Leadership Shapes Culture Alignment Through Fast-growth with Thomas Black at Nepali Capital

Most early-stage companies focus on the product or service they are bringing to market. What you sell is essential for sure. However, the fast-growth companies think beyond the business model to the culture alignment. In short, CEOs that I have talked to know the importance of people. Culture alignment is a function of how do the people feel aligned with their work. Do they love it or do it because that is what they get paid for. Today’s guest is Thomas Black, CEO at Nepali Capital. Inc Magazine ranked Nepali Capital #21 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. We talk about culture alignment in the early stages of growth. Nepali grew revenues by 10,957% in three years because of their culture alignment. Thomas shares some particular challenges he had to overcome to become the leader the team needed.

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Target Audience: Thomas Black is the CEO at Nepali Capital. Napali Capital is a real estate investment firm specializing in creating sustainable passive income for physician investors. Napali Capital leadership has more than 50 years of combined real estate and business experience and strategically selects investments according to strict criteria to deliver the most profitable returns to our investors.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Thomas Black
When you look at companies across the board, maybe that are not scalable and a large size, you tend to lose culture, the larger you get, it’s very, very hard to contain that culture, right. So for us, it was really important to create the foundation of how we truly wanted the business to run and keep a focus on. And so everything we do is really starts and ends with the culture of not only the team, but you know, our team interiorly. But our b2c or b2b too, is really important to us to maintain that, that edge of culture.

Intro [0:29]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett, I help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:46]
What’s your alignment is when people feel connected to the work in a way, they just love. So many elements to cultural alignment, that you’ve got to really focus on those things that make the people feel connected to the work. One of the things that I see a lot of companies do in the early stages of a business is they focus on the product and the service, and absolutely important to have the right product or service, to have a business model that supports that kind of thing isn’t the right time for this. There are so many decisions that have to be made. And oftentimes, the people issues are pushed to the side. If you have intentions to scale your company up beyond where you are today, you want to make sure that you have cultural alignment, you want to make sure that you have people that understand the mission, vision that values that understand how everything fits together, and they feel included, they feel a part of this journey with you. And I get really excited about this because I know how important it is. within my own team, I want to make sure everyone feels connected, that I care about who they are as a person and their personal lives, their family life. And that may sound odd. But cultural alignment is something that is necessary for you to have, probably the business that you want. And many times you don’t have this shot, because you don’t have the kind of cultural alignment that allows for it.

Gene Hammett [2:04]
Our guest today is Thomas Black. Thomas is going to share with us some of the things that he saw early in the stage of their company on the journey to 6 million and beyond. When you think about cultural alignment, I want to make sure you tune into the right things. One of them is the onboarding process. Are you truly onboarding? You know, just to get them their laptop and get them a place to work? Or do you truly create a place for people who want to be a part of? Well, it starts there. But it doesn’t end there. You want to make sure you’re leading every day, you’re consistent with this cultural alignment. And that’s what Thomas talks about today. In this episode. One of the things I like about this is he talked about some of the key aspects of leadership, he had to let go of as a physician, into this new style of leadership and really having cultural alignment. We talked about that in today’s interviews. Let me pause here for a second. If you are a leader and you want to be a visionary, if you feel like you’re always behind in or you’re always struggling with something, you’re not really getting to the heart of it, I’d love to open up an opportunity for you. Just go to genehammett.com, you’ll find try coaching in the menu there, you can actually click on that link and you can schedule a time with me absolutely free of cost. You can talk about your issues with me. I’d love to get to know you see if there’s a fit there for me to serve you. I’d love to serve you so that you can actually become a more visionary leader. Get out of the day to day and be the visionary leader that your team craves. Just go to genehammett.com, you’ll find try coaching us go into that now. All right, here’s the interview with Thomas Black.

Gene Hammett [3:34]
Thomas, how are you?

Thomas Black [3:35]
Doing great doing great. Glad to be on.

Gene Hammett [3:38]
Excited to have you on the podcast to talk about growth and leadership and all things culture.

Thomas Black [3:43]
I’m excited. Looking forward to it for sure.

Gene Hammett [3:46]
I’ve already let our audience deliberate about you. But I’d love for you to tell them about Nepali Capital.

Thomas Black [3:51]
Yeah, so this was a kind of birth for my brother and I and number of years ago first love the island of Hawaii and that’s where the inspiration was really struck from within the Pali coast and both of us having a history and you know, the executive ranks over the years, we’re looking some way to leverage both of our experiences mine with physicians and his on the operation side. So about six years ago, we teamed up and decided to make a run out of it and we’re kind of a pseudo-private equity real estate firm is the way we like to think of ourselves.

Gene Hammett [4:23]
Love it. When you got that number 21 on the Inc list. How did you feel?

Thomas Black [4:32]
Funny, I mean legitimate, I guess is a really good way of feeling and Tim coming off a pretty storied career Great Wolf. You know, a lot of those things that I had said years ago to me as a physician was really important. And to him they weren’t I mean to him, it’s just another sign of Keep your head down, keep focusing those things will come well, as a physician we can attend to like titles and badges. And so I was definitely more excited than he was just because it really framed up all the hard work and to know that we’re on the right path.

Gene Hammett [5:04]
Well, you’ve grown fast, you’ve got a relatively small team, but you’ve put up an emphasis on culture, so why so such an emphasis on culture with a small team?

Thomas Black [5:15]
You know, I think it drives, it really drives results, to be included as part of the team, we like to incentivize and really have a good time. When you look at companies across the board, maybe that is not scalable to large size, you tend to lose a culture, the larger you get, it’s very, very hard to contain that culture, right. So for us, it was really important to create the foundation of how we truly wanted the business to run and keep a focus on. And so everything we do is really starts and ends with a culture of, you know, not only the team, but you know, our team interiorly. But our b2c, or b2b too, is really important to us to maintain that, that edge of culture.

Commercial [5:55]
Thomas just said, you lose culture, the bigger company gets well, this is absolutely true. I’ve seen this happen with many great brands that had a strong culture early in their days, and they lose it as they get bigger, because they focus on the short term driven needs of the financial markets. And they focus on, you know, how do we make sure that people are not front and center. And the early days, they focus on employees in a way that really allows them to feel connected. But when they lose that as the company gets bigger, maybe you go from the family style culture, which might be somewhere around 1020 employees, to something of a tribe where you go beyond that, when you get to 100 employees, you will feel the pressures of culture, and that you’ll realize that you really wish you would have focused on some of the foundational elements before that, I bring this to light, because a lot of people listening in here want to know what’s wrong with the business. And a lot of it has to do with their culture and leadership that has allowed the culture to persist the way it is, because everything is a perfect system. This is something I talked about with my clients. But what you have right now is because you have a system within the culture, that gives you exactly what you want, it’s not what you want, you still have a system to create that. So you have to go back and rework the system. Back to the interview with Thomas.

Gene Hammett [7:14]
It is true that you do lose a culture, the bigger you get if you don’t have some intention around it. So what are the key factors that you look at when you think about defining that culture for the company?

Thomas Black [7:26]
Well, I think it starts with both of us, and it’s top-down, right? We really don’t take our two selves too seriously, at all. And I think that helps tremendously. Having, you know, the background that we have, I think the biggest thing was just being humble and being a member of that team first. And there really is no, you know, no bad questions, no ways to overcome any, you know, structured hierarchy, I guess, we treat everybody as an equal member. And so that’s where it all starts with us, right? Eating humble pie is a very good thing now and then.

Gene Hammett [8:02]
You said something else that ties into this treating each other as equals inclusive. I’ve seen this across fast-growth companies that include people into decisions and strategies, you have a small enough company where you could actually do that, probably on a regular basis. Is that what you mean by inclusion? Or is it something else?

Thomas Black [8:22]
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for the most part, every decision, every major decision to the company, and even so much as small decisions, even travel, you know, we relegate that to the entire team. So from the ground up, you know, on our Monday, Monday morning to our one-hour discussions about the week and how we plan it out, we give the opportunity to get as granular with all of our team members as they want. And I think the biggest thing is, is wanting to go to work. And I know that sounds really simple, but it’s I get up and I really enjoy what I do, and there’s a passion about it. And that tends to come through. And we will want that kind of team members to feel the same way that it’s not a bore to get up to work, because you’re actually excited to go do something and that you feel like you’re not only legitimate in the company, but you’re helping to, you know, to raise this I mean, the company is, you know, kind of a kin to a child. You know, it takes a village to raise this thing the right way. And if you’ve got team members that maybe aren’t engaged, it’s really apparent and that can spread that cancer really quickly.

Gene Hammett [9:21]
Well, you had said something I want to come back to about your team meetings. What would we see if we were a fly on the wall and your team meetings that you feel might be different than encourages this cultural alignment?

Thomas Black [9:33]
I guess we you know, we kind of just go around the room as a round robin and everybody gets their chance to discuss what’s on their agenda and how they can help. You know, it’s very, there is no structure when it comes to the hierarchy of whether that’s the executives, the operators in the company, you know, it’s still a pretty small team. And so if one of us doesn’t have a particularly heavy day, then we’re trying to help the other team members even as many do the task can be, you know, we do not worry about high-level tasks versus small things. I mean, we’re gonna jump right in and do whatever needs to be done.

Gene Hammett [10:08]
Well, that’s, that’s certainly one thing. Anything else that you do on that side of that meeting? Because you said one to two hours? So there’s a lot of stuff.

Thomas Black [10:14]
I’d say one. I mean, it really depends on where we are, you know, we’re undergoing acquisition right now. So a lot of minutia going on and so that when they came in with one of the real estate assets, as well as we just partnered and, and merged with another platform. So no, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s very light, and there’s a lot of banter, we somewhat keep to a structure so that we’re not getting off into items that maybe can be discussed another forum. But everybody gets to say, and it’s just it’s very light-hearted. I’ll say that.

Gene Hammett [10:46]
Now, I want to go deeper into the whole cultural alignment, because you had said that was one of the primary drivers of the results of a fast-growing company. You’re in right now over 16 million now team members around 20 team members, so new acquisitions, and everything, what are your plans right now to keep the culture aligned?

Thomas Black [11:06]
Sure. So we start with really good onboarding. we merged with a platform just this week, and we rented out a restaurant and had a very, you know, rough outline PowerPoint of who we are, you know, and our, basically, our five major pillars of things. And that goes back to, you don’t take ourselves too seriously. You know, our customers and our investors mean everything to us, but the employees actually stand above them. We treat our employees great, and the customer is not always right. Right, you know, in the b2c world, because I think it’s more important to maintain that that key employee, on our team, as well as a big foundation of us is limiting communication, and in and on the weekends, things like that, and respecting people’s spaces. You know, as you can imagine, being a small company, with many tasks, things can bleed over into the weekend, and it’s really, really, really hard for me, because I’m excited, and I want to, I really want to advance the mission of the company, sometimes I have to hold myself back of texting, you know, some of the team members, and it’s really important to respect that they might have not had that same passion and to pull it back and, and respect their boundaries for all those things too. And so when I mean culture, I mean, it’s true, it’s truly thinking about them. in many regards, personally, professionally, their time, their life, to be able to advance our mission to so they feel appreciated.

Commercial [12:33]
Let me breaking in for a second, I want to remind you that we have a YouTube channel, if you haven’t already checked that out and subscribe, want to make sure that you know that we have some content going on YouTube that you can’t find on the podcast you can’t find anywhere else, but on YouTube. So we are helping you go get your content there to be a better leader, to be a visionary and strategic that your team needs. Just go to genehammett.com/YouTube, you’ll find more about the things that we can do to help you be a stronger and more effective leader. Go ahead, and do it now.

Gene Hammett [13:04]
It’s interesting that you can hold back some of that enthusiasm by not texting on the weekend or an ad in there late at night.

Thomas Black [13:11]
Yeah. It happens all the time. And I forced myself because it’s just it’s different. And I, I may get so excited about somebody you know, and I’m definitely kind of the mad scientist where we’ve got the great operators who are very methodical, very composed. When I get excited, I’ve just got to pull those things out of my head. And, and I have to be measured about it. Because not always does that excitement translate, right? And it’s really important to think of those team members that that think differently, and they don’t want to be interrupted, because something coming from me, they may take totally different like, Oh my God, I’ve got to jump on this now, even though it’s Saturday, where that’s not my point. My point is just Hey, be thinking about this. And I’d never want to put somebody in a position to think well, he’s asking me to do this on a Saturday, for example. So we just have to be really mindful of our employees and our partners like that. And I know it sounds very, you know, almost ridiculous. But that’s the kind of thought we try and put in our own lives to.

Gene Hammett [14:06]
Actually, I don’t think it is ridiculous, because I’ve had enough of these conversations with fast growth leaders, they are cut from a different cloth they are the one thing that’s really big difference is an employee first. And you kind of set it very quickly. I asked what I call the impossible question of many leaders. And I’m always surprised at what I hear. Because what I’ve been told and what I’ve experienced through my own experience with corporate America, that it’s always customer first, but that one question is as a leader, what’s more, important your employees, your customers?

Thomas Black [14:40]
And he would answer what if it’s absolutely your employees, without a doubt, you can give good customer service and be good to your customers. If you aren’t that way, with your employees. It’s impossible. I mean, the way I view it, yeah, you know, that relationship has to extend and they have to want to do it if they’re miserable or get some pent-up anger. At any number of things that can be really bad for an institution, it’s never going to get done, you’re never gonna be able to translate your excitement through your employees to your customers.

Gene Hammett [15:07]
I bring that up here because I, you know, one of these behaviors is some, some leaders don’t even think about when they’re going to text or when they’re going to send an email. And they don’t necessarily mean that you’re going to jump on it right now. And you have to drop everything and respond at 1130 at night. But when you get that text, sometimes you want to you want it. And so you hold back. And that’s just one example of where you’re putting employees and understanding that boundary. Right?

Thomas Black [15:35]
Exactly. Yeah. I mean, when you look at it from the employee print point of view, they may not feel the same way, and that they have to respond immediately. Right, they may be put in a pressure situation thinking, Oh, my gosh, you know, he’s a, he’s a higher level of the company, whatever the hierarchy and structure are, they’re going to view that totally differently. And so I try not to put them in that place. And believe me, it is a struggle. And I had to learn that, you know, all the years of practicing in a position where you’re, you know, you’re 24, seven, and you’re you It took me a long time to realize that being on the flip side that I was doing this as even as an employee, expecting somebody else to, you know, to jump on when I was on my time, and that is certainly not the way it works. And it can, it can really do damage. It really can. And so I learned the hard way, for sure.

Gene Hammett [16:23]
Thomas, I want to kind of keep this going. But I want to come back to this cultural alignment. Is there anything else you’ve learned the hard way? As you’ve had to evolve as a leader here?

Thomas Black [16:31]
Oh, yeah, I’d say that’s where it is, you know, definitely, as a physician working in the emergency room years ago, and being on the front lines of that, thinking that, you know, the administrators, the executives, should be on the same timeline as I was, because I was, you know, I was up at 3 am. And I had an issue, well, not all issues need to be dealt with at 3 am, even though they’re hitting you right there in the face. And it feels that way. And there’s a little bit of that entitlement mentality that you have to think of, in reverse that because when you look at true business, the business doesn’t operate that same way. And doctors are going to branch that they’re really kind of bad about we, we all are, we’ve been trained very independently. And it’s sometimes difficult to look at the team as a whole. And to understand there are so many other dynamics than just you. And so I would say, that’s probably the biggest thing I when I transitioned in from, you know, clinical work into not only healthcare administration, but finance was looking at the team much differently. And realizing that this team is actually kind of this living, living thing. And you want to treat it as such when you start making unilateral decisions or being not as inclusive. It can really change things. With your team, I would say.

Commercial [17:50]
Hold on for second, Thomas just said team is a living thing. Did you catch that? Well, it’s true, that the team is something that changes over time, the one of the hardest part of leadership is, is not the getting the work done, but it’s leading the people, a lot of my clients understand that actually managing the work is easy. But leading the people, that’s the hard work, you got to do more of the hard work. Every time you think about your people, you look at them as individuals, you have to have empathy, in the right moments and the right dose of empathy, so that you’re connecting with people feel connected to what you’re doing, that will give them the energy to push forward through all the challenges that are necessary. You also want to make sure that you’re leading from a visionary standpoint, you want to make sure that you are getting people to take ownership of that, if you haven’t already downloaded the the keys to being a visionary leader, you can do that. Now just go to genehammett.com. And you can find the resources there. And you can find it on the homepage as well. But it’s the five things visionary leaders get right. So make sure that you go ahead and get that now, if you want to be a visionary leader, back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [18:58]
I appreciate you saying that I was just having a conversation with a neighbor, who’s in the medical world. And they said, you know, doctors are trained to be doctors not to lead and manage people.

Thomas Black [19:09]
Yeah, it’s easy. It’s the two skill sets are not I mean, they’re really not. And it takes quite some time to understand that, to look at the flip side of it and really be able to it’s two separate communications. I mean, a really good physician leader is able to speak business at a whole different level. And people speak clinically because they’re two totally separate skill sets, they really are at the end of the day.

Gene Hammett [19:29]
Well, I appreciate sharing that with us. And it really relates to a lot of people such as that if you’re not a medical person, but if you have never really been trained and understood the ins and outs of leadership, then you’re probably going to make some these mistakes and they’re going to be costly. You know, a lot of people would probably look at you and say your focus on culture this early in your company lifecycle shouldn’t happen until you have 50 employees.

Thomas Black [19:54]

Gene Hammett [19:54]
Have you ever been told that you focus on employees first?

Thomas Black [19:57]
Yeah, you know, we’ve gone so far as to, oddly enough hire coaches, you know, early, early on, we’re talking like three people, like we had that foresight to be able to pay somebody to come into the company, just because it was that important to create a foundation and a really, really solid foundation. Whereas we were told exactly that, you know, wow, I think you guys are the earliest company with, you know, X number of employees we’ve ever done this with. But we looked at it as to why not start to put that in motion now because we knew we were on a pathway that we would start down this road. So Yes, I’ve been told many times that it was a little, a little crazy, but we didn’t care. I mean, it was really that important to us, because they people make the difference? Absolutely.

Gene Hammett [20:46]
Well, to really drive this home, you know, starting on it early investing in it with outside people, the impact that it made early on, is what I would call the foundational, you know, years of your business. Do you feel like you’re set up for, you know, doubling your company and tripling your company as you continue to grow?

Thomas Black [21:05]
Yeah, I think I think it’s just opportunity. You know, I think we’ve got the capital, we’ve got the know-how certainly, it’s just opportunity out there. We’re pretty passionate about operating our own assets. And, you know, the companies that come in and so, you know, I think we’ve done a good job with that we’re looking at a lot of different alternatives. We just we’re insanely disciplined to not ruin that culture. Having been in multiple of the private equity worlds and seeing various structures of what happens when, when companies do sell, or any numbers of times when you know, taking a turn on that P wheel, companies rapidly change. And so we’re really, really, really focused on not losing that. And so growth can’t come at the expense of culture.

Gene Hammett [21:52]
I absolutely love this. Now, I know I’ve asked you this about your evolution as a leader, is there anything that you feel like we haven’t covered today? That was really kind of instrumental in your company growing as fast?

Thomas Black [22:05]
Oh, no, I think we’ve covered my big, the. The big things that I’ve particularly had issues working on, and just trying to, you know, temper that excitement and making sure it translates into reality and not getting too excited about things knowing that we’ve got this great trajectory, knowing that we have a great culture, having been on the flip side of it in many different ways, whether that was early as military or as a physician, not feeling super bought into the company. And having the opposite projected on me to try and have that air of excitement. It’s not quite the same. And so you know, it’s really important to do those things for your team members, you know, not only incentives to you know, let them do different things where they want to because I think you get that you get it three fold when you give someone the opportunity to go on vacation and you know, pay for different things just because I think it really it just really creates an atmosphere where where where they want to be a part and that’s the key you want to get up and you want to go to work and it’s exciting.

Gene Hammett [23:10]
What Thomas thanks for being on the podcast sharing your journey with Nepali Capital and really wanted to say congratulations on your past growth as well.

Thomas Black [23:18]
Thank you very much. I loved it really appreciate it all the time.

Gene Hammett [23:21]
So this wraps up an incredible episode with another leader and founder of a fast-growing company where they put employees first. I love these conversations with these kinds of leaders because it really does. Tell me I’m in the right place. If you’re feeling like your company is you know, on the verge of being bigger than it could be, but your culture is holding it back or your leadership individually. Make sure you reach out to me, genehammett.com that’s what I do to help you identify your blind spots and move beyond them. Thanks for being listening to these incredible interviews these incredible founders, CEOs. You think of leadership, you think of culture, make sure you think of Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT featuring Thomas Black



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