Thinkers50 in partnership with Deloitte presents:

The Provocateurs:

podcast series

EPISODE 1

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Valerie Rainford: Passion Plus Purpose

If passion and purpose are the currency of business, then Valerie Rainford has a lifetime of wealth from which to draw. Now, the founder and CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies, she is author of the award-winning memoir Until the Brighter Tomorrow: One Woman’s Courageous Climb from the Projects to the Podium. Her remarkable career is loaded with firsts: the youngest officer promoted in the history of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the most senior black woman and the first black woman Senior Vice President at JPMorgan Chase & Co. where she created and led the company’s global Advancing Black Leaders strategy which helped increase black leadership by over 50% in less than three years.

In this remarkable conversation with Stuart Crainer of Thinkers50 and Geoff Tuff of Deloitte, Valerie charts her rise from being the child of sharecroppers to success in the corporate world. ‘Especially early in my career, I didn’t know what I was capable of. I didn’t have any role models to help me. So, I think that combination of being observant—asking what’s happening with other people, asking what are they seeing?—and then someone saying, “You could do that”, has been hugely successful for me,’ says Valerie as she shares the remarkable and inspiring story of her life and career. 

This is the first interview in the Provocateurs podcast series of conversations with remarkable people.

#TheProvocateurs

Guest starring:

Provocateurs: Valerie Rainford

Valerie Irick Rainford
Founder & CEO, Elloree Talent Strategies

Q

About Valerie Rainford

Valerie RainfordIf passion and purpose are the currency of business, then Valerie Rainford has a lifetime of wealth from which to draw. A triumphant businesswoman who led elite groups at two of Wall Street’s premier banking institutions, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPMC) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), Rainford has decades of results-driven leadership experience.

Rainford’s career is loaded with firsts. She became the youngest officer promoted in FRBNY history, and the most senior black woman and the first black woman Senior Vice President. At JPMC, Rainford created and led the company’s global Advancing Black Leaders strategy. The firm increased black leadership by over 50% in less than three years under her oversight, developing a system that now serves as the corporate model for other organizations committed to advancing racial equity.

Now the founder of Elloree Talent Strategies, a talent advisory firm for C-suite executives on Advancing Diverse Talent, her methodology builds upon past experience and proven results in driving greater diversity in business.  Rainford partners with CEOs to scale the impact of getting more black and brown leaders in senior positions by looking at their lifecycle of people data and assessing where and why people of color are being left behind.  Elloree’s approach is business-focused and data-driven, arming leaders with tangible solutions that move the needle.

Rainford penned an award-winning memoir Until the Brighter Tomorrow: One Woman’s Courageous Climb from the Projects to the Podium and has been featured by Inclusion and mentioned by Forbes and Black Enterprise magazines.

Rainford is Board Secretary of the Executive Leadership Council, and a Fordham University Trustee. She and her husband Tony of 37 years live in Florida.

Hosts:

Stuart Crainer
Stuart Crainer
Co-founder, Thinkers50

Geoff Tuff
Geoff Tuff
Principal, Deloitte

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Inspired by the book Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws; Wiley, 2021.

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EPISODE 1

Podcast Transcript

Stuart Crainer:

Hello, I’m Stuart Crainer. I’m the co-founder of Thinkers50. And I would like to welcome you to a new monthly podcast series, Provocateurs, in which we explore the experiences, insights, and perspectives of inspiring leaders. Our aim is to provoke you to think and differently through conversations with some fantastic leaders.

This is a collaboration between Thinkers50 and Deloitte. So, my co-host today is Geoff Tuff. Geoff is a principal with Deloitte and a leader in its sustainability strategy and innovation practices. With Steve Goldbach, Geoff is the author of two best-selling books: Detonate, which came out in 2018, and Provoke, which is subtitled How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws. And that came out in 2021. Geoff, welcome.

Geoff Tuff:

Thanks, Stuart. Great to be here. And I’m really looking forward to this conversation with Valerie.

Stuart Crainer:

Our guest today is Valerie Rainford, who is the founder and CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies. If passion and purpose are the currency of business, then Valerie has a lifetime of wealth from which to draw. She led elite groups at two of Wall Street’s premier banking institutions, JPMorgan Chase, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Not only does Valerie have decades of results-driven leadership experience, but she’s also the author of the award-winning memoir Until The Brighter Tomorrow: One Woman’s Courageous Climb From the Projects to the Podium. Valerie, welcome.

Valerie Rainford:

Thank you, Stuart. Thank you for having me. Thank you, Geoff.

Geoff Tuff:

Absolutely. So let’s get into it. I think in most of these conversations, we like to hear a little bit of the backstory of our guest, and hear a little bit about the path you’ve been on, and how you got to where you are today. And I know in particular that you have a really interesting one. So, I think if you could just spend a little bit of time, Valerie, telling us about that backstory, that would be a great place to start.

Valerie Rainford:

Sure. Well, I start by telling the early story in my memoir, which Stuart referenced Until The Brighter Tomorrow: One Woman’s Courageous Climb From the Projects to the Podium. It’s the early difficult life story of being the youngest of three children born in South Carolina. Both my parents were descendants of enslaved people.

My parents were sharecroppers children, so they both had a sixth grade education. By the way, that would be in a small town called Elloree, South Carolina. My parents divorced when I was three years old, both separately migrating north for better opportunities in the 1960s, like many in the south did during that time.

I stayed behind with a friend of my mom’s while my mother got herself settled, which if you read the book, you’ll learn that didn’t happen for quite a few years. So, I spent the bulk of my childhood moving between South Carolina and New York, something like 11 different apartments, a different school every year.

And then during my middle school years, actually visiting my father in Connecticut every other weekend until I actually started working in junior high school. My mom and I finally settled around junior high school in The Bronx in New York.

When it came time to go to high school, I applied for a private Catholic high school that my family could not afford. The story is actually in the book. So I worked and paid my way through high school, which is a very interesting story as well.

In high school, one of my brothers, the middle child, actually took his own life, which was another huge setback for our family. To stay close to home, I applied to one college, and that would be Fordham University. I could afford one college application. So, it was the one nearby where I could get to home, and school, and work, and be close to my mom.

And then a few weeks into my sophomore year at Fordham University, my mom then took her own life as well. I dropped out of school. It was just a lot going on. The following year though, I went back and I finished. I landed my first job at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York with the help of Fordham’s career planning and placement office.

I worked there for 21 years, rising to become at one point the youngest officer at the time promoted in their history. Typically at that time, you were in your thirties when you were promoted to first level officer. I was 29. I was the first African-American female senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the most senior African-American female in the country at the time.

And throughout that time, I was a business leader. I say I had 14 jobs in 21 years. I ran a little bit of everything. The only thing I didn’t do was go to legal, because I’m not a lawyer. And I avoided HR like the plague, because I really thought that’s where black people went to submit their careers. Not positively.

During my time there though, even though I never went to HR, Tim Geithner was the president of the New York Fed at the time. He went on to be Barack Obama’s secretary of the treasury. I worked with him to create the first employee group, which most organizations know now as business resource groups for women of color. And then partnered with Tim to hire the first chief diversity officer in the history of the New York Fed. So I was running businesses, but I had this passion for diversity. 

In 2007, I was recruited to JPMorgan. I worked there for 12 years as a managing director. Again, moving around, making change between businesses, mergers, acquisitions, crises at the time. And along the way, I was also always working around the diversity space in my spare time. In the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, Jamie Dimon wanted to do something different specifically around advancing black talent at JPMorgan. And he said he didn’t want a diversity person. He wanted a business person who knew how to solve problems that also had a passion for diversity, and my name rose to the top of the list. I took on a job at the time. Initially a little reluctant to take on the job of creating a strategy around advancing black leaders. Who does that, right? Who creates a strategy specifically around black talent? But my job was to help attract, retain, and advance black talent, particularly at the executive level, across the organization, across the globe. And three years in, we were breaking records. We had increased black talent by more than 50% in just three years.

We had made more progress in three years than we had made in the previous five. We had made more progress in three years than all of our top competitors combined. So, today I run my own company focused on doing what I created at JPMorgan. Is that a good summary?

Geoff Tuff:

That’s a very good summary. And I know a little bit about your backstory and I’d say that’s about as tight of a version of it that I’ve heard. And it really is amazing, Valerie. I know that’s not lost on you or many of our listeners, but it is condensed. And I’m wondering if we think back on what actually are probably multiple different life stories all together in one person’s life, as you think about the work that you do to today and the work that you’ve done at the Fed and JPMorgan and other places, can you think of what of your experiences, or which of them generally, are the most formative in your mind in terms of turning you into the person that you are today?

Valerie Rainford:

I said it very quickly, but probably the first was the high school change. I talk about it in my book, where I was probably headed down a path like many of the people I was hanging out with in junior high school. And I think it was chapter five that I wrote about the story where my mother scared that out of me. And that following week, I started looking for somewhere else to go where my friends were not going. The local high school was known as the drug store. And I sort of felt like if I followed my friends, I would be following them doing those things. And so I had fear – or what I thought was fear at the time – and wanting to make sure that my life was different.

I started looking for other schools and there were two Catholic high schools in the area; one that I walked past every day because it was right across the street from my junior high school, and another I didn’t know about, but in my research I found was across town. And I applied to both.

Geoff Tuff:

If I’m not mistaken, Valerie, your research was literally the Yellow Pages. Flipping through the Yellow Pages trying to see the Catholic high schools.

Valerie Rainford:

Yeah. Well, I was just looking for schools, Geoff. And by the way, some of our listeners might not even know what the Yellow Pages are, but there was no Google, there was no internet, there was no nothing. It was a big phone book with the names of anything you might want. It was almost like an encyclopedia of telephone numbers. So yeah, I pulled out the Yellow Pages and started looking for schools. And as I said, one was directly across the street. I passed it all the time. Never even thought that I could get there, but I was like, what the heck, let me apply. And I was accepted into both of the high schools, but the one across the street from my junior high school, that I passed every day was a conditional approval. They wanted me to go to summer school in order to get in and I couldn’t afford to, because I had to work. I had to work to save money to pay for high school. So, I picked the other one, which was across town. It was an all-girls Catholic high school. By the way, my family was not Catholic. So the entry to get into the school was pretty tough, because of the different religious background.

But I got in and I commuted across town every day to that school, to a neighborhood that was different than the one I was used to, one of very few minorities in the school at the time. It was hard, but I was just determined. And by the way, not only was it hard to go there and be there, but it was also hard to come back to the neighborhood and be the one person coming in a uniform, when it wasn’t anyone else’s experience.

But I would say the things that I learned being across town in that neighborhood, watching students have a mom drop them off and a dad pick them up. And by the way, the older we became, it was them driving their own cars, living in homes. I realized that they were not very different than I was. They just had better opportunities. So, that would be the first one.

Stuart Crainer:

I love the point in your story, Valerie, where you were working as a cashier in a supermarket and somebody from a bank approached you and noticed you were good with numbers and that’s how you got into banking. And I thought with all your drive, intelligence, integrity, all these things, you needed that intervention from somebody else, it was hugely important and it is a matter of chance, isn’t it?

Valerie Rainford:

Absolutely. And I would say to you, Stuart, that first change that I talked about was provoked by me on the heels of running it to my mother. But I would say to you, many of the things that have happened to create a changed trajectory in my life was an intervention of some sort.

Especially early in my career, I didn’t know what I was capable of. I didn’t have any role models to help me see. So, I think that combination of being observant, which has proven to be very helpful to me, like what’s happening? What’s happening with other people? What are they seeing? And then someone saying, “You could do that.” That combination, I think, has really been hugely successful for me.

Stuart Crainer:

I mean, I’ve talked to lots of CEOs and their formative experiences are often just dealing with people early in their lives. Having to deal with people and therefore they become good with people or understand people a lot more. It’s not about spreadsheets and numbers. The starting point is being able to survive as a person with other people.

Valerie Rainford:

Absolutely. And to survive in multiple environments, which I think has been my life story. From the very beginning, thinking about being the child of sharecroppers, then living with a family who were not my parents, then coming to New York and being in a different apartment, watching my mother, by the way. My mom was incredible at interacting with other people, even though she had a limited education. As we were in apartments and there was no heat in one particular apartment, how she navigated that to make change, I think was hugely impactful on me. And then throughout the corporate America experience, moving… Remember 21 years, 14 jobs. 12 years at JPMorgan, it was probably seven or eight jobs. So I’ve had these years of navigating different environments from different seats.

I also say to folks, I sat in a seat where I know I’m almost like the poster child for this work, because I know every experience of the diverse experience and the black experience, then I’ve sat next to CEOs who wanted to see it be done better and differently. And, ultimately worked with the master, Jamie Dimon, of like, how do you create change? So there’s very few people who have sat in every one of those seats and I think my career has just been a culmination of all of it.

Stuart Crainer:

Now, Jamie Dimon comes out of your story really well because his action was decisive and unequivocal. And he got you on board and supported you totally.

Valerie Rainford:

Absolutely. I don’t know that I told this story previously, so Geoff, you may not even know it, but when Jamie decided that he wanted to do something different at JPMorgan, he held a global town… This was well before me. Jumping into this role, he held a global town hall in the lobby of the corporate headquarters that was satellite to every location. And he told the entire company, this is February 2016, what he was going to do and why. He didn’t have a plan, by the way.

Geoff Tuff:

That’s provocative!

Valerie Rainford:

Yeah. He didn’t have the role. He says “this is what I want to do and why”. And by the way, we’re going to open a role and we’re going to put somebody in it because my experience is that when you want to make change, you give it to somebody. The things that you often hear him talk about. And someone had been suggesting to me that he had this idea and you would be great for it. So you should come to this town hall. So I went to the town hall not expecting to be intrigued. Same old, same old, what’s it going to do? And I sat there. There’s a video of it inside JPMorgan of… you can actually see me. I was behind to the left of the stage and you see my face transform over the course of like 90 minutes he did this town hall. It was not a 20-minute town hall.

You hear him talking about the why. And you see my face sort of do this. And at the end of that town hall was when I sent a message saying I don’t know who does this, who stands in the lobby of the corporate headquarters and announces they’re going to do something about black talent. By the way, this is all pre George Floyd.

And if you’re game, I’m willing to help. I was thinking “help” because I had helped all along. It was never my job. And then John Donnelly, who was head of HR at the time, called me and said, “Hey, we’d like you to consider taking this role”. So I had to do a little bit of transformation myself because the idea was so provocative.

Geoff Tuff:

So Valerie, as you know, from the book Provoke, one of the core contentions that we have is that the best leaders, the best provocateurs put themself in a position where they can see earlier than others when an uncertainty results from being a question of if it’s going to happen to being a question of when it’s going to happen. Do you have any uncertainties, whether at that time or at other times, that you think kind of fit that profile where you had the ability or the instinct or just the place you were to see that resolution earlier than others?

Valerie Rainford:

I think there are so many times. I think in starting advancing black leaders for JPMorgan, the ‘if to when’ happened for me over the… I say John Donnelly, who was head of HR, reached out to me and said, “We’d like for you to think about this role.” I still wasn’t convinced.

That town hall opened my eyes, but it was the journey of meeting with the senior leaders, including Jamie, at the time, that told me that their interest and commitment was different.

I think that’s the same thing that happened in early 2019, when I got the idea to start my own business doing this work, because I had learned a little something about what it takes to truly move the needle around diversity. And the interest and engagement and commitment from the senior leadership team is a big differentiator for me.

Stuart Crainer:

What about the idea of being a provocateur, Valerie? I mean, a provocateur, I think the dictionary definition is someone who incites or stimulates another to action. And I saw there’s a good line about you, about you being a truth teller who delivers impact.

Valerie Rainford:

Absolutely. And that was part of what got me to the if, when of doing the JPMorgan work. Because it was very, very clear to me that Jamie in particular, but the leadership team, wanted to know the truth. And it’s the only way I knew I could do the work. So there was a happy marriage of if I’m going to do this, we’re really going to dig underneath the information to find out where the gaps and opportunities are. And that’s what was expected. So that truth teller is part of who I am, but it also was fundamental to me saying yes, I’m willing to take the role.

I could not have done it if it was done the traditional way. In fact, there were a couple things that locked it in for me and one of them was, Jamie said to me, “I want you to do something different because what everybody else is doing is not working. I want you to be creative. I want you to be innovative. I want you to dig. I want you to solve this thing. I want it to happen.”

So for him, he gave me, “And by the way, if anybody gets in your way, come back and see me.” That was important too. So that was really, really important freedom that he gave me to explore and be provocative while getting underneath the truth and by the way, contributed to achieving the results.

Geoff Tuff:

Valerie, can you tell us a little bit about what you did? So the actions you took when given the license to go and do something by Jamie and others. Tell us a little bit about the journey you were on and specifically the actions you took in order to get to the outcomes that you wanted to do.

I’ll give you a two-part question and then you can answer both parts. So that’s one part. The second part is, how clear was the outcome in your mind that you were gunning for? Was it crystal clear from day one what you wanted to achieve or is it something you kind of explored along the way as you did?

Valerie Rainford:

It was absolutely an exploration. I didn’t get any blueprint. I think it’s really important that I stepped into this role. I was not the chief diversity officer. I was not the head of recruiting. I was not the head of learning. I was not the head of talent. It was a new role created specifically to deal with a strategy around black talent. Not anything else. Black talent. Of course, you learn over time that you can’t do it just for one population of people, but you could absolutely start with the most marginalized. So I did what I had done previously.

The work that I had done back at the Federal Reserve was data focused. 20 years ago, with Tim Geithner’s blessing, I did a data analysis of where the gaps and opportunities were. Well, that resulted in hiring a chief diversity officer and not much more, but it was the first time that I saw the data could make a difference with the CEO.

The second time I was running production operations quality in a mortgage company at JPMorgan for David Lowman, who was the CEO at the time. And you might recall in 2007 when the mortgage robo signing crisis started, many of the organizations ramped up in staff. So in that ramp up, we focused on diversity. And by the way, it was data focused. And by the way, it had significant results, in that 30% of the people who we hired were women, minority, or vets. So here I had created this methodology in my head that said “there’s something here about data and finding the facts”.

So as Jamie does with everything else, he said, “Come see me at 30 days and tell me what you’re thinking what we should do.” Remember, I’m a business person, not a diversity person. So I said, “Okay, let me go.” And by the way, importantly, he had made sure everybody gave me what I needed. That was pretty critical as well. “Give her what she needs.” So I walked into this job with his mandate to be creative and explore with access to data, which is kind of how my brain works. And his mandate to come see him in 30 days to tell him what I saw and what I wanted to do.

Geoff Tuff:

I want to hear the rest of that story, but I want to put you on the spot super quick, Valerie. Could you have done this without Jamie? Could you have achieved what you did without that sort of top cover?

Valerie Rainford:

No. And that is the point of how I do the work today. You can do diversity inclusion, belonging work without an engaged CEO. You cannot do the work of moving the needle and creating equity around policies and getting out the facts without the CEO.

So that’s how I structure my engagement today. It’s built off of the 20 years of knowledge first doing the work with Geithner, then doing the work with Lowman, then doing the work with Jamie. So in typical Jamie fashion, he tells you 30 days and then he gave me 21 (laughs).

So on the 21st day, I’ve got this meeting on my calendar. And so many people were trying to help me. Valerie, send them what you’re going to send them the Friday before. He’s going to read it. You don’t have to repeat it to him. And if he likes it, he’s moving on it.

So they assign to me one person. And for the first 20 days, I just started looking in the recruiting database. And what I found were hundreds of people who were coming through the organization on what I called at the time a beauty contest, but they weren’t actually making it through conversion. And I created a book for Jamie. If I recall, the book had 116 names of people. This, again, is on my 21st day. And 116, it was essentially another phone book. So 116 faces with data on the backside. The front side of it was the faces and the publicly available bios. And on the backside was here’s everything we know about the individual, what school they went to, what organizations they went to, who they may be affiliated with inside the organization. And here’s a strategy for here are jobs we have open today and here’s people that we have seen before who qualify for these jobs.

It literally was a two inch white binder. And we sent it home with Jamie that Friday in preparation for my meeting with him the following Monday. Someone else gave me a tip that says, “Remember, if he likes it, your meeting is right before his meeting with his executive leadership team. You want to have copies.” So that weekend I sent the book to print and I have 15 books. And when I walked into the meeting with him, he said, “Get out of here. Where’d you find those people?” I said, “In your databases.” And literally the next meeting we went into. I didn’t have time to go back to my office. I had a couple copies of an executive summary. We went into the management committee meeting. I tell that story, Geoff and Stu, because it set the pace for everything that followed. It set the pace for using facts to drive strategy. It set the pace for arming the management committee in the organization. We eventually built off of that.

But identifying very, very quickly where there was talent that we were not looking at coming into the organization, we then did something very similar with talent that was already there. But that really set the stage for having a senior-led, data-focused, action-oriented strategy that everybody could get their arms around.

Stuart Crainer:

So you’ve been fighting individual and organizational bias throughout your career, Valerie. And one of the provocateur superpowers is an ability to overcome blinders, which are caused by individual or collective bias. But how do you manage that on a day to day basis?

Valerie Rainford:

Yeah. It’s another reason why the CEO is critical. I’ve been in clients since leaving JPMorgan where the CEO is not engaged. And when the CEO is not engaged, people become very defensive. It becomes very personal and they will throw up blockades on any change. By the way, from the most senior to the most junior.

As you might imagine, when you’re identifying places where the organization has not done well, you’re really criticizing either policies or people who’ve created them or have responsibility for them. So that’s part of the reason why I insist in my clients that the CEO has to come out and state the vision and it has to be forward-looking and it can’t be backwards blaming.

It has to be the willingness to get underneath the data so you can set strategy moving forward. Unless you have that runway inside an organization, all of the traditional biases will stand up and prevent progress. And it also can’t be, by the way, that the CEO says, “We’re going to do this.” And then the CEO goes off and leaves it to the senior leadership team to make it happen. It has to be the CEO all along the way. Knowing what the data is. I often tell a story of when we identified talent inside the organization that was not progressing, Jamie would walk with the names of the top… He’d pull them out of his pocket and challenge his senior leaders, like, what are we doing around this person? What are we doing around that person? He could also go to any meeting and quote where we were and how much progress we had made, not because he had studied it the day before, but just because he was that engaged. So it’s that kind of engagement. That’s not what you typically hear as the tone from the top. It’s a different kind of CEO that is almost provoking along the way.

Stuart Crainer:

You were very keen to make it clear that with Jamie Dimon, it wasn’t an initiative.

Valerie Rainford:

Not at all. In fact, another little known story is that when I stepped into the role or was about to step into the role, it was being called the black segment initiative. So I get in the meeting with Jamie and we’re talking, I’m about to start in this role. And he says, “Do you have any questions for me?” And in hindsight it was probably stupid, but I said, “I don’t like what you’re calling this thing.” He goes, “What do you mean?” “The black segment initiative. I think we should call it what you’ve been talking about and that’s advancing black leaders.” And he’s like, “I really don’t care what the bleep you call it, just fix it.” But it was an initiative start and stop. Strategies have continuity. So in hindsight, I probably could have come up with a better question for him at the time, but it was also that degree of flexibility and freedom that made me know that he was about to do something different and he was willing to hear me even talk about some of the most insignificant things. And that’s actually what we’re calling this thing so people get on board.

Geoff Tuff:

How about some of the others that were involved, Valerie? Any of these institutions, the Fed, JPMorgan, even at Elloree. Can you talk about how you’ve motivated others to work in the same direction as the vision that you have? Not necessarily the individuals, but the type of people that you try to pull along for the journey to actually see the change happen that you’d like to.

Valerie Rainford:

This is all part of the 20 years of learning being in the space as well. There are a couple of key roles that I insist on today when I’m doing the work. The first is always the general council. The general council community is still getting their arms around getting under data, exposing data, reporting data.

And it takes the general council to understand that confining the data is just as much of a risk as unleashing the data. I think I probably learned this one in my federal reserve experience because I jokingly say like we got our first chief diversity officer, we started [00:34:45: BRGs business resource groups?], but we didn’t do much more than that. And it was because we couldn’t bring the rest of… Tim was on board. Tim wanted to do something different, but he couldn’t bring the rest of his leadership team around. So that’s what progress we made. So the general council is absolutely key. And at JPMorgan Chase, it was there from day one.

In other organizations, one of the first questions I will ask the potential CEO client is, where is the general council? And let’s have the conversation with them first because, I mean, they are absolutely key. The other key role is the chief human resources officer. Because again, the policies that you’re identifying that need work are typically inside the HR function. And not having the CHRO on board, you can have the CEO and the general council on board, but if you don’t have the chief human resources officer on board, you can’t make progress. And then I say the fourth, including the CEO, important role is a senior business leader that owns a P&L. Someone who you can work with and partner with to start to drive change. Some organizations I think make the mistake of not focusing on true business results, but also the intangibles of diversity. There are organizations that try to bring the entire leadership along before you can get moving.

And I say as long as you’ve got your CEO, your general counsel, your chief human resources, and at least one, ideally two very senior leaders who you can experiment with in showing results, that you can experiment with in getting diverse talent through the recruiting process and getting diverse talent to stay and getting diverse talent to advance inside the organization. The rest of the organization pays attention and you will eventually bring others along. So those are the key roles.

Geoff Tuff:

But no small fee to get all those rules aligned and headed into the same direction, I’m sure. I know enough about you as a personality to know why you’re so successful at it, but I can imagine a lot of others would have struggled with that.

Valerie Rainford:

Well, it’s, again, the reason why you have to start with the CEO. Sometimes I’ve seen organizations start with the CHRO or I’ve been a senior business leader. But then I work with them to help them get their CEO on board to the change. I’m rarely looking for the day when it starts with the general council, but I haven’t seen that happening yet.

Geoff Tuff:

When you look back on this journey that you’ve been on, and I know the journey is continuing, but how would you summarize the impact you’ve had?

Valerie Rainford:

I think this journey takes multiple years. It took us multiple years to get where we are. It will take hopefully not as many to reverse the trend. But what I’m excited about is I have clients, some clients I’m in the second year of the journey with them and they see and I see that their efforts are driving change.

Over time, I’d love to see more of that, both in the companies that I partner with now, as well as others along the way. It definitely takes more than one year to see the change. But I think by year two, like I have one particular client that we are in year two. And some of the change here, which is so simple, like, here’s data that you’re not even collecting as part of your recruiting process. We provide the client with that information. Year two, they have the data and complete line of sight into what’s happening in their recruiting process that’s keeping diverse talent, not just black talent. When you see those policies broken, they’re typically broken for everyone. But it’s impacting one group probably more acutely than the other. But when you solve it, you see all boats begin to rise, as I said. 

In other cases, we’ve given clients that did have the data insights into where particular policy gaps were that were impacting talent. And we’re already starting to see the shift turn.

Stuart Crainer:

Valerie, at times, did you look back and think you weren’t provocative enough or times you could have been more assertive or not?

Valerie Rainford:

What a great question, Stuart! So there are probably some moments along the entire journey where I could have pushed harder, but I think everything happens at the pace that it’s supposed to. I think I’ve learned from the places where I could have pushed. Now I push unapologetically.

Geoff Tuff:

I think you’ve earned the right to do that, Valerie.

Valerie Rainford:

I think it helped a kid that grew up with nothing, didn’t have a lot of money. I became an expert at hoarding it. There’s something about being free to speak your mind and tell your truth and help others see their own truth.

When you have the financial foundation, where you’re not worried about paying your bills, where you’re not worried about where that next check is going to come from, it’s very freeing. So I like to say I created a life where I could do this work the way I want to do it, and it’s by telling the truth. And if you’re not working with me, it’s probably because you’re not ready for the truth.

Geoff Tuff:

That’s a good tagline for Elloree. What are you most proud of, Valerie? What are you most proud of on that journey?

Valerie Rainford:

Well, I’m absolutely proud of the progress that we’ve made at JP. I’m really proud of the impact that I’m starting to see some of my clients have. I’m proud of having created something that no one else has been able to create. By the way, I trademarked it too. And probably the thing I’m most proud of most recently is the number of investors that want to see me scale the work, because they see it as being so different to anything that they’ve ever done before. So, the possibilities of – right now business is referral, one CEO to another CEO, one senior leader to another senior leader, which I think I’m very comfortable with – but the opportunity to scale it in a way, that other organizations will benefit from a data focused, getting to the facts, approach to diversity I think makes me really proud.

Stuart Crainer:

Valerie, you wrote the book Until the Brighter Tomorrow, which we can recommend to everyone listening. Are you working on a new book?

Valerie Rainford:

Yes.

Stuart Crainer:

What can we expect from that one?

Valerie Rainford:

When you’re in the book writing [process], and you guys know this, I keep changing my mind. But the thing I’m clear about is that I want it to be a blueprint for CEOs. I want it to be a leadership book targeted to senior level executives, that share with them what I think are the ingredients for replicating this work. The level of engagement that’s required, how do you look at the data, how do you bring others and the leadership camp along, and what success looks like. So I’ve gotten probably a third of the way through, but that’s my goal. That’s what the outline says, anyway.

Geoff Tuff:

Do you have a title yet? A public forum because that’s the first thing you got to come up with.

Valerie Rainford:

I have a couple of working titles. But like my current book, I had a couple of working titles and at the last minute I changed it. So it will be something around advancing racial equity. A Blueprint for CEOs Committed to Change is my current working title.

Geoff Tuff:

Valerie, many, many, thanks for being the first of our guests on this series. You are indeed the very definition of a provocateur, and we look forward to continued conversation with you. We encourage everyone to go out and buy your existing book and the new one when it comes out. But many thanks again. Thank you. And by the way, you’ll have to let Thasunda Brown Duckett know that we’re coming her way to see if she’ll come and be a guest on this series as well.

Valerie Rainford:

I will let her know. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks Geoff and Stuart.

Geoff Tuff:

All right. Thank you.

Stuart Crainer:

Thank you, Valerie.

Geoff Tuff:

Bye now.

Valerie Rainford:

Bye-bye.