DEI for Innovation 4: Building diverse companies, with Alberto Lemus

A diverse team makes companies stronger and more productive. In this series, Kurt Merriweather, The Diversity Movement’s VP of Products and Innovation, talks with DEI leaders about how diversity, equity and inclusion can lead to incredible developments in your organization and beyond. In this episode, Kurt talks with Alberto Lemus, managing partner of Atwater Infrastructure Partners, about leading diverse organizations.

Transcript

Kurt M: Welcome to Winning with Diversity, a podcast to help you learn the strategies to transform your business through diversity, equity and inclusion. Our focus focuses on DEI and innovation, where we discuss techniques and approaches to build high-performing teams that operate more effectively and unlock new opportunities for business growth. I’m your host, Kurt Merriweather, VP of products and innovation at the diversity movement. And today we’ll be exploring how we help companies transform themselves through technology, data-driven insight, and new approaches to DEI plan execution. 

I’m excited to be joined by Alberto Lemus, managing partner of Atwater Infrastructure Partners. Alberto has more than 20 years of experience in social infrastructure and real estate investment. He’s a member of the Urban Land Institute, International Council of Shopping Centers, and a frequent guest speaker on topics of infrastructure, finance, and urban real estate. Alberto has served on the UCLA board of Regents and is a proud graduate of UCLA, as well as the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and happens to be one of my classmates. Welcome to the show, Alberto. 

Alberto L: Thank you, Kurt. Appreciate it. 

Kurt M: One of the things that I like doing before we get started is to, talk about a fun fact that someone could not learn from Googling you, and so what can somebody learn about you through this podcast that they wouldn’t see if they were to search for you on Google? 

Alberto L:  I am a huge San Diego Padre fan.  You know, avid, baseball fan, but especially the Padres, I grew up in San Diego. It’s been a long, dry spell, so huge Fernando Tatis fan. So was enjoying, enjoying a little bit of a little bit of a run. So, something you wouldn’t have picked up. 

Kurt M: Fernando Tatis. Is it you going to be the one who takes it to the next stage for the Padres? Is he going to take it all the way home? 

Alberto L: I hope so. If nothing else we’ve had, you know, we’re certainly enjoying it. He’s very entertaining. So, it’s been a fun run, so, you know, it it’s definitely made, watching the team fun again. So hopefully we’ll get some wins in there and, but it’s a joy right now. 

Kurt M: Got it. And so, you’re in Pasadena and have spent most of your time on the west coast, and so wanted to talk a little bit about your journey and what got you to this stage in your career as a managing partner at Atwater. 

Alberto L: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And again, thank you for having me on your podcast. I’m excited about today. So, you know, between, Undergrad and graduate school I worked for AT&T and worked in telecommunications.

And, after business school I spent about five or six years working on a, essentially a startup that was doing fiber build outs and major cities. So got involved in in sort of that growth stage of a company. We were focusing on cities that were predominantly Hispanic. So, we were working on, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, where it had very significant Hispanic populations.

So, we realized that there was an opportunity to invest directly where, you know, my old company at that point at and T was not investing in these fiber build outs. I worked with a core of people who were there when I was there and saw an opportunity to, to really line up capital and build out these opportunities.

So, I was there for five or six years. We had a very good run, that got sold to another as part of a private equity roll-up, and I said at that time that I had really enjoyed the property and acquisition component and ended up partnering with another one of our classmates, Mike Lowe, and transitioned into real estate at that point.

And the vision there was to create an investment platform that would invest in areas of predominantly Hispanic, sort of we’d seen a number of platforms that were focusing on urban investing, like Magic Johnson’s and others, and we felt that there was a segment of the population that really wasn’t being addressed.

So, we began this effort. Around 2006 or so 2005, 2006. So, again, we saw an opportunity where we felt like, you know, the broader markets were sort of missing it, kind of in similar to my first, you know, the first part of my career, consistently seeing opportunities to invest in deploy capital where maybe others, you know, called the general markets or other sectors where we’re not really seeing the opportunities.

 I ended up staying there for about 10 years or 10 or 11 years through a number of roles, raising capital, for these, you know, targeted investment platforms and then deploying that capital. About five years ago, I decided that, you know, there was an opportunity and that it may seem like the right time for me to really, sort of spin out of that platform and really develop a more focused effort to really, again, continue the same types of efforts of deploying capital in areas that are predominantly a minority, but to do so maybe in a little bit more targeted way than I could unto that platform.

So, that was really kind of the beginning of Atwater Infrastructure and how we began, again, great set of friends that we developed along the way. I partnered with two folks, one you may know Henry Cisneros, who a former secretary of HUD and Victor Miramontez to start the platform, and the idea is that we would be able to deploy capital, you know, across the country, really in these opportunities.

Kurt M: That’s quite the path there from AT&T, rolling out fiber at a time where that was novel, and now we take fiber for granted.

Alberto L: Yeah, exactly. 

Kurt M: And of being able to see the opportunities that other people aren’t seeing, and so that’s going from one type of infrastructure to another. Those are the areas that most people don’t think of as being innovative. But certainly, there’s some things that are happening there. And so, you talk a lot about in the things that you’ve done and the writings that you’ve done about social infrastructure. And so that’s the terminology, some may not be familiar with. So could you spend a little time talking about what social infrastructure is and what some of the key trends are that you’re seeing and how that started to change as a result of what’s happened over the last 18 months with the pandemic and this awakening that’s happened around social justice.

Alberto L: Yeah, absolutely. So social infrastructure, you know, as we define it here at Atwater, it would be what most people consider sort of government buildings, parking structures, schools, you know, opportunities for, to bring additional capital where, you know, we’re and, and ownership to those. During my time on the Regents so the university of California, we saw this as well, where most infrastructure in the United States is financed through long-term debt, you know, through bonds, if you will. And we simply don’t have enough borrowing capacity to meet the needs that we have as a society. So, you know, we have government buildings that are very long on, you know, very long on the tooth, so to speak.

We have parking assets and other systems that are essentially rundown and in need of significant investment, and school systems that are also, you know, the buildings of which are just really are now outdated and not really well maintained. So, what we’re looking to do is to bring additional capital in to support those systems and partner with municipalities and governments.

You know, usually it’s government, it could be a university systems and others, but it could be harbors and port authorities, but ultimately quasi-governmental structures that will allow us to bring in additional cash. We, in terms of the trends that have happened, Over the last, you know, that I’ve seen over the last 18 months, I think even leading into the pandemic and it’s really been exacerbated by what we see in the, in the last 18 months.

A lot of real focus on housing and housing infrastructure, you know, my partner, Henry Cisneros, who was the secretary of HUD, always says, you know, ultimately housing is infrastructure, right? If we don’t have enough places for people to live and workers to live, we have a real challenge.

A real empathy expanded emphasis on affordability and how we can, particularly in, in those high demand markets.  How do we get people to live in the right places in in ways that are inclusive and building opportunities for everyone? One of the examples of a project that I’m working on is I’m working on a project in Nashville, Tennessee with the public housing authority in Nashville that it’s taking a 1930s era public housing project and going to knock it down, and all the residents who are there now will, will remain in it, but the it’ll basically triple the density. 

But I’m involved with the component that we’re going to put about a hundred million dollars of what we call social infrastructure. These would be things like new libraries, new schools, new community centers, upgrading the parks so that the residents and the new residents that are coming, the goal being that they’re going to be interacting in ways that you know, that, you know, maybe wouldn’t have been possible in the past. So again, you know, really thinking about these tools as ways of sort of helping to sort of engineer how communities can interact in a very thoughtful, deliberate way.

Kurt M:  That’s a really powerful example of the steps that, whether it’s communities, government or entities, non-governmental entities, and quite frankly, companies need to be thinking about is it’s one thing to say we’re going to donate funds to a certain cause the thing that you’re talking about doing is building capacity.

So, what are the, what are the different pieces in the community that you need in order to be an engine for preparing the community to have jobs, whether they’re jobs in stem fields, and you talked about, you know, libraries and access to education, parks and other places to play so that they know the community has access to those kinds of things so that it helps to get at the root cause of some of the disparities that we see, and most of the disparities that we see are due to lack of access.

And so, a lot of what you’re doing sounds like it’s getting at the heart of that, the access challenge that a lot of folks in underrepresented communities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities have seen for so long.

Alberto L: Kurt around here we often say that for a lot of folks, that geography is their destiny, right?

So, if you happen to live in in the census track where Casey Holmes is, the likelihood, you know, you’re the median income in that track is about 17% of the greater Nashville region, roughly one fifth and a little bit less than the fifth. if you think about the impacts of housing, you think about the impacts of, you know, what we’ve seen in the pandemic of health care access to healthcare, you know, people’s ability.

And one of the things we see for example is obesity rates and the similar communities, what happens is a lot of the, you know, families, many of which are working two jobs. They don’t have a safe place for their kids to go out and run around, right. And, you know, to have a situation where if you’re in the house all day and playing video games and eating unhealthy food. It’s not a surprise what’s going to happen to those kids, you know, three, five years down the road. 

And all of a sudden, we get hit, you know, we get hit in a situation where we realize that people who are overweight and have, and, you know, have, you know, what we realized in the pandemic was those are the people that were most effected in those black and brown communities. So much of it ties to the fact that you simply don’t have a safe place. We don’t have a place to gather. So, a lot of we’re doing is, again, with a very intentional way, so for example, we were working on building these facilities in such a way that it is safe. People can, you know, they do have well organized, structured programs.

You know, the things that in many communities that have better resources that are frankly taken for granted. And so, the fact that my kid can go out and join the little league or the fact that, you know, I trust it’s going to be safe, it’s simply not possible in many of these communities.

And I think that when we think about the sources of what, you know, these inequities that we’ve seen so much of in the past, so much of it’s tied to these kinds of core issues. And again, I don’t think people think about them very much, but you’re absolutely right that, you know, they, they are absolutely at the heart of much of what happens. People don’t have adequate housing. People don’t have safe schools. 

To your point about jobs, I would just add one thing that, in order for somebody to be in a situation where they’re kind of ready, they can get the training they need and they can ultimately be available, they have to have a lot of other resources available to them. They have to have public transportation that’s adequate. You need to have a place where, if they have kids, that their kids can be, you know, dropped off and, you know, taken care of and educated. If those aren’t in place, you’re not going to have again, one of the things that the pandemics demonstrated that for kind of everybody, if you don’t have access to your kids, you know, daycare facility, you can’t go to work, right.

Well, that’s an everyday, and when you live in a public housing project, that’s not, you know, only restricted to the pandemic. That’s actually all the time. I don’t have a safe place to drop my kids off. So, you know, what we do is we work with a lot of these facilities to put together, you know, very multilayered, complicated structure so that these things can get built, not only built but maintained and supported so that they achieve the objectives.

But, and then of course with the, you know, set of events that happened last summer really highlighting social justice, so many of those situations and issues are tied to these kinds of these core equities that relate to how many of us live and how many of us, you know, receive so many of our core services. Again, we think about that a lot. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily think about it in that way, but we, we spend a lot of time thinking about that.

Kurt M: And back to the project in Nashville that we were talking about.  What are some of the things that you were doing as you were thinking about taking resources and relationships from the private sector and in the public sector and finding ways to make those work together so that folks’ incentives were aligned and you were able to execute? I imagine that’s not the easiest thing to do. I’m curious about going behind the scenes a little bit on that. 

Alberto L:  Probably the national model for this is a project called Purpose Built in Atlanta, and it took some of the old facilities that after the Olympics and began to repurpose them to address, you know, some of the systemic inequities in Atlanta. It was kind of the template that was used. What we’ve done is we’ve sort of taken that, that same kind of structure. Purpose-built was about 250 units somewhere, but I believe 250 or 300, and just taking it to a completely, another level in in Nashville. And they’re talking about this -project will be 2,700. 

But the notion behind that is aligning large corporate interests, as you can imagine in Atlanta, there’s a lot of large corporations there that can support, and really aligning government, large corporate, and a whole series of other sort of, you know, types of donors and support to, you know, and with the idea, you know, healthcare providers, universities to really, you know, take a broader approach in saying, look, this isn’t just a, you know, local government problem. And I think that, or, you know, if we, you know, can just get a, you know, one type of tax incentive, this is going to be fixed. I mean, it’s much larger than that much more complicated.

So, a lot of what we’re trying to do is, you know, we’ll work with, with partners that will align both the sort of corporate interests and, and, you know, trying to get, you know, significant corporate, participation. We’re seeing that more now, it’s a little bit more common now in in the housing realm, we’ve seen a lot of the Silicon Valley firms, for example, getting more active in in sort of affordability.

 You know, back in sort of the industrial era, we had this notion of sort of the company town where the companies would actually participate in housing, and that was something that was common. Today it kind of went away, and I think that there’s a vision that there’s a significant role for those corporations to play, and not just the housing, but also in these other elements I’m talking about Kurt that, you know, so if I live in in the KC community, I don’t have a YMCA. I don’t, you know, there’s not one that’s close by or a boys and girls club where my kids can go and safely be supervised and get some, you know, get some exercise, get some after-school support, they just don’t exist. So, we have to address those kinds of things as well. 

Kurt M: You recently worked on a project with Tesla that had a pretty significant community redevelopment element. And so, I want to delve into how that came about and, you know, what the impact has been and kind of walk me through the Genesis of that, and then where things are. 

Alberto L: Yeah. So, the, you know, through my efforts when I was at Low, at the time, we had, as I mentioned, we had raised a private equity pool of capital that was specifically targeting communities that, you know, had, you know, high Latino populations, and through that process, I had reached out and, and formed relationships with many communities throughout California that had that profile, Bell being one of them.

You know, the, the city itself is probably 95 plus percent Latino, has a median income of probably approximately 60% of the Los Angeles region. It had a, a major scandal that was kind of in the news nationally around 2010, and was sort of a place that your kind of, for most people kind of want to avoid. Right? I mean, a lot of issues. 

 And so, I had formed some relationships with a lot of them, you know, kind of the new generation post scandal and was monitoring what they were doing. And I really felt that they had a fresh approach. They had sort of completely cleaned house, and there was an opportunity that came up that, was to buy, essentially about a half a block that was directly in front of city hall, and knowing what I knew about the city and how, you know how much need there was, you know, we felt like we could put together a compelling response for that. And we did that. We actually ended up getting selected. 

And our vision was really about a couple of things. One is that, we felt like what was going to happen there had to be, had to reflect that community. It had to have businesses that, you know, we’re responsive to that community’s needs and wishes and, you know, is in some ways obvious as that sounds that’s was a little controversial at the time because a lot of folks were saying, well, what we really want is, and you know, I’ll use some, some names are probably well known.

We want to Chili’s, we want an IHOP, and cause those types of folks aren’t around and again, nothing against those particular brands, but that was kind of the word we were getting.  We said, well, what if we could get, you know, a local partner that want to essentially provide the same types of services, but maybe aren’t those, right. 

 But we really felt like it was going to have to be driven by tenants and ultimately, you know, successful operating tenants that that had that community, sort of understood that community’s needs.

On the Tesla side, it’s interesting because they essentially came to find out about us through some, you know, some local press and they said we’ve been looking for a place in the sort of inner Los Angeles ring that we can deploy, our level three superchargers.

 At first, we were somewhat skeptical, didn’t really see, you know, we need to learn more. But as we began to learn more, we really thought this is a new opportunity for us. This is an opportunity to link into the electric vehicle infrastructure, which is important for communities, particularly community like this, and has historically been subjected to a lot of environmental issues. You know, like many, many black and brown communities, it’s sort of linked into those old industrial cores where there’s a lot of historic environmental contamination.

And we really felt like it was important for us to have, this community to have a part in the new generation of how is going to work. The other component to it was that we felt like bringing in news, so some new faces was going to be a positive. We really believe that as Tesla users would begin to interact and combine, they would learn more about the community and vice versa and give an opportunity for those two groups to kind of interact.

So, we ended up, you know, pursuing that and putting in the first level three, which allows cars to charge in a very accelerated manner. So, it requires a lot of input, coming back to infrastructure, requires a lot of work into the electrical grid. We had to wire blocks, you know, we can’t just take a phone line from the pole and do this, unfortunately.

So, we had to wire blocks and blocks away. Took many, many months to redo that area, but when we were completed, we now have that, you know, again, that that first facility, but what’s really been interesting as we’ve been focusing on our tenants as much as possible. We’re trying to create an opportunity for small businesses and particularly small businesses that are diverse.

So, the idea is that as people are charging, they come to charge, we’re going to have eventually seven, in the first phase three initially, and then four more that we’ll follow. So, think about this as kind of your traditional convenience. So today when you stop, you know, on the east coast, you all have the, toll roads will, you’ll pull off and there’ll be, you know, you’ll up and you’ll have a whole series of places that you can eat in some ways it’s inspired by that.

Right? So, you, you would be able to charge what you you’d have five or six different places. So, you would have a person doing sandwiches you’d have somebody doing burgers, somebody might be doing Mexican food. But all of these, the, the vision is that we’re creating these opportunities as a platform for small businesses.

And that’s really the interesting interaction that we’re seeing, and going back to your point about Tesla, as Tesla began to understand, and they’ve seen now the dynamic that’s taking place, they really have sort of, the light bulb has sort of gone off and they’re saying that they are seeing, now this is an opportunity for them to interact with communities in the past. Sometimes frankly, they’re not always that welcomed right. 

But they’re now seeing this as an avenue to, to your point of being inclusive, including that those communities, you know, and using this as a platform for those communities to shine, if you will. For those local businesses to now have a better platform to share their products and services. And I think as they look at it that way, they’re saying, hey, this is really these new models could be very, very attractive for us and really allow us again, not in every one of their locations, but in select locations, they think that this can really help them. 

Kurt M: That’s a really powerful example of how thinking about things in a different way. There are these unintended consequences that are positive. And so, the key thing is, oh, I need, I need a supercharger here because it’s too far away for me to go to the next supercharger, and I know my Tesla customers need to get their cars powered, and being able to combine that with this economic impact that they’re able to have in ways that weren’t anticipated is something that if companies start to embrace diversity differently that I think could be pretty powerful. 

And one of the things that I talked about and wrote about recently was this, this notion of four-dimensional brand building, using diversity equity and inclusion, and putting that at the center of how companies are thinking about things. So, it’s one thing to say, I welcome all people and I’ve got this amazing company and I put the right pictures on the website, right? The reality is the employees have to embody that, and the way that people are thinking about that from an external and an internal point of view need to match.

And so, employers should be matching how they’re portraying themselves externally with what’s actually happening internally, and so this is a pretty powerful way to do that, combined with the things that are happening around the community redevelopment aspect of it. 

so, the four dimensions that I talked about, are employer brands, community brand, innovation brand and customer brand. And so, this is a pretty powerful example of all those things coming together. So, you’ve got this new way to interact with your community. Tesla by itself is doing something that’s innovative. So, it’s easier for them to be innovative than other companies.

And now their customers are thinking about the brand differently because now that when I stop off to your point about, you know, some of the stops that you have down on toll roads that I’m thinking about the stops I used to make between Maryland and Philly when I was living on the east coast and Maryland, is being able to come to this place and now I’m interacting with people I wouldn’t ordinarily interact with, and I get access to brands, experiences that I wouldn’t ordinarily have. And so, you’ve got this virtuous cycle that happens across those things. And so that’s a really powerful, concrete example of something we’ve been talking about.

And so, the thing that I’m curious about is instead of saying, we’re going to have a Chili’s we’re going to have, these local entrepreneurs have opportunities to be in this space. What are the things that need to happen for that to occur?

Because one of the things that I know doing work with, like the supplier diversity is there’s capacity building that needs to happen sometimes. Its local businesses ready to be able to take advantage of that opportunity. So, it’s not just enough to have, you know, the greatest tasting coffee, there’s some other things that need to happen, and so what are some of the things that you’ve been doing to help entrepreneurs take advantage of those opportunities to expand themselves using this as an example? 

Alberto L: You’re right on the mark. I mean, I think, part of the reason that I, you know, I wanted to have Atwater as a platform is that we knew, because of the nature of the leadership here, that we could have these kinds of goals. I mean, first and foremost, you know, we have capital partners that are expecting, you know, financial returns. So that that’s number one. We also have, you know, a separate goal that we want to see environmental outcomes in communities, as we’ve talked about that, by investing in these communities that are going to be, you know, structurally give us an opportunity to really be able to enjoy our lives and pursue those opportunities that we want to.

The third leg of that is having known that access to that capital, right. And what we’ve seen is that we have a lot of really interesting companies that come to us and have sort of have learned about us, and I’m literally working earlier today, I had calls with two of them. Both, you know, great sort of up-and-coming entrepreneurs who are really inspiring to me because you see that hustle and that drive that, you know, that people have and to create their vision. But they don’t have that sort of traditional entrepreneurship training, you know, Kurt like you and I got. 

So, they really need to have some support, and one of the biggest ones is really capital because you know, having access to that capital, they might have great ideas or they might’ve done one location, but now to take it multi or kind of that next step is, is really a big challenge for a lot of these folks. To your question about what we really work with in terms of, you know, I’ll just use one example.

We worked with a group, called Border X, which is a brewery targeting the Latino experience in the United States. So, they’re originally started in San Diego. I knew the founder from my time in San Diego, and he had come to me in, I think in 2018 approximately and said, hey, I really want to expand to LA. I think our brand is doing well. We see that as a natural, you know, the next phase of our growth and knew that I knew the markets very, very well. And so, we spent some time brainstorming about it and ultimately thought that the opportunity in Bell was going to really be kind of combine those. 

But what we found is that, you know, he did, he didn’t have enough capital. He went to his local bank and, you know, they didn’t really see the same vision, and I recall a story. I had gone, he, he asked me a couple of times, can you come with me to, you know, I’m going to meet XYZ bank. I don’t want to embarrass anybody. So, I’ll call them XYZ bank.

Kurt M: I also work with XYZ bank. 

Alberto L: So, we go down and they had pulled statistics on, on Bell.  You know, the financial, all the stats that are available, and the banker says to assist as well, you know, I looked online and, you know, pint of beer for you guys is $6. And he’s like, I just don’t understand how folks who have that median income in this community are going to be able, you know, aren’t going to be able to do that. His comment was, that’s the same price that I’m paying, you know, on the west side or, in Hollywood, you know, how is this going to work? 

And again, it goes back to that lens of what we’re very intentional. So, we knew this community. For example, we know that multi-generational is a very big deal. The Latino community about 70 has 77% higher incidents than the general market does of being multi-generational, meaning you have sort of grandma, you know, the parents, that was very much my experience growing up as well. Very, very typical experience. And, we understood this. So, we, when we, that these statistics, when they were looking at these individual incomes, wasn’t really capturing the household’s capability. And so, we, we felt very good about our research and that we were going to be supported. 

But again, it’s that kind of deeper lens of saying, you know, I’m going to look beyond to sort of the surface statistics and try to understand, you know, what businesses can work well and thrive. So, for us, that underwriting and that knowledge is critical because ultimately when we make these decisions were leasing to these partners, we have to be confident that, you know, when we do our own due diligence.

So, we’re confident that they understand the market as much as we do. So, as we’re doing this analysis, you know, we’re looking at it with that lens, I’m not sort of the, the surface statistics, which we know are not going to be, frankly, that impressive, but more people who can understand and kind of peel back a layer or two, and saying, these are communities with a lot of you know, they do have discretionary capital and for people who deliver great products and services, they’re willing to go there and they’ll support them in a, in a very big way. But I think it, for us, it was that kind of willingness to really kind of dig in a little bit and understand it a little bit deeper.

So, I will share with you that, you know, we were open for a year pre pandemic course in the pandemic. We were closed down and now as they’ve come back online, it’s really been amazing of the support that the local communities come out and they essentially have embraced, you know, Border X as their own, like they view it as their place now.

It’s a place where they can gather, you know, and neighboring communities, I’ve had many of their elected officials and leaders come to me and saying, how do I get one of these, right. Why did, why did know? And I tell them, you know, because they’re not used to sort of a place like Bell being the place that gets the good stuff, right. You know, the they’re just not used to it. So, for us, that’s been really rewarding and mostly because, I mean, you know, frankly, Kurt folks they’re deserving, they have great, amazing people who’ve, through no fault of their own, you know, they, they they’re in a community that had had some issues, right.

Mostly such as great folks who go to work every day and, you know, they don’t have anything to do with that stuff. So, they’re, you know, their view is, hey, you know, if this has been a reason that people aren’t coming here, I mean, know. What do I have to do with that? Right. So, there’s a sense of pride now that people want to come there, that they want to be a part of that community.

And the same thing with Tesla. As people have come there, the fact that it was the first, you know, in that whole sort of, you know, sector of Los Angeles County, that they’re now getting things, you know, kind of leading now. And so, it creates a sense of, hey, you know, we’re the community that has some pride in that. That we’re a good place to, and we deserve good things. So, it’s been great to watch and great to be a part of it. 

Kurt M: Yeah. That’s, that’s an amazing story. You know, one of the things I’ll always wonder about when you, you know, when I hear stories like that is why is that so hard? Why are people overlooking those kinds of opportunities that seem like they’re so obvious to us?

Alberto L:  I can only answer for us. I mean, in some ways, we want those opportunities and a sense, you know, I go back to my career where I began in building fiber. We were looking for the, you know, kind of the obvious opportunities that were being missed, right? And then I went to real estate and in the same thing, where are those opportunities that are being missed? Let’s deploy, clap capital strategies and, and, and address those. And now, it’s the same, you know, same pattern, where are these opportunities that are being missed? And we feel like we’re being rewarded just for us, frankly, taking the time to listen, right? 

These communities are telling us, I mean, I will share this. This is a very timely, it was last night we had an event and now we will do, we were doing a screening because culture is a big part. We were doing a screening and we merely pop QR codes, right? So, at the end of the event and people are now doing live, they’re giving us live feedback and they’re literally telling us, these are the things we want. This is where I’m coming from. So, if we take the time to listen, in this case, the consumers are telling us what they want. 

 So, I think a lot of the answer, Kurt, is that, you know, I think a lot of folks, I don’t know if it’s the fact that maybe they didn’t have an interest where they had maybe other places that they were their focus was. But I, I think, you know, and I’ll speak in the case of Tesla, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time with their regional leadership here and, you know, they’re kind of have the same mind that, you know, there’s great opportunities here that we didn’t even think of, and great ways for us now to, you know, position ourselves by just listening a little bit more listening to what the community is kind of want and finding some partners who can, you know, take that and actually make it actionable. 

Now it is, it is hard and it’s some work right. And there’s, I don’t want to paint it to be, you know, just a walk in the park, but if you’re willing to listen and really, you know, you have talented teams around, you can take that information and make it happen. So that that’s where we’re hopefully, you know, I think that that’s where we’ve, what we’ve learned is by listening to what the consumers are telling us, and really trying to put that into its action. 

Kurt M: You said a lot there and just to kind of summarize that a little bit, it’s this notion that we talk about when we work with teams is, and I always need to quote me up one of my good friends, John Samuel, who’s a partner in a company called Abler, which helps teams make sure that their websites are compliant for people who are, who may have disabilities. And so, one of the things that John talks about a lot is that proximity builds empathy, or breeds empathy. And so that’s the key thing, right? So, this this whole project you’re talking about is once I take my preconceived notions of what I think is true, and then I test that with reality, because now I’m in this new community, I’m new in this new environment.

I’m tasting this beer that I’ve never had before in a space that I never thought that I would be. It forces you to challenge your assumptions. And so, it’s that the distance gets closed, and so now you’re more empathetic. And so, when you’re more empathetic than new possibilities open up, that’s one of the things that you’ll hopefully, as we go, the one thing about the pandemic is everybody had the same experience at the same time. It’s like the first time in history, we all say we all went through it together at the same time. 

Alberto L: Yeah. Since the bubonic plague, right. And I wasn’t around for that one.

Kurt M: And so being able to have this challenge all of our assumptions around what we think is true. I think that’s one of the things that’s been helpful and, you know, certainly there was enough, I’ll call it intellectual arrogance, and that doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily change for everybody, but I’ve got the right answer.

It’s this, here’s the profile. Here’s the plan we’re going to do like this. And all of that’s been challenged, over the last 18 months. So, I think people were rethinking everything to find new opportunities. And so, I’m excited about, you know, what we’re seeing. Now you’ve got people who are more open than they’ve ever been before to have an experience with people who were different from them, and not only have that experience be rich in terms of a sense of belonging, but now there’s business opportunity that exists as a result of that. That’s getting unlocked in ways that has never been unlocked before.

And so, to close, one thing I wanted to ask you is what do you think the future looks like? Is this, is this a fad or do you think this is something that is going to be sustained over time, these kinds of projects? 

Alberto L: we, we certainly believe in and we want to, we want, and you know, we’ve shared with Tessa. We believe in this, you know, this model. And it, for a couple of reasons, number one, it aligns our goal of, you know, deploying capital in a really responsible way that creates opportunities, you know, for the, for the communities that we’re investing in directly, and having a partner like them, who’s willing to work with us is something that we think is, is certainly, has a lot of opportunities.

So, we definitely want to do more of it. I don’t think there’s virtually any doubt that the nature of how we, you know, mobility is going to change, and it’s going to impact, you know, a lot of communities. That impact needed to be a positive, or it can be maybe not so positive, and what we’re really committed to is saying, can we bring our innovation, our thinking, our capital to make it positive. And that’s why we, we really like this part of what we’re doing.

Kurt M: Well, Alberto, thanks for spending some time with us today. This has been really enriching on so many different levels and wish you the best of success as you’re continuing to do things that are hard, but are meaningful. And so, congratulations for the work that you’ve done and I look forward to connecting with you again.

Full Episode Transcript

Winning with Diversity is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by VP of Products and Innovation Kurt Merriweather, and is a production of Earfluence.

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