March Culturati: Magazine

Steven Tomlinson and I have been discussing Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans all year. It — along with a bit of Adam Smith & Thomas Piketty, some general philosophy and even frames from theology — informed Steven’s kickoff keynote for the 4th Culturati Summit.

Steven cites Avent in noting the shift in our economy where culture is a driver of value, and that this changes how business models are formed and how people are coordinated and motivated. . . firms as information processing systems, and work that’s increasingly social and cognitive. Culture is the code workers follow to get the right information to the right people at the right times, the way people are wired together— culture as the principle asset of businesses that innovate. It’s an intangible asset, part of the dark matter accounting for more than 80% of the value of S&P 500 firms. Today’s business models delivering the largest margins are where creativity and innovation are at the center of things.

We sold out this Summit — truth be told, I snuck in a few extras calling them speakers or sponsors.

Attendees rated the Summit as one of our most successful though, of course, not everyone felt so. The desire for intimacy in the breakouts conflicts with the desire for more tightly curated sessions with more same-level peers in the room. Conversations about diversity, equity & inclusion, brands taking a stand and a @metoo case study from the big stage left some wanting even more actionable and positive culture conversations between CEOs on the main stage.

With 36% of attendees responding to the Summit’s evaluation survey, this year was rated 4.1 out of 5, with 100% of attendees believing we should host the summit again and 89% answering they’d return next year.

The topic of culture continues to drive conversations at management meetings, in board rooms and even in investment committee meetings. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock included the importance of culture in his 2018 letter, and he stated it even more clearly in his 2019 letter:

Unnerved by fundamental economic changes and the failure of government to provide lasting solutions, society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues. These issues range from protecting the environment to retirement to gender and racial inequality, among others. Fueled in part by social media, public pressures on corporations build faster and reach further than ever before. In addition to these pressures, companies must navigate the complexities of a late-cycle financial environment — including increased volatility — which can create incentives to maximize short term returns at the expense of long-term growth. . . Purpose and Profits: An Inextricable Link . . . The World Needs Your Leadership .. . companies must embrace a greater responsibility to help workers navigate retirement . . . A New Generation’s Focus on Purpose . . . Attracting and retaining the best talent increasingly requires a clear expression of purpose . . .

At the 2017 Culturati Summit our opening panel concluded that if corporations are citizens, they are the most influential citizens in this country, and they have responsibilities to engage on behalf of social and political issues — aka brands taking a stand.

At this year’s Summit, we noted that the workplace may be one of the last remaining institutions where we regularly gather Democrats, Republicans, Independents . . . White, Black, Brown . . . members of all races . . . as well as genders, gender identities, faiths and sexual orientations and get things done, usually with general agreement on purpose and objectives. Today’s corporations may have a responsibility to extend these norms, allowing such success among diverse populations within their communities.

SXSWi starts today — if you’re in Austin from out of town, shoot me a note if I or Capital Factory can be helpful. You’ll find me mostly at Capital Factory but also at the convention center, Vox Media’s Deep End and at a lot of Entrepreneur Foundation and Culturati member company events. Happy SXSW!

Eugene Sepulveda is the co-founder of Culturati as well as the CEO of the Entrepreneurs Foundation, a director & partner in Capital Factory, and the Treasurer & a Sr. Advisor to Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Eugene’s long played at the intersection of business, politics and community in Austin and nationally for many years. He can be reached at