves or the corporations that think this way. So for me, it was an evolution to this time frame being an important component of how we have corporations show up differently in the world and we reward those corporations that do.
So I fortuitously, I actually was working on a number of different consulting projects at the time, because NYSE had changed ownership, and fortuitously connected with somebody, after looking at this from the nonprofit side, pretty significantly connected with somebody who was talking with Eric about his plan. And it was an exciting idea to me that there was a way to really bring about systemic change in the way that the financial markets influence corporate behavior.
And so why LTSE was this exciting idea that we might actually be able to make a systemic change that could influence the behavior of, you know, hopefully, eventually many, many hundreds of corporations or thousands of corporations, and that that could have an enormous impact on society. So that was my motivation for coming to LTSE.
But in terms of what drives me more broadly, I have had a kind of eclectic career, but the way that it makes sense is that for me, it’s always been mission-driven. And, you know, it sounds cliched. And perhaps it is but for me, it’s always been about “is what I’m doing something that is going to bring about positive change?” And that’s been in different forums in different ways. But that’s really been the driving key for me is bringing about some positive change and of course, continuing to learn and work with great people, which is generally I found in mission-driven organizations often is true as well.
Host Raj Daniels 30:39
You know, even if it is cliched, it’s beautiful, and I think that most futurists or visionaries live in a cliched world. Quite often I’ve had guests say it sounds corny, it sounds cliched, but they’re trying to make beautiful changes in the world. So I really appreciate that. While you were speaking, I had an idea. Is LTSE also speaking to universities, colleges, etc, because I can still see a generation of students, MBA students, you know, being put into the workforce that are still forced to think with this. I’m going to call it short term thinking or quarterly thinking with that idea.
Michelle Greene 31:16
Yeah, no, that’s a great point. So yes, we do. I talk to a lot of professors and folks that work at business schools and universities, I actually teach at Columbia at the School of International and Public Affairs. And I’m working separately now for SEPA, but separately, putting together the outlines of a course that would teach about these issues. But I think you’re exactly right, that the education really needs to start when you’re learning about how business works. And we have a whole project that we’re working on right now about resilience and resilience of companies. And we’re doing some research on that working with some universities as well. So I think your point is very well taken. We’re doing a little bit of it, but I’d love to do even more.
Host Raj Daniels 32:02
You know, I’ve read a lot of books and articles regarding the concept of time. I struggle with it quite a bit meaning that generationally speaking, I come from an Indian background, we have a much longer view of time. And I often feel like, I operate in, you know, years, decades sometimes. And I find it challenging when being in an environment that whether it’s quarterly or even from eight hour day concept, I think changes entire concept of how we look at time and what we want to accomplish. You know, very often people say, when will you give up on your goal when we give up a new mission? And takes as long as it takes, and I feel like some of what you’re adopting in the long term Stock Exchange is that this is our mission, and it’s going to take us as long as it takes to accomplish it. I saw Eric Ries speaking on a panel. And he mentioned when Jeff Bezos first launched Amazon, he put out a letter and said, we’re going to take really long time horizons. To see where he’s coming with that company, I think other people in the audience and also in business, a broader audience will take a look at that and can learn from that.
But how do you how do you change people’s concept about time itself?
Michelle Greene 33:13
Yeah, that’s a great question. And, and I think part of it is, there was somebody and I’m not going to credit this appropriately. So I’m sorry for that. But I was reading somewhere, some founder of a company who was talking about being urgently long term. And I just loved that phrasing. Because that felt to me like so exactly right. Because we frequently, you know, we’ll find ourselves in situations where we’ll be saying, well, we put long term in the name for a reason, because we do we want to get it right. Getting it right is more important than doing it quickly. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel a sense of urgency around getting it done and getting it right because obviously the problems that we’re trying to address are urgent problems. So I do think this idea that you want to be thinking about your impact over the long term is incredibly important. And this is true for the companies as well. But you’re also operating in the here and now in an urgent way as you move toward that long term vision. I think, that encapsulates pretty well how we approach it, which is, we feel the urgency of the mission of what we’re trying to achieve, but we will do it right. Even if that takes a bit longer.
Getting it right is more important than doing it quickly. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel a sense of urgency around getting it done and getting it right because obviously the problems that we’re trying to address are urgent problems.
Host Raj Daniels 34:31
You took me back to a memory that’s about 30 years old working at a convenience store back in London. And my boss would always say, “take your time and hurry up.”
Michelle Greene 34:41
Host Raj Daniels 34:46
So Michelle, what are some of the valuable lessons that you would say you’ve learned on your journey? Whether with LTSE or even prior to that?
Michelle Greene 34:53
Yeah, good question. So I would say at LTSE for me, my career until LTSE was very much in, you know, kind of the largest most state institutions. I worked at the US Department, I worked at the New York Stock Exchange, I worked at McKinsey, I worked at Harvard, you know, really about as state as you can get and as establishment as you can get. And it’s a joke with my team at LTSE that the youngest company I worked at before this was McKinsey, which you know, is not exactly brand new. So for me, as someone who’s maybe a little older than most people working at startups, moving to a startup at this point in my career was incredibly educational. And I feel like the most important learning for me was learning how to and again, this one will sound cliched as well, but it’s been so true in my experience, learning to how to fail, and to admit and embrace and learn from failure.
Because I think a lot of the institutions I had worked up before or maybe even just my own mindset was very much that failure was kind of unacceptable. You fixed it, you spun it or, but you, you didn’t embrace it, and openly admit it with the team and talk about it and talk about what we learned from it in the same kind of way that you do at a startup. You know, of course, that would happen sometimes in big failures.
But we do that all the time. And it’s all about learning. And it’s all about pivoting and getting things right and moving on to something that works better. So embracing that mindset, which took me some time to embrace has been really, really educational for me.
And the other piece of which relates to that is this idea that I also think particularly, you know, I started my career in a law firm, particularly in a law firm or someplace like that. You put your best product down on paper, and you don’t really share it with people until you feel good about it. And the process that we work with here, particularly in a lean startup, is that you put things out as soon as you know, you don’t make them better before you put them out because what’s going to make them better sharing them with others and getting feedback on them as soon as possible, and then iterating on them to make them better. And that’s also been a real learning for me and a really hard thing to adjust to coming from where I was coming from, but this ability to share something and not worry that it’s not perfect, or what people are going to think because getting that feedback early, getting that input early, particularly from those you’re trying to move with what you’re putting out there and be that software or a piece of writing or a listing standard.
Getting that feedback early and often is incredibly powerful and really helps lead to a better end product. So for me that change in mindset to this kind of startup approach, and I have the great benefit of learning from the Lean Startup guy himself. But it’s been really just a phenomenal new set of learnings kind of far into my career.
Getting that feedback early and often is incredibly powerful and really helps lead to a better end product.
Host Raj Daniels 37:57
It must be great to work with Eric. And to the point about failures, I think Reed Hoffman said it best when he said, “if you’re not embarrassed about your first version of the version you’ve put out you’ve waited too long.”
Michelle Greene 38:08
Exactly. Exactly. And that’s completely how we operate, which was very uncomfortable for me.
Host Raj Daniels 38:16
Failing in public, absolutely.
Michelle Greene 38:17
Host Raj Daniels 38:19
So speaking of long term, magic wand, it’s 2025 or even 2030. Let’s go longer. What does the future hold for LTSE? What does it look like, your ideal picture?
Michelle Greene 38:29
I think the ideal picture is that we have, thousands of companies listed, that we are actually changing corporate behavior companies are taking into account in a meaningful way, a different group of stakeholders, that the day to day experience of decision making in a company is focused much more on long term value creation, that hopefully, quarterly guidance doesn’t exist anymore. And really one of the things that we as a company are trying to do is learn as we go. So we are getting a group of academics together to really track the results as we begin to list companies and to become operational listings venue to really track, does this make a difference? Does it work? What did we get right? What did we miss, so that we can change as we need to change to really bring about the impact that we want to bring about?
So my hope is when we’re looking ahead 20 years, we have figured out what’s important to ask of companies and what’s important for them to publicly commit to, in a way that accounts for differences between industries and sectors, but really holds individual companies to their own highest standard as, as they’re out there in the world, shares that information with their stakeholders shares that information with their investors, their customers, their workers, so that there’s real transparency around the way the company shows up in the world and those that are doing it well and committing to doing it well, and are very transparent about that are the companies that are really succeeding.
Host Raj Daniels 40:06
Well, I’m looking forward to that vision coming to fruition that picture you painted is just lovely.
Michelle Greene 40:12
I hope so.
Host Raj Daniels 40:15
So the last question I have for us, if you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be? It could be professional, it could be personal. You mentioned failing in public.
Michelle Greene 40:27
Yeah, so I think I’ll share an anecdote because I think that that really gets to the point that is the piece of advice that I always share. Which is, I worked in the Obama administration during the financial crisis. And it was, as you can imagine, a crazy time to be working there. And it was amazing. And I worked with incredible people and, so grateful I got to be a part of that. But at the time, I had two very young children. And after a period of time, it just became very clear that this was not working for me on a personal level, and I needed to change. And I was part of something that was really important, but I felt like I was missing something that was ultimately more important to me.
I tried to make a change internally that didn’t work out. And the culture there was such that we had very high ethical standards. You couldn’t reach out to folks about jobs while you’re still working there, because there could be conflicts of interest. And we were, we were very, very strict about the ethics of that.
So what people would do was really wait until they left and then they would tend to send out a broad email to, you know, their whole networks talking about that they were leaving and what they hope to do next and what they had learned and you know, where their expertise was, etc. And I was just in a very different place. And I drafted an email that was one of those emails that you know, you’re supposed to kind of go get a cup of coffee, walk around the building before you hit send, and I just hit send. And what that email said basically was, rather than going into my expertise and my professional goals, it essentially said in so many words, I’m leaving, I’m taking the next few months off, and then I’m going to do something part-time because my priority right now is that I want to have more time with my kids. Which, you know, as, as a woman in the workforce would, by many people’s definition, be career suicide, right? Because I’ve just articulated where my priorities are.
So I hit send quickly got a bunch of calls from friends who said “you didn’t really send that to everybody did you?” So I had a few moments of panic there for sure.
But then what ended up happening was that I got these fantastic job offers to do really interesting work at places that never would have advertised for a part-time role. You know, if I had not put it out there, that role wouldn’t have existed, but that when the company thought about their needs and what I had put out there as my needs turned out to be a great match. I ended up getting multiple, fantastic part-time job offers that, had I played by the rules and done the thing that was supposed to be good for my career would have never happened.
So my take from that which I’ve really lived by since then is that you just need to be your authentic self at work, ask for what you want, you won’t always get it. There have been times I’ve asked for things that definitely have not been doable, but it’s amazing the number of times that a company’s interests or an organization’s interest and your interest actually can be very aligned, particularly if you have someone that you’re working for who’s willing to work with you. And so, I have found in the many years since I did that, that I have been able to work on issues that I care about, but also balance that with what’s important to me in my personal life, and that by asking for what I need, I may not always get it but if you don’t ask you’ll never get it.
So I guess the message I took it from it was to just bring your authentic self to work, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t take the system as it is as a given because you can make the change that you want to make, and be clear about what you want and need.
And then also, the other takeaway for me was on paper at that time, I was in my dream job. And it was an incredibly important time and an incredibly important set of issues. But when I really stepped back to think about at that moment in time, what was most important to me, staying there wasn’t it. Not at the cost that costs me at that time and doing that type of reprioritization which can happen across many different parameters. But for me, that’s something that I now do regularly, to make sure that I’m living according to the priorities that I feel and that I’m spending my time according to the ways I really believe I want and should be spending it. So it’s a hard thing to do. But one of the nice parts of it has been that nobody else is gonna ever set those boundaries or push back for you. But when you set them and push back more times than not and a surprisingly high percentage of the time, people are very respectful of those boundaries and enable you to live your life in a way that is more authentic to how you want to be living it.
Host Raj Daniels 45:20
Couldn’t agree with you more. I recently wrote a blog post and it’s titled Bring Yourself to Work. And essentially what I’m saying is that, the sooner in your career that you bring yourself to work, defining your priorities, the sooner you’ll attract your tribe, essentially, and be working with people or around people that respect your priorities and your boundaries and whatever lines in the sand you drawn. So I really appreciate that. And I really enjoyed speaking with you. Is there something I should have asked you or you’d like to share before we go?
Michelle Greene 45:54
I really appreciate your focus in this podcast and the fascinating people that you bring on here. I’m happy to be one of them. One of that group because I think they’re, they’re really interesting and the conversations I think are just increasingly important. So I guess the only thing I would add is that I do think, in this particular moment, you know, in the midst of a pandemic, we’re beginning to see I hope, at least from a corporate perspective, some of those changes that we want to see. So companies don’t want to be judged unless your Zoom, this quarter, but this quarter’s results, right? They want to be judged by how they’re treating their people and their employees and what their long term plan is. And so I think we’re starting to see and hopefully, we can, you know, capitalize on that and really bring about the change as we come out of this. But I think there are reasons to be hopeful that there will be some positive change on the other side of this.
Host Raj Daniels 46:51
Michelle, that’s a great place to leave off. Thank you again for your time today, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.
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