Richelle Parham of WestRiver Group: “Here Is How Diversity of Thought and Diversity of Experiences Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”
When team’s do not feel like they understand the mission, vision, strategy, plan or all of it, they get restless and do not execute effectively. So, my advice would be to communicate the mission, vision, strategy, and plan frequently. Address questions and concerns in a timely manner and do not assume that everyone understands or is on board. Better communications will lead to improved alignment.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richelle Parham.
Richelle Parham is a Managing Director at WestRiver Group (WRG), a Seattle-based venture, debt and equity company with $2B in assets under management (AUM). Prior to WRG, Parham was a partner at Camden Partners, a private equity firm focused on lower middle market growth stage investments and served as Chief Marketing Officer of eBay North America. Parham also served in numerous executive leadership positions at Visa Inc., Rapp Collins Worldwide and Digitas.
Parham co-leads WRG’s Experience Fund with Managing Director Scott Maw, leveraging her experience in integrated consumer and digital marketing to lead investments in the consumer experience economy. Parham is passionate about WRG’s purpose to drive diversity of gender, ethnicity and thought with its co-led, gender-balanced, fund management. She is known for empowering the next generation of diverse leaders and is recognized as one of the most influential marketers in the world.
Her honors include Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Forbes 50 Most Influential CMOs in the World, Savoy’s Power 300 and Top Innovator of Marketing and Advertising by Black Enterprise Magazine. She also serves as Executive Chairman of Shyn, is a Member of the Board of Directors of Best Buy, LabCorp, and e.l.f Beauty.
Parham holds a bachelor’s of science business administration degree in marketing and a bachelor of science degree in design and merchandising from Drexel University, where she serves on the board of trustees.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Absolutely. I am not sure how far back you want me to go, but just a few highlights. I grew up in Baltimore, MD and went to an all girls’ private school, Bryn Mawr School for Girls. I was at Bryn Mawr from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Those years are an important part of my story because I believe they taught me that I could be anything that I want to be, that my voice matters and that I am leader. I graduated from Bryn Mawr and went to Drexel University where I was a business major, who ended up graduating with Bachelor’s degrees from both the College of Business and the College of Design Arts. The majority of my career I spent in marketing, with 13 years at Digitas where I truly honed my marketing, digital marketing and leadership skills. I went on to be an executive at Visa leading a large part of marketing there. And, I was Chief Marketing Officer of eBay for 5 years and part of that iconic turn-around story. After taking a much-needed break, I joined Camden Partners which is a private equity firm on the East coast. I was a partner there, and that’s where I learned and got excited about investing and helping entrepreneurs and management teams grow and scale their businesses. And now I am at WestRiver Group as a Managing Director co-leading one of our equity platforms with my partner, Scott Maw. What’s exciting about WestRiver Group at this time in the company’s history is that we are leading with our purpose, which is diversity. Our founder and CEO, Erik Anderson, laid forth this vision that we can truly change the investing landscape by giving women and diverse leaders access to global capital. Our equity platform is co-led by men and women.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe that we are the only company in the venture/PE space that has committed to leading with gender parity as our first step in diversity. Diversity, in part, executed through our co-led investing model is the foundation for our business. This approach is important if we want to truly change who is allocating capital and who has access to capital. We have a white paper on the topic, called The New ROI: Exploring The Correlation Of Gender Parity And Value, which demonstrates the benefit of diversifying leadership roles and investing in gender-parity in the venture capital sector. And frankly, the empirical evidence correlates gender-diverse investing teams with superior performance over the long-term, including a higher net internal rate of return (IRR) under diverse team leadership, as cited in our aforementioned white paper, The New ROI: Exploring The Correlation Of Gender Parity And Value. We leverage this co-led model on our equity platform.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
In addition to managing our equity platform, we continue to build our pipeline and put capital to work. Scott and I are seeing and meeting with so many great companies in the experience economy across sports/esports, entertainment/amusement, virtual and augmented reality, food and beverage, and technology. The companies in our portfolio and in our pipeline know that consumers, particularly millennials and genZ, are opting for life experiences with friends and families over spending on physical products. So, these companies have created engaging, shareable, premium experiences, that focus on life moments that matter.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
It’s always so important to keep the customer at the center of the conversation and understand how to address their unmet needs. Listen to your customers and watch their behavior to better understand what they need and deliver on that. You will really win when you can effectively anticipate customer needs; this is not so easy to do.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?
In my career when there is a disconnect in a company, it seems to always come down to communication. When team’s do not feel like they understand the mission, vision, strategy, plan or all of it, they get restless and do not execute effectively. So, my advice would be to communicate the mission, vision, strategy, and plan frequently. Address questions and concerns in a timely manner and do not assume that everyone understands or is on board. Better communications will lead to improved alignment.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
First, let me first define how I think about diversity. Diversity is not just about gender and ethnicity; it is also about diversity of thought and diversity of experiences. You need these different types of diversity to be open to investing in, partnering with and/or working effectively with different people. Where you are from, how you were raised, the experiences that you have had, and the expertise that you have gained, give you a unique and differentiated perspective that can add a richness to any conversation, debate or decision. In our WestRiver Group white paper, entitled The New ROI: Exploring The Correlation Of Gender Parity And Value, we have cited empirical data across different sources that get to the impacts that diversity has to the bottom line:
- “All In: Women in the Startup Ecosystem” by PitchBook and All Raise reports “there appears to be a correlation between hiring female decision-makers at the investment level and outperformance at the fund level.” The report notes that at a time when women made up 12% or less of U.S.-based investors at venture firms or angel groups, fully 69.2% of top quartile VC funds had women in decision-making roles. (30.8% were funds with all male decisionmakers.)
- Startups with gender diverse founders achieve a 30% higher realized multiple when they are acquired or go public, according to Kauffman Fellows Research Center, which analyzed 90,000 U.S. venture-backed startups going back to 2001.
- Companies with a gender-balanced executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding, according to Babson College’s “The Diana Project” and its evaluation of 6,793 U.S. companies receiving venture capital funding between 2011 and 2013.
- Investments in companies with at least one female founder were valued 63% better than investments in all-male founder teams, reported First Round Capital, after analyzing their 10-year investment record in 300 companies and ~600 founders, published in 2015.
- According to January 2018 report by McKinsey & Company, “Delivering Through Diversity”, above-average financial returns are 21% more likely for gender-diverse executive teams and 33% more likely for racially and ethnically diverse executive teams.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of my superpowers is being a great connector. I enjoy having good conversations and through those conversations recognizing opportunities to make introductions of people who are like-minded, working on a similar challenge or just introducing people who should know one another. In my career, I have met so many brilliant, interesting, courageous and innovative people and connecting them to each other has led to great friendships, partnerships, deals and companies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I learned this quote in middle school and have lived by it ever since.
“Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I am incredibly blessed to have a Personal Board of Directors which officially formed in 2007; they were informally advising me years before. They are well accomplished and brilliant executive leaders who have helped to guide me on important decisions in my career. I treat them like a corporate board of directors and I even have a chairman of the board. Having their thoughtful advice has been instrumental for me.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I have long admired Oprah Winfrey. I have met Oprah a few times, but we have never had the opportunity to sit down and chat. To me, Oprah represents power, resilience, a keen sense of self, and the ability to understand people, what they need, and how she can help. I look forward to that meeting.
Richelle Parham of WestRiver Group: “Here Is How Diversity of Thought and Diversity of Experiences… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.