Gervase Warner, CEO of the Massy Group, is bringing a century-old Caribbean investment holding company, rooted in colonial history, into a conscious future.
In this conversation at the 2023 CEO Summit with Raj Sisodia, FEMSA Distinguished University Professor and Chairman of the Conscious Enterprise Center, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Gervase discusses his path to Conscious Capitalism and the challenging journey that he and his 13,000 employees, across 60 businesses throughout the Caribbean Basin, embarked upon to put a culture of autonomy, inclusivity, and empowerment first, in order to drive profitability in a purposeful way.
Gervase closes by sharing his profound experience of visiting the slave castles of Ghana that awakened him to the collective trauma and guilt felt for generations, closing with a call to action for Conscious Leaders to courageously open dialogues among their teams so humanity can begin to take steps towards collective healing.
The path to purpose and Conscious Capitalism
Recalling his childhood in post-colonial Trinidad, Gervase remembers his father’s drive to remap the future of the newly independent country and the encouragement he received from both of his parents to pursue education. While it took some time for Gervase to commit to his studies, once he did, he excelled and made his way to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School. Upon completing his undergraduate degree in engineering, he secured a job in the U.S., but shares, “I always felt a gravitational pull to do something in the Caribbean region that helped make a difference,” crediting his parents for imparting that motivation to him.
So, in 1993, Gervase established McKinsey & Company’s office in Puerto Rico, a position that brought him back to the region but required constant travel between clients throughout the Caribbean. Gervase notes the stress that traveling as a consultant puts on families, which eventually led him to join the Massy Group, an iconic company he felt could be his next platform for creating a positive impact in the world. Gervase assumed the position of CEO of the Massy Group in 2009, following the passing of his predecessor and just after the global economic crisis of 2008 — a difficult time for the company.
As Gervase alluded, he has always valued purpose and sought to lead consciously even before knowing the term Conscious Capitalism. By 2011, just a couple of years into his tenure at the Massy Group, his team had determined a Higher Purpose for part of the group, which eventually led to the creation of a company-wide purpose statement of being “a force for good, creating value, transforming life”.
However, it was not until Gervase came across the book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business and shared his learnings with his leadership team that the company’s commitment to transform into a conscious company really took hold.
“It’s a company that was created in a very colonial model of management and leadership,” Gervase shares, and confronting the deeply ingrained culture of a 90-year-old organization that is one of the largest companies in the region came with many challenges. Even today, ten years into their conscious journey, there are still growing pains.
“We’re not starting from fresh. We’re starting from an organization that had its own culture,” Gervase says, which required the dissolution of a top-down culture that historically values privileges that were extended only to the very few, not all.
Referencing the challenges, Gervase humbly shares, “To be honest, most of my work was with me,” and credits the courage and generosity of those around him who always spoke candidly about the progress and hurdles the transformation presented.
Balancing purpose and profits will bring challenges
What stood out to Gervase about Conscious Capitalism is that businesses that enact conscious business practices by putting purpose first often outperform financially, compared to companies using traditional business practices. Gervase remembers emphatically telling his leadership team during the early stages of their transformation, “This is not a trade-off. This is a way to be more profitable.”
Gervase began to see his team’s purpose-focused strategy pay off in many ways, but after several years, the company experienced a loss in profits between 2016 and 2017, leading to significant doubts about its conscious approach to business. Under Gervase’s leadership, the company regressed to its conventional business practices as it returned to financial stability, allowing purpose to fall to the wayside in the name of profit.
This is not a trade-off. This is a way to be more profitable.”— Gervase Warner
It was not until the Massy Group’s head of people and culture, Julie Avey, approached Gervase in 2018, saying that if the company was not going to navigate back to its conscious path, she would need to leave. “That was a wakeup call,” Gervase shared.
It took intentionality and time, but the Massy Group and Gervase recentered on their Higher Purpose and conscious journey. Now, Gervase is more committed than ever to his pursuit of purpose, not profit.
“Profit is a score at the end of the month. You’ll get a scoresheet, but it’ll be measuring what you put in.”
And the inputs that matter at the Massy Group? Things like “How are employees working together? How creative were you? Are we listening to one another…” Gervase says, “And when you do that, when you check at the end of the month — it’s like, ‘Well, that’s better.’”
“We’ve recorded record performance by pushing more autonomy to people in decision-making…and listening is so important. It is the magic,” he says. “We’re not perfect at it yet, but at least we’re interested in getting better.”
A call for Conscious Leaders
Gervase closes with the story of a transformative personal experience while on a business trip to Nigeria and Ghana in June 2023. During this trip, he visited the slave castles of Ghana, reliving the horrific experience of his ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean region through the Middle Passage.
His experience changed how he viewed his ancestral history, and as he rode back to his hotel, he finished reading Raj’s book, Awaken: The Path to Purpose, Inner Peace, and Healing, continuing to process what he just experienced.
“It really occurred to me that this is one of the most deep, collective traumas that has been perpetuated on a group of human beings,” Gervase shares. “We all know the effect of trauma…but this is intergenerational. And there is no conversation for healing.”
Even as someone who led a largely idyllic childhood, went to some of the best universities in the world, and knows success by anyone’s standards, Gervase realized, “I have this [trauma]. I have an expectation, a feeling that…I will be treated less than.”
And, he realized, there is also an intergenerational, undiscussed guilt on the part of the people whose ancestors perpetuated these horrors.
Why, Gervase asks.
Because, he answers, “there can never be a real opportunity for healing unless you can bring truth to the discussion.”
With incredible sincerity and humble resolution, Gervase challenges Conscious Leaders to create the space and open dialogues among their teams so humanity can begin to take steps toward collective healing.
“If you can create the safe spaces, if you can rumble with the discomfort,” as Gervase says, “I think you create enormous opportunity for trust, and I think this is just another dimension of the work we do as Conscious Leaders.”
Gervase closes by saying, “If we can find constructive ways to begin to repair that hurt, that trauma,” that impacts all of humanity, “and have such conversations as Conscious Leaders, I think it’s a space where we can make a huge difference in the conversations that are happening around the planet.”
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