Memo from our Founder: Valor's Fellowship Culture

Seventeen years ago, our founder, Antonio Gracias, sent a firm-wide memo documenting Valor's core values — Excellence, Humility, Integrity, and Responsibility — and how we apply them in our day-to-day work. But beyond an organization's core values, it's  important to also understand and document the tenets of its culture — the rules that govern the behavior of its employees and the way they work together — as well. Antonio recently sent another firm-wide memo that sought to do just that, describing what we believe has made our fellowship endure, and the culture that has made Valor successful.

We're sharing that memo in full below.

We feel that this sort of cultural documentation is incredibly important and powerful, and hope that this memo is helpful to other companies thinking through the tenants of the internal culture that has helped them thrive.

Subject: The Valor Fellowship Culture

From: Antonio Gracias

Date: April 30, 2019

To My Valor Colleagues,

In our efforts to understand how to continue to grow our firm in keeping with our core values, we have spent significant time over the last few years discussing the attributes of our fellowship that have allowed us to endure and flourish for the last 24 years. From our inception, we have dedicated ourselves to making our firm a place where talented professionals could join in an environment that fostered Excellence, Humility, Integrity, and Responsibility. In choosing the name Valor, we acknowledged the courage it takes to put these values into practice every day. Our values—and the courage to express them in difficult and, at times, lonely moments—are at the core of the culture that binds our team and guides our actions. Over the years and through many challenges, these values have always been the foundation of our firm.

Those core values describe only the foundation of our firm culture. They do not account for the elements that have made possible the special fellowship we've forged over our 24-year history. For those of us who have been with Valor for many years, our fellowship is the emotional connection that has bound us together over so many travails. For those of you that have joined more recently, our sense of fellowship was part of what attracted you to Valor in the first place.

It is clear to all of us that our firm is at an important inflection point. Many new professionals have joined our team and more will join. This will continue to enhance our ability to execute our strategy and meet the expectations of our limited partners. Our commitment to continue to grow our fellowship by integrating and developing these new professionals is the foundation of our future success. Concurrently, we are investing in the geographic presence of our firm, adding many of these professionals in offices around the country. At this important moment, it is critical that we clearly describe what we believe has made our fellowship endure, and the culture that has made Valor successful. While our firm values are the foundation of our firm culture, we expect that professionals who desire to become part of the long-term fellowship will go beyond these values in their dedication and commitment to each other and to the firm. Together we agree that our fellowship is the heart of our firm. How it radiates from those of us who have been part of the team the longest to our newest members is at the core of our ability to achieve the many goals we have for Valor.

Principles of the Valor Fellowship:

At Valor, we seek to discover and learn in a trusted environment with colleagues committed to giving their best for each other — this is, after all, the pinnacle of human endeavor. Regardless of the construct—be it a family, the military, a religion, a school, or a firm like ours—when these factors join to serve a common and good purpose, the result is great institutions that endure.

A great fellowship of any kind requires three basic attributes.

We Generously Give More Than We Receive.  

Valor professionals are expected to be more concerned about what they are contributing to the firm than what they are getting as individuals. If everyone contributes to their maximum potential, we achieve a positive cycle of growth and everyone benefits. At any given moment, the benefit of contribution may or may not balance against the input, but there is faith that over time our collective efforts to care for each other increase the size of the overall pie above the individual benefit. Thus, we are all better off. I believe that all of you who chose Valor, whether in 1998 or 2019, exhibit this characteristic. I call this the “Generous Mindset” — in other words, you give your best because it is what you want for your colleagues, with faith in them that they will do the same. You work hard for your colleagues because you know they are working hard for you, too. In the end, we produce more together than the total sum of our individual efforts.

We are all flawed. Each of us will wake on some morning after several weeks of hard work on something that feels thankless, or annoyed with one of our colleagues for being inconsiderate or difficult. This is life. At such a moment, the input will not feel balanced against the output. If anyone of us feels that the fellowship is not supportive, then please speak up. These are the moments in which we need each other the most and when communication is most important. We must have an absolute commitment to reach out and communicate candidly about what we are experiencing. We will all need help from each other, without judgment, when we are going through these down times to reframe our mindset to the long-term benefits of building something together.

Our Fellowship Can Only Survive and Thrive with Trust and Candor.  

The fellowship endures because the “Generous Mindset” is coupled with a collective positive outcome that we cannot achieve individually. This outcome will, by definition, not be a financial reward because these can easily be achieved individually and perhaps even optimized at any given moment more fully as an individual. What is this collective positive outcome? Each of us, as an individual, benefits from the many positive attributes of a trusted community. Trust allows us to feel safe so that we can flourish as individuals inside of the collective security. "Safe" means the individual is accepted, respected, and supported through hard times. Trust, however, requires complete candor. It also requires that we deliver candid feedback thoughtfully and receive it with gratitude. I will call this the “Trusting Mindset.”

We will experience discomfort. Trust and candor form a paradox in our minds that causes us discomfort. This is a false paradox. Without truth, trust cannot exist. We believe that complete candor may undermine the sense of security we are creating with trust. We fear hurting another person. As recipients of candid feedback, we may allow our negative emotions to corrupt our interpretation of candid feedback, thus making it hard to receive and give. We allow our ego to block our ability to hear candid feedback without a recognition that it took courage to deliver the message. We all experience these states. We must overcome these emotions by realizing that the foundation of real trust is candor.

Trust also requires courage and respect. To overcome the false paradox and create an environment of real trust where we can all flourish, Valor professionals must make two absolute commitments to each other. First, we must commit to the courage to deliver candid truth only with positive intentions in a thoughtful and respectful manner—no matter how hard it is to give. Second, we must commit to receive candid feedback with gratitude for the courage and thoughtfulness it took to deliver. When we keep these commitments, we achieve a “Trusting Mindset.”

Generosity and Trust Create Great Ideas. 

Our fellowship flourishes because we enhance each other’s lives in a way that can only happen when a “Generous Mindset” and a “Trusting Mindset” come together. Humans learn from the experience of other humans. Fortunately, the human brain is wired to enjoy teaching. All the knowledge we will acquire tomorrow stands on the shoulders of all the knowledge we have collected and processed into our brains from all human history through to the present. You could sit in a room by yourself and just read, but the beauty of being human is that the process of idea creation is messy and best done in groups. We are, in essence, a large neural network. History records lone individuals as genius creators, but only because it makes for romantic storytelling. Great ideas always come from collective learning and teaching, and any interaction is an opportunity to learn and to teach. We are committed to approaching every interaction we have with each other with an open mind to learn whatever we can and to respectfully teach whatever we can. Both teaching and learning allow us to grow. I will call this the “Growth Mindset.”

We will disagree. It is the nature of our work and our personalities. These disagreements are the best opportunities to learn and to teach. In fact, we should be worried if we are agreeing too much. We should seek the points of difference to fully understand any topic we are exploring. However, once all viewpoints are heard and a decision is made, we commit to execute to our highest ability. Trusting that our decisions will be supported despite disagreement allows us to embrace the creative and intellectual process of learning and teaching each other. Only when this process is truly flowing can we create great ideas. Through embracing our disagreements and our commitment to execute for each other, we will achieve the “Growth Mindset.”

Each of us joined our firm and our fellowship for different reasons. Now, together, we commit to these mindsets as foundational to our fellowship. Regardless of title or position, when we are generous with each other, trust each other, and enable our collective growth we achieve the fellowship that is critical to our collective success. By promoting and enhancing our collective growth, our fellowship brings great meaning to our lives beyond simply work. It is this meaning that allows our fellowship to flourish and our firm to endure.

Finally, as we grow the firm and consider new hires, we must consider whether these professionals are capable of achieving our fellowship. Only those who truly value this connection will succeed long-term at Valor.