Making Music Not Noise: Culture Change at a Top Asset Management Company

Over the past two years the Marketing Leadership Team (MLT) at Capital Group/American Funds, one of the largest and most successful asset management companies in the world, has embarked on a large-scale culture change journey.

culture change

Capital Group is working with facilitator Charles Holmes on its culture change journey

Their aim: to build a world-class, customer-centered marketing department. They wanted to move away from obfuscation and “buzz language” so common in the financial services industry towards clear, relatable and data-driven communications. In short, they wanted to make music not noise. Here we look at what it takes to change the culture at one of the largest asset management companies in the world.

A Culture Change Journey with Multiple Benefits

“Somewhere in the world a mom is having a dream for her child to go to college – what we do every day is so critical to helping her accomplish that dream.” Jaya Kumar, Global Chief Marketing Officer

Although it is still very early days for the marketing team at Capital Group/American Funds*, the changes are already proving beneficial on many different levels.

Kevin Hughes, Head of Retirement Business Marketing, says that: “helping our customers reach their investment goals is our guiding light, our beacon, and everything we’re doing is for our customers and giving them everything they need to reach those goals.”

In order to better serve their customers, the department has made a move to an agile working model, with smaller teams working in pods. These teams can now be more focused on specific client needs and gain greater clarity and insights from customers. This is leading to the adoption of a data focused learning mindset within the department.

graphic facilitation

Graphic facilitator Sophia Liang captured ideas from the Marketing Leadership Workshop, June 2018

According to Dee McLaughlin, Senior Vice President Global Brand & Creative, the agile model also contributes to increased speed to market due to “right-sizing the amount of work”, which ultimately translates to greater sustainability for the firm’s economic model.

“Great marketing is always client centered.” Leah Porter, Vice President

The clarity of messaging and voice both in communications with customers and internally is leading to greater integration of marketing with the rest of the organization. This integration, coupled with reliable customer-driven data, means that marketing “is driving business results, sales, retention, [and is] much better aligned and integrated with our sales and investment services, IS, product areas” (Tom Joyce, Senior Vice President, Communications and Public Relations).

A new working model and positive changes in mindsets are not, however, achieved overnight.

Curating Change

The department has brought in Charles Holmes to facilitate offsite leadership team meetings at key inflection points on the change journey, ensuring alignment and clarity on the direction the department is heading.

McLaughlin describes the offsite meetings as “motivators to engagement” that build leadership and the team by creating a clear understanding of the value of the change and a belief that the teams can deliver.

The meetings bring people together, and bring them along, by providing a space for questions, concerns, dialogue and role modelling as well as showing practical, hands-on applications that can be taken directly into day-to-day work. Giving people a voice and an arena in which they can speak to their fears is crucial for change to take root and succeed.

“What’s helped us is clarity of purpose, co-authorship so everyone’s worth is being heard, and when we weave the tapestry of our destination people can see their direct contribution and have a higher sense of commitment, purpose and teamwork.” Jaya Kumar, Global Chief Marketing Officer

Kumar argues that relationships in the corporate world are no different to those outside of it, pointing to the importance of continual investment, building memories that become a “cognitive shortcut for happiness.” “There are differences of opinions, there are potential conflicts but it’s the continuous engagement and co-authorship that’s going to help us get to what our final destiny is,” he says.

capital group

Capital Group was founded in 1931 by Jonathan Bell Lovelace. It headquarters are in Los Angeles.

How External Facilitators Help Companies Create Change

External facilitators bring with them a tool kit and fresh perspective that help companies to achieve their change management goals. Kumar describes Holmes as a curator of relationships, trust who allows people to see what their joint destiny is, understanding where their current point in the journey is, and helping them progress. “He creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable to voice their thoughts, building engagement through active listening, asking insightful questions and shaking up the room or adjusting the pace and agenda when needed to fully serve the needs of the group.”

Hughes relates that Holmes has “innovated for us”, modelling for the Management Leadership Team how to bring people into the conversation, giving them the chance to talk to each other and share what struck them. His careful planning and design ensures that there is a balance between the team listening to information about a change and engaging in hands-on activities around that change.

Key Takeaways

Kumar and the MLT at Capital Group/American Funds have two overarching goals: to transform the marketing department into a place where any marketer would want to work and to make it truly client-centered. They are achieving this culture change vision by focusing on investment in people – their staff and customers.

The move to agile is making it easier for them to listen to, learn from and communicate in a clear and relevant way with their customers. Their decision to bring in an external facilitator, Charles Holmes, at key points along the change journey has helped mitigate the risks and provide a sense of co-authorship and buy-in for all involved. They are starting to play with the same beat, in harmonic chords that everyone can hear, and for the mom who dreams of sending her child to college one day, the music is very sweet indeed.

Read a PDF version of Capital Group-Making Music Not Noise

Writer: Kim Bridgett with the voices of Tom Joyce, Senior Vice President Communications and Public Relations; Jaya Kumar, Global Chief Marketing Officer; Dee McLaughlin, Senior Vice President Global Brand & Creative; Leah Porter, Vice President; Kevin Hughes, Head of Retirement Business Marketing; and Charles Holmes

* At time of interviews the marketing team at Capital Group/American Funds were just 90 days into their new model of working in pods.

Tailored Facilitation Helps Social Gastronomy Movement Go Global

What does it take to create a global Movement centred on the power of food to change the world? Passionate like-minded people, skilful facilitation, blood, sweat, tears or just a really good bunch of organic carrots…


Nicola Gryczka, CEO of Gastromotiva, with freshly harvested carrots during a farm-to-table excursion. Photo: Gastromotiva

While there may not have been blood, there were certainly carrots in Miami this spring as 70+ people gathered to listen, talk, share experiences, cook and eat together. By the end of the 3 days, Working Groups (WG) were formed with heart-felt pledges to bring about transformation on a systemic level in the name of the Social Gastronomy Movement.

What is the Social Gastronomy Movement?

The concept of Social Gastronomy has been around for a long time. Food journalist Ryan King, who participated in the Miami meeting, believes the earliest reference dates back to 1903 and “referred to the idea of different social classes dining together at the table”. This definition still rings true for many of the Miami attendees we interviewed for this blog. They see it as an inclusive vision of the relationship between kitchen and people, a way of serving others that respects the environment and reflects the culture as well as an opportunity to live in a future that is zero hunger and zero waste.

social gastronomy movement

Today, thousands of projects dotted around the globe could be seen as embodying the spirit of the Social Gastronomy Movement. Joaquin Elizondo, Chief Strategist at the Insurgo Project, enthusiastically talks about the Cheese Board Collective, a worker-owned collective in Berkley, California focusing on sustainability and ethical decision-making while serving up mouth-wateringly good pizza (Crimini mushroom & Valbreso feta anyone?) and a vast array of cheeses. And there are many, many more examples to be found from local village farm stores to modern city neighbourhoods and everything in between.

large group facilitation

A group of 70+ gathered together in Miami to advance the Social Gastronomy Movement to a global scale. Photo: Gastromotiva

The Importance of the Social Gastronomy Movement

With all these incredible projects already in place, why do we need the Social Gastronomy Movement and why do we need it now? It’s hard to read the news today and not see a story in some way connected to our food system. We’re living in a world where 1/3 of the food produced – 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted, and most of that waste happens within the food production chain. Every single day 815 million people, that’s 1 in 9 of us, go hungry.

The human-centred Social Gastronomy Movement provides real solutions to these issues using the power of food and gastronomy to address social inequality, improve nutrition education, eliminate food waste and create local jobs. The Miami meeting in April 2018 was a second step co-creation conference – the SGM was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018 by David Hertz, founder of Gastromotiva, and a first meeting of counsellors took place in February in Mallorca to set the base for the SGM and define key values and vision.

Watch David Hertz’ TED talk.

Custom Facilitation that Inspires Action

Organizers were initially expecting around 25 people to attend the Miami gathering, but as the Movement gathered momentum that number started to explode, and 70+ individuals – among them leading chefs, entrepreneurs, farmers, journalists, corporate executives, ministers of education, tourism and finance – participated in a Learning Journey followed by 2 immersive days facilitated by Charles Holmes.

“Of the 1000s of meetings and gatherings I have facilitated this ranks as one of the most powerful, profound and impactful!” —Charles Holmes

Holmes carefully designed the meeting to uniquely meet the needs of the Movement, knowing that, early on, he needed to establish high levels of trust among all participants, many of whom came from very different backgrounds with seemingly different world views. Nicola Gryczka, CEO of Gastromotiva and one of the organizers of the Miami meeting, recalls planning the agenda with Charles, David [Hertz] and Leo [Toiberman]: “We wanted to create this safe space, we wanted to have everyone leave their egos at the door … within a short amount of time we created this ambiance.”

Master facilitator Charles Holmes

Charles Holmes used a Tibetan singing bowl to re-centre during the 3-day event. Photo: Gastromotiva

That ambiance was achieved by participants’ willingness to embrace the opportunity the Movement presents as well as by somewhat unconventional facilitation tools: accordion music played at the start of the meeting by Colombian musician Manuela Mejia was so beautiful it immediately changed the energy in the room, a Tibetan singing bowl became a (quiet) symbol of reflection & meditation, introductions were by first name only, stripping away any attachment to particular organizations or causes, and conversation groups were rotated so participants had a chance to spend time with everyone during the event.

Building Trust

Trust was cultivated through a heart-centred, farm-to-table Learning Journey on Day 1 of the meeting. This strongly resonated with all those participants we spoke to after the event. Starting at the Harpke Family Farm in Dania Beach, Fl., attendees planted, harvested and learned about sustainable, organic farming practices. With this fresh knowledge and produce (including those tasty carrots!) in hand, they journeyed to the Camillus House centre to cook with renowned local chefs – Carlos Garcia, Santiago Gomez and Diego Oka – and serve up a delicious meal to 240 homeless people. This experience created connection and strong emotions for all involved. Devry Boughner Vorwerk, Corporate Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs at Cargill, describes it as an important trust-building exercise that showed participants how much they have in common, especially in terms of core values.

Harpke Family Farm

The group connecting over delicious and sustainable organic produce at the Harpke family farm. Photo: Gastromotiva

Camillus House

Serving 240 homeless people at the Camillus House centre in Miami, Florida. Photo: Gastromotiva

Saman Salih, Managing Director & Head of Enterprise Solutions at FiscalNote, recalls being profoundly moved by the experience of seeing people feeling like “they belonged, they were part of something… You start to see your ability to impact social inequality just by giving people access to food. That’s a powerful thing.” One man there started to cry as he ate his meal, sharing that he hadn’t eaten this well in over 12 years, and the food was bringing back lost memories.

In many ways, the Harpke family farm and Camillus House are worlds apart and yet at their core they are both connected by a need for nourishment and sustenance. And that’s really the point of the SGM – to be a connector, to provide opportunities for people to connect with each other and with the food we all need to live and thrive.

Watch videos of the Miami meeting and the Farm-to-Table excursions

From Farms to Tables Around the World: The Impact of the Miami Event

What is clear from the Miami event is that participants walked away with a sense of hope, empowerment and a need for action. It was an “invitation to celebrate the Movement all over the planet, and this invitation became real” said social entrepreneur Patrick Honauer after the event.

Social Gastronomy Movement

Charles Holmes (2nd from right) hearing participants’ ideas for themes for Working Groups

The meeting successfully sparked action by showing people how to leverage their talents, gifts, experience and networks to create desired outcomes. The design and facilitation mirrored the principles of the SGM – the farm-to-table experience, the connections between kitchen, food and people from diverse backgrounds, co-operation and problem-solving across borders and boundaries, communication of a shared passion and respect for delicious, sustainable food – so participants could quite literally see how to translate their micro experience to the macro, global level. Rafael Rincón, gastronomic entrepreneur & founder of Ñam, describes it as: “the kick off for everyone. It was the necessary starting point for the change that unites us all, the reality of a Gastronomy that can change the world.”

With 9 WGs now in place, and the combined skills and talents of an incredible global network (fuelled by those carrots & plenty more delicious meals!), the potential of the Social Gastronomy Movement is limitless.

Download a PDF version of Tailored Facilitation Helps Social Gastronomy Movement Go Global

Writer: Kim Bridgett with the voices of Devry Boughner Vorwerk, Joaquin Elizondo, Nicola Gryczka, Patrick Honauer, April Nelson, Rafael Rincón, Saman Salih, Georges Schnyder, Leonardo Toiberman and Charles Holmes. Thanks to Gastromotiva for the use of photos for this article.

Read more about the Social Gastronomy Movement, and visit Cargill’s website to learn more about their partnership with Gastromotiva to scale up the Movement, moving it to a global effort.