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Banking on KC – Wendy Guillies of the Kauffman Foundation

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon, thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Wendy Guillies, the president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation. Thanks for being here, Wendy.

Wendy Guillies:

Thank you so much for having me Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

Ewing Kauffman, if you had to choose someone in Kansas City who's made a huge impact, he would certainly, if not be number one, he would certainly be on the list of the top five. I mean his fingerprints are all over business, entrepreneurship, sports, philanthropy, and I think the culture of Kansas City in many ways reflects Mr. Kauffman's values and philosophies. As the CEO and president, how do you see those philosophies being carried out still today after all these years?

Wendy Guillies:

I didn't have the opportunity to meet Mr. Kauffman while he was alive. It's one of my biggest regrets, but I feel like we are doing right by him by carrying out his mission and his vision. So, when he was nearing the end of his life, he wanted to give back. And so, he wanted his foundation really at the end of the day to equip people with the knowledge and the skills and resources, so they could become economically empowered and make choices in their lives rather than life making all the choices for them. What that meant was he wanted people to either be able to take good jobs or make good jobs. Toward that end, the way we carry that mission out is we focus on education, which of course prepares young people for the workforce and an entrepreneurship, which helps individuals to start their own companies and create jobs that become part of the workforce. It's an interesting sort of synergy between those two missions we think.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. And with every job that is created and every job that has taken that legacy just continues to pay forward. Let's talk about some of those initiatives. I know that you have a big focus right now on real world learning and an entire initiative that's grown up around that. Tell us about it.

Wendy Guillies:

Our Real World Learning Initiative is really a nice merging of both our education and our entrepreneurship work. We're working with superintendents, we're working with students, working with business leaders to provide access to real world learning experiences for all students across our metro area while they're in high school. And those experiences include things like internships. They include projects with outside organizations, they include entrepreneurial experiences. They include things like getting college credit while you're still in high school or getting an industry recognized credential.

Wendy Guillies:

This is happening right now in pockets. In the community, there are students that access these kinds of opportunities which really prepare them for life and work and further education. Just make them more relevant, but it's not happening for every student. We want to see that at scale and we're really excited about it. There's a ton of momentum behind this. We're working with dozens of superintendents across the metro area. We feel like this is going to equip our students to be better prepared for the workforce. Whether they want to go to a two year college, a four year college, or if they want to do something alternatively, like we get a trade or something of that nature.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned creating jobs or getting a job. And one of the other initiatives that you have the Capital Access Lab helps on the creating a job side. Talk to us about that initiative.

Wendy Guillies:

Yeah. So, the foundation has had a long track record in Capital Access Programs. Many, many years ago, we started something called the Kauffman Fellows Program and there are Kauffman Fellows in the Kansas city community to this day. We also started the Angel Capital Association and we've worked locally with organizations like AltCap to provide loan pools for underserved entrepreneurs.

Wendy Guillies:

The Capital Access Lab is a national initiative and the whole point behind it is to get capital into the hands of entrepreneurs who aren't successful in either raising venture capital or seeking kind of traditional debt or bank loans. And those are most often women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color, including entrepreneurs that live in rural areas. And so, what we're doing is we're catalyzing some new investment funds that are doing something kind of a hybrid between debt and equity, such as revenue based financing. So we're seed funding, these new funds and in turn, they are going to be providing capital to a different kind of entrepreneur to reach more entrepreneurs and those particularly who have been left behind.

Wendy Guillies:

So, we're really excited about this. It's part of our work, which I say is across the foundation in addressing inequities in our systems and both education entrepreneurship. And capital access has always been an issue for underserved entrepreneurs. And I think that's always been the case, but we're particularly seeing that illuminated in light of COVID.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned the equity and you actually have the ready work REDI, race, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Wendy Guillies:

So, I'd say that the principles of equity and diversity and inclusion are embedded throughout our work that we do externally. Whether it's inclusive entrepreneurship, we've been at that for about five years or helping to close the outcomes gap between students or among students of color in Kansas City. But internally we know that if our work is going to be its best and its most authentic externally, we have to strengthen our own muscles internally on the principles of race, equity, diversity, inclusion. So, we have an internal effort underway, we're listening, we're learning, we're growing and we just think that's really important to be our best self so that we can be our best selves and helping our community.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. It's kind of a takeoff on that old thing that everything starts at home. And so, you can't expect to go out into the larger world with these messages and these programs unless it's reflected within your own culture.

Wendy Guillies:

Absolutely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's step back a little bit and talk in a larger sense about America's New Business Plan. I know you've had that in place for a while now. How has progress being made on that? What are the latest initiatives within that plan? Give us an update.

Wendy Guillies:

Sure. So, America's New Business Plan, I love that name by the way. It's actually a policy platform. It's a set of ideas that we I guess, developed with many, many others. So, we talked to entrepreneurs, we talked to policy makers. We talked to people that are supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and gathered the best ideas that are based on research and evidence. And that we thought would be the most practical ways to help. But the whole point around this policy agenda, America's New Business Plan is to level the playing field so that more entrepreneurs can more easily succeed. Because what we know and we hear all the time is that policy is tipped toward big business, and the new and small businesses often get left behind. They have higher barriers.

Wendy Guillies:

So, these are a set of ease and implement ideas for local state and federal policy makers. We launched the America's New Business Plan last fall. And then a couple weeks after the coronavirus started hitting and we were in this crisis, we came out with sort of a refreshed version called Rebuild Better. Which really is like, what are the things we need to do right now in light of the pandemic and the economic crisis that it hasn't sued. And especially the hurt is for those new and small businesses that are just getting started, entrepreneurs of color, women entrepreneurs, always face higher barriers and this is even more.

Wendy Guillies:

So, a couple of the ideas that have come out of that are in the funding category, of course. And one of the ideas is that state and local governments partner with philanthropy and the private sector to [inaudible 00:07:32] loan pools for... with CDFIs as an example, so that there's more flexible money for entrepreneurs that may not be able to access the PPP program or SBA programs and things of that nature. So just really looking at who's really being left behind and how can we give flexible capital there.

Wendy Guillies:

Another idea is to provide tax incentive to new businesses to offset healthcare costs or even forgive student loan debt [crosstalk 00:07:58] for entrepreneurs in the first couple of years as they're getting started. So, those are among some of the ideas, but again, we didn't come up with this on our own. We talked to many, many others to kind of cultivate these ideas and I guess curate them. And then we've joined with, I think we're up to probably 75 or more partners across the country that are out there pushing this and talking to their local state and federal policy makers about these ideas.

Kelly Scanlon:

Wendy, how does the Kauffman Foundation contribute to the national and global stature of Kansas City? I think sometimes people take it for granted, but it really carries a lot of weight worldwide. So, tell us about how the foundation has really brought a recognition to Kansas City itself.

Wendy Guillies:

Thank you for that question because I love to answer that. Going back to Mr. Kauffman, he was the very first foundation donor in the country to say, "I want my foundation to have a large focus on entrepreneurship," very first one. So, he was ahead of his time. And now there are dozens of others that do this. So, I think being the first and probably the most well known foundation to focus on entrepreneurship has certainly put a spotlight on Kansas City. We've had over the years, hundreds and hundreds of respected people and organizations coming to us for ideas and partnership. And so, we have a very large network because of the work that we do.

Wendy Guillies:

Kansas is our hometown. The majority of our spending stays here, but it's also a hub. We think of Kansas as a test bed for programs that we can prove out and replicate in many other places. And the [inaudible 00:09:28] one of the best examples of that is 1 Million Cups, which started in our dining room-

Kelly Scanlon:

I remember that.

Wendy Guillies:

... eight years ago and is now in 170 communities across the country. Global entrepreneurship week is another example that started in Kansas City. It's now almost every country in the world, participates each November. Probably the biggest thing though, Kelly, is we do a lot of convening and Kansas City is our hub for that. So just a few examples, we bring in hundreds if not thousands of people every year for things like our ESHIP Summit and our Mayors conference. So, we have Mayors from across the country coming into Kansas City. Our 1 Million Cups that I just mentioned, we have an Organizer Summit and they all come to Kansas City and et cetera and et cetera. And so when we do that, we'd love to show off the community, take them to places like the performing art center and other great venues and time and time again, people leave Kansas City blown away by how great our community is. So those are a few ways I think that we work really hard to shine a spotlight on how great Kansas City is to the nation and the world.

Kelly Scanlon:

You know Wendy, you have a very compelling story as well. You started out at the Kauffman Foundation more than 20 years ago in the communications department. That's where I met you, and you have risen to president and CEO of one of the most esteemed Foundations in the country. Walk us through that journey.

Wendy Guillies:

Yeah, I would say mine is definitely a case of the road less traveled. It's not exactly a common pathway to becoming a CEO, but when I think about what I did in the communications, I really sort of branched out and did more than that. I mean, I might've been sort of a quasi chief of staff at some point. I'd launched and helped kind of implement a lot of large initiatives. But when I think about the skills and knowledge and context that I acquired [inaudible 00:11:21] communication that really has positioned me well for this role. Because I have to understand the big picture. I have to understand the context, but I also need to understand what it takes to execute and get results. I also need to be able to communicate well and persuasively, whether that's with articulating a point of view to the team or to the board or out in the community.

Wendy Guillies:

And most important, I think I need to empower people to excel, both as individuals and working in teams. And I feel like I got a lot of great practice doing that in my various communications roles over time. I did not envision this, but that's kind of who I am. I'd love to plan vacations and parties, but I'm not really a career planner. Along the way I have a couple principles or questions I ask myself, am I making a meaningful contribution? And am I having fun? And as long as the answer is yes to both of those things, I just do my best. And I look for opportunities as they might come along. And I think it's great to plan. I'm not saying it's not, but I think sometimes when folks overplan their career, they might miss something that's adjacent. They might miss an opportunity on the side that's maybe unexpected. And I think that's kind of the case of what happened to me.

Kelly Scanlon:

There's a lot of emphasis these days on getting more women into that CEO seat. And obviously you hold that role in one of the largest Foundations in the country. Do you feel you're a role model as a woman in that role?

Wendy Guillies:

I'm proud to be the first woman CEO of the Kauffman Foundation. I would be lying if I said otherwise, I'm absolutely honored and proud. I mean, there are great leaders that come in all shapes and sizes and colors and ages. I think it's really about principles and values and not just saying you have principles and values, but how you live those out every day. And Mr. Kauffman used to say, "Walk the talk," something he believed in. So yeah, I mean, I'm proud that we have women in the C suite. At the Kauffman Foundation we have a woman chief investment officer. We have a female CFO, more than half of our board are female. And until recently we had a female board chair. So I'm proud of that and I think there needs to be more of that in corporate America.

Kelly Scanlon:

As you're saying that Wendy, it reminds me of a column that you wrote not long ago, and it was inspired somewhat by all of your cooking during the COVID stay at home orders. And you came up with a recipe for leadership. Tell us about what's in that recipe.

Wendy Guillies:

I don't think about this that often and I probably should do more of it. So, this was a really good reflective exercise. And I think during our stay at home, I think we found ourselves reflecting a lot and having more time maybe to think. And so, I really appreciated that in cook. So yes, I [inaudible 00:14:04] two things and put them together and came up with a leadership recipe that I feel like works for me [inaudible 00:14:09], I guess. But I think high on the list in terms of sort of the characteristics or principles of my leadership, I have very high expectations, but I also have high levels of trust. And I think you can't have one of those things without the other when you're working with people. If you have only high expectations but you micromanage, that's not going to go well. If you trust people immensely but you don't set expectations about what success looks like, that can go the other direction as well. So, I think those are two among the most important, they work in tandem with each other.

Wendy Guillies:

Another is curiosity. Kelly, you're a journalist so you understand this. I wasn't journalism major, never was a journalist but loved to ask questions. I'm just very curious and I think that by doing that it stretches my thinking. And it also, I think pushes my team to making sure that they are thinking through all the various angles of things. And so, I think curiosity is one, empathy is critical. I mean, I've messed up so many times in my life and in my career, and I've been fortunate most times to have an empathetic ear. So, I always try to understand where someone's coming from and be empathetic. I think that's really important.

Wendy Guillies:

And probably the last thing is humor. We spend a lot of time with the people we work with. There's going to be times when things are tense, when things are going to go wrong and if you can't laugh with each other, it's not going to be a very fun environment. I love to laugh. I love to joke. I'm very serious most of the time but there's nothing better than when my team and I have a good belly laugh.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about what's working in Kansas City's favor when it comes to entrepreneurship. You have obviously talked today about several initiatives that Kauffman Foundation is behind, but even larger than any individual program. What do you see as Kansas City's secret sauce for entrepreneurship if there is one?

Wendy Guillies:

I think what's great for entrepreneurs here in Kansas City is what's great for people that are doing any kind of work. We have a great community. I think the focus on community right now is more important than ever. And you're seeing that happen across the country. Communities are coming together either to demand change or to affect change. And so, I think we have a world-class community with fantastic amenities that are at Midwestern prices and Midwestern values. And I think that that makes for a great entrepreneur environment. I think we have gaps for those I mentioned, I think we have an unlevel playing field for entrepreneurs of color and for women entrepreneurs. And that is no different than anywhere else across the country and I think we need to change that. I think that we have an opportunity to do that and this is a great community for entrepreneurs. There's a lot of passion here. Everyone's trying to get better, but we need to make it great for everyone, not just a few.

Kelly Scanlon:

If Mr. Kauffman were looking down at Kansas City entrepreneurship right now, what do you think he'd say?

Wendy Guillies:

Well, that's the million dollar question, right? I've asked myself a million times. What would he think and what would he think about what his Foundation is doing? I wish I had that crystal ball, but first just let me say, I think he would be thrilled that the Royals are still in Kansas City. And that we have a Kansas City and someone who is connected to his Foundation at the helm and John Sherman. So, I want to say that I think he'd be absolutely-

Kelly Scanlon:

No doubt.

Wendy Guillies:

... thrilled with that. I think he'd be blown away by what he sees. You remember when he... right before he died, he launched Fast Track-

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes.

Wendy Guillies:

... in 1993. And that was the first of its kind. There weren't in our community and not a lot of others. There weren't a lot of organizations that were working with entrepreneurs. It wasn't on the radar. And now look what we have. We have colleges and universities in our area that are supporting entrepreneurship. We've got women's business centers. We have Techstars, we have coworking spaces. We have organizations like Startland, award programs like the Chamber's top 10 business awards. I think he'd be thrilled. I think he'd see the gaps that we have and he'd want us to address those. But I think he'd be really happy to see that we have a robust entrepreneur ecosystem that's working to get better.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. Wendy, thank you so much for being with us on this episode of Banking on KC, we appreciate all that you do and all of the people at Kauffman Foundation do for entrepreneurship and in so many other ways throughout the city and throughout the world.

Wendy Guillies:

Thank you so much for having me, Kelly, I really enjoyed talking with you.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Ewing Kauffman considered himself a common man who lived an uncommon life. His legacy has expanded across the globe and it's perhaps felt deepest right here in Kansas City, where he built his own businesses and established the Foundation that bears his name. His influence and philosophies continue to be reflected in our business community, in the programs that foster entrepreneurship through our Kansas City Royals and in a multitude of philanthropic endeavors. At Country Club Bank, Kansas City's important to us. It is our home. The people here are our family. We are committed to a thriving Kansas City, one in which every person can be the best they can be and can lead an uncommon life. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.