A Culture of Hospitality and Service

Before working with Salish Growth, the majority of my work experience has been in the food service and hospitality industry. Since 13 I’ve been working in small restaurants and hotels in places like Lopez Island, San Francisco and various regions in Italy. I’ve also started a fresh pasta company and a mobile coffee cart and been a part of several pop-up dinner events in this region. My favorite part and greatest skill in hospitality has always been facilitating a an environment of dialogue that forms relationships,  builds community and makes everyone feel a part of something beautiful.   

Frankly I never would have guessed that my experience would lead me to one day be on the starting team for a locally embedded finance company, and certainly  didn’t expect that the skill set I’ve acquired would be directly applicable in this context. Now that we almost have this thing launched, it is has become clear to me why my perspective is both valued and useful in the work we’re doing: Salish Growth is bringing hospitality culture into finance.

Danny Meyer, one of my favorite writers and the CEO of Union Square restaurant group, has some valuable insights on this in his book Setting the Table:

“ Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes the recipient feel. Service is a monologue- we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious,appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to succeed.”

Looking back on this quote after working with Salish Growth, something clicked. There are many things that are different about us compared to traditional finance. Among them are locality, openness and decentralization, but to me what stands out the most is our intentional focus on the relationships. Traditionally, finance approaches have been much more  service-oriented in Meyer’s definition: Refining an approach, then applying it broadly in a ‘one size fits all’ approach has been considered the easiest, and most efficient way to run a finance firm. But if our goal is to build resilience in real communities, then this doesn’t work, because it turns relationships into transactions that are purely quantitative, overlooking the local knowledge, trust and respect that are key to our success. Taking the time and effort to interact with communities, businesses and investors as unique and valuable changes our relationship to them.

It’s just like being at a restaurant. The entire experience is shaped by how people are treated. A restaurant that focuses on making it’s people (staff, customers and purveyors) feel welcome, included and recognized will always succeed in the long run over a restaurant that makes people feel the converse, even if the food is better. A restaurant that doesn’t have a good culture of hospitality fails because the staff don’t have love and pride for their jobs, the customers want to leave immediately once their meal is over, their purveyors give them their lower quality product and they all talk about it. But when a restaurant has great hospitality, the staff are passionately motivated, the customers enjoy just being in the space, the purveyors give them the best product and they all talk about it.

Obviously our service is quite different than that of a restaurant. Our service is bringing the best techniques in purchasing, securitizing and selling equity backed by rigorous analytical skills to communities that have been overlooked by financial hubs. The founders of this company are some of the best in the world at this, but it is well understood that this won’t work if we just go out and treat all communities identically. If we don’t take the time and effort to immerse and build relationships, we actually miss all of the best opportunities and the complex local dynamics that will ultimately determine our success. The people in those communities react accordingly, and our company would be viewed as a another faceless depository of capital that intends to own or control their value. No one really wants that presence in their community, but it’s nice to get the money. Just like no one really wants to spend time in a restaurant with terrible hospitality, but maybe it's the only place within 100 miles that serves your favourite wine, and you always leave with a feeling of dissonance. Wouldn’t it be great to have the wine and enjoy the experience too?

The other principle of great hospitality that shines through in Salish Growth is shared ownership. We have an open source model that allows us to be completely transparent because we want the people and businesses in our network to feel included and a part of our company. The people that inspire us, support us, collaborate with us and invest in us are as important as the people within the company. We even welcome all of you to share your own writing on this blog. Meyer articulates this well in his own words:

“(shared ownership) develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs. They can’t wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important and loved.”

And our open sharing of ideas and ownership is not limited to people’s relationship to Salish Growth. Our portfolio is made up of minority stakes in local companies, so when you go into a local brewery that’s in our portfolio you know you have an actual stake in it, and each beer you drink, each person you bring in improves your investment.

We are building a culture of hospitality in this company, and we are employing that culture to embed financial services directly into local communities. Hospitality is all about how people are made to feel in the delivery of a service. Salish Growth is a community as much as it is a company, and it is important to us that everyone in our community feels welcome, included and recognized.  As part of the core team here I feel same the passion and motivation I’ve felt as a chef in my favorite restaurant jobs.

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