Episode 20

Altruistic Capitalism with Lynn Yap

Published on: 13th October, 2021

Lynn Yap grew up in Malaysia and moved to the UK at the age of 19 to study law. Her career has taken her from law to investment banking to launching a network supporting women and girls in work. In 2021 Lynn published her first book, The Altruistic Capitalist, following research and interviews with business leaders on how to solve today’s complex global issues. In this interview, Lynn talks about:

  • her passion for learning and not feeling comfortable being comfortable
  • how passion, perseverance and grit can all be learned and developed
  • what she learned when she was forced to decide between family and work
  • the importance of focusing on your values and doing meaningful work
  • why it’s important for women and girls to have role models and aspirations
  • why capitalism is not all bad and can in fact be altruistic

Lynn’s network for supporting women and girls is actv8.network

Her recently-published book can be found at www.altruisticcapitalist.com 

The book Lynn mentioned in the interview is Grit by Angela Duckworth

And the episode in which we interviewed an altruistic capitalist is Safe Drinking Water with Mark Matamisa

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Helen:

Hello Lynn, and thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us on our podcast AudaciousNess. It's lovely to have you with us here. I'd like to begin by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself, about your background, and to bring us up to date on some of the audacious things that you've done in your life. Please go ahead.

Lynn:

Thank you very much, Helen and Maribel, for having me on the show today. So my name is Lynn Yap. I'm the founder of ACTV8 Network and also the author of The Altruistic Capitalist. Now, my background is quite different from where I am today. My first job out of university was as a corporate lawyer. I studied at the University of Nottingham, got qualified in Malaysia and then went ahead and practiced law. I think the first step in my audacious journey was when I decided I would leave a career as a lawyer and move into investment banking. I was working with investment bankers on different corporate transactions when I was a lawyer and I was curious about what they did, about structuring and originating deals and transactions. And so I decided, as someone who never studied accounting, corporate finance, and didn't know the difference between debits and credits, I thought I would jump right into the world of investment banking and finance, where people work 80 to 100 hours a week. I didn't have a clue as to what it was, but I had the audaciousness and audacity to jump into this new career, and to hustle my way into a job. So I would say that is probably the first thing that I did on this journey of audacity, on audaciousness.

Helen:

Perfect. And so how were you feeling at the point when you made the decision, because obviously you'd studied law, and you felt, I assume, quite comfortable in your lawyer position, to go into a position that you felt less comfortable at. What was going through your mind at that point?

Lynn:

Naturally, it was quite scary. Because as you said, I had been practicing for a couple of years, I was very comfortable with what I was doing. But I'm also someone who is not comfortable being comfortable. If I feel like I've been doing the same things or know something too well, I feel like I'm not learning. And so that got to the point where, well, I may not know everything about the law, I may not be the perfect lawyer, but I was getting to the point where I can see where my trajectory would be. And my learning path was not on the acceleration at the same pace of exponential growth that I had when I first started. And so I had spoken to a few people, I’d spoken to a couple of partners at the law firm I was working at. And they said, Well, why not just go for it, this is something that you're really curious about, and really wanted to learn, just go ahead and try it and see where it goes. I won't lie, it was really hard, the first 12 months of working every weekend, lots of hours during the week, and then having to study whatever leftover free time that I had, accounting, corporate finance, and just basically learning the ropes of investment banking and finance.

Maribel:

What made you make the change, particularly into that sector? And what have you learned from that?

Lynn:

I am very grateful for my career in investment banking, even though it was very difficult. Apart from the foundational theories and experience and understanding of how businesses work, how the world of finance works, from a personal development perspective it gave me the confidence to continue putting myself outside of my comfort zone, to continue to be curious, to not be afraid to learn new things, never too old to learn new things. Because our professional lives are much more extended compared to previous generations, I feel that if I stop learning, I feel like I will not be alive anymore to a certain extent to put it quite dramatically. I enjoy the process of learning, even though it's quite difficult. So that, from a personal perspective, was what I learned from that, from going to law into investment banking, the joy of doing something that's difficult and overcoming that.

Helen:

I think you may have answered this. There was a question coming up for me and I think you may have just answered it. When you talked about the first year of working in investment banking, it was very, very difficult and working very long hours, and the question that was coming up for me was, what was it that stopped you from just giving up, throwing the towel in and saying This is not for me. Was it this learning, continuous learning? Or was there something else?

Lynn:

I think I am someone who generally is quite determined. And the more someone says, Well, you can't do it. And if it's something that's important to me, and I was quite interested to learn finance and business, and I put everything that I had into it, I didn't leave anything left in the tack, let's say I just went all out to learn and to improve my skills, to gain the knowledge in order to succeed in the role. So I guess perseverance and passion, a grit, if you like. I mean, grit, you may know the book Grit by Angela Duckworth is passionate perseverance. And so I had the passion to learn this new subject and to have to learn this new career. And I also had perseverance. And that was the people around me who supported me, my family who supported me, friends at work who helped me learn the subject and also guided me. So I think those things helped me stay on track and stay on this path.

Helen:

Do you think you were born with passion and perseverance and grit or is that something you develop later in life?

Lynn:

I believe that we can all develop passion for a particular subject or topic. And it could change, that passion could change. For now, I mean, at this point in time, for instance, I no longer have the passion to learn investment banking, or to work in investment banking, as I did at that point in time. I believe perseverance is something that we can learn as well, I'm generally, I generally believe that we have the capacity to grow, to be bigger than who we see ourselves today. And so perseverance can be developed through getting bucking with others, getting others to support you in your journey, learning, talking to other people to see how they have done it. And that is how you can increase your perseverance, and hence, ultimately grit in whatever goals that you would like to achieve.

Maribel:

I think that's great. You also mentioned before Lynn that you want to get out of your comfort zone. And I'm just wondering, I think I've never really heard this before, because actually, at least the type of clients that I have, or what I hear a lot is, I want to stay in my comfort zone. Because this feels, well, comfortable. This feels like I know what the game is and how to play it. And as soon as I get out of that, it feels very uncomfortable. Was there a moment where you learned how to do that, that change? Or has it always been that way?

Lynn:

I won't say it's always been that way. I mean, I grew up, I had a fairly traditional childhood. But when I was 19, my family, my parents sent me to the UK about 6500 miles away from home. For the first time I had to learn how to take care of myself and to be independent. So I think that was the start of my own journey to become the person I am today, to learn different things and be curious. I think maybe the pace of change of putting myself, setting up different challenges and wanting to learn that frequency has probably increased in the past decade or so. But yes, I think since the start of my professional career, I've always been quite interested in personal growth and learning and developing.

Helen:

So you said, Lynn, that you're not in investment banking anymore. Is that right? Okay. So could you take us on the next part of your journey?

Lynn:

Indeed, thank you, Helen. So this goes back then into May of 2012. I was in investment banking, after the last financial crisis of 2008. A lot of the tech startups at that point in time, were about to become public because during the crisis, there were not a lot of opportunities for these companies to go public and raise public financing. And in May 2012, Facebook was about to go on the road, talking to investors and then later on, they would become the largest IPO at that point in time. But also at that point in time, my grandmother in Malaysia was very ill and the doctors said that she would not be able to survive, to make it. And I wanted to go back to support my family and also to say goodbye to my grandmother. When I went to the head of the team, I said look, this is the situation. It was a very small team, a very, very lean team. So it was just me on the ground, and making sure that the deal goes ahead and then the head of the team. And I spoke to him and he said, Well, you can't go, Facebook was going to go public. This is going to risk the implementation, the execution of the deal. So you just can't go, there was no discussion about it, we didn't talk about how we could perhaps get someone else to help take care of the deal if I were to go home. And that was it. For me, it was a conflict between, I was torn between duty to my work, I was very proud of my work that I did, and also the duty to my family. And ultimately, I chose to stay in New York and to watch over the implementation of Facebook's IPO. My grandmother passed away, I didn't even get the chance to return home for a funeral. Facebook went public, the deal was, we did our job, we got paid fees. And that was the end of that episode, more or less. No one at the office asked what happened, asked me how things went, asked me how I was, that was just that’s it. Alright, we made a lot of money from this deal, which is fantastic. And let's get on with the next deal. More or less. For a long time, I felt very guilty, sometimes angry as well, at myself of the choice and the decision I made at that point in time, to not go home to spend time with my family, and to say goodbye to my grandmother. And I couldn't speak about the, I couldn't speak about this episode for a long time as well, because of the guilt and shame that I felt. And this led me then to start thinking about what was important to me. What did I want to invest my time in? Who do I want to spend my time with? What did I want to learn? What do I want to do? How do I want to give value to the rest of the community? And all of this ultimately led to me leaving investment banking. I started to volunteer a lot more in the startup community, mentoring entrepreneurs, mentoring women, I also started looking at how I could help young girls in schools to think about their careers. So I spent a lot more time in that. It was the start of my giving back thinking how could I give back to the community?

Helen:

Thank you. Thank you very much for sharing that, Lynn. We discussed just before we started recording here about one of the questions: “Do you have a vision of the person you'd like to become and to evolve into?” I'm going to reverse that and ask you who you are now, what advice would you give to the young Lynn in 2012 making that decision?

Lynn:

I have done quite a bit of work since then, it’s been almost 10 years now, since that episode. I would tell her to focus more on her values, to know what is really important, ultimately, in the whole scheme of things. What is it that you can give back to the community? Is it helping to make sure that a deal goes well, but is that the value that you can bring to the table? Or how is it that you can use your time and your resources and your skills in order to help somebody else's life. And it could just be one person, but that you could change that other person's life. But executing a deal is not really changing anybody's life. And so I’d tell Lynn in 2012 to think, okay, where is it that you really want to invest your time and what is really important to you?

Helen:

I'm curious now as to, if you had followed your values back then, then you wouldn't have had this guilt in the shame that you had, and then that wouldn't have developed you into the type of person that you have become, helping others you know, setting up this mentorship and helping other people. So I wonder if you could say something about that, is there a reason why you chose that path? Maybe because you were destined to be a mentor at the end, having gone through that challenge yourself? I'm not sure.

Lynn:

That's a pretty big question, Helen. I mean, it's quite difficult to say. Perhaps everything happens, every episode in our lives, happens for a reason and then impacts what the next step will be, what the next event will be, what our next move will be. So it's hard to say, Well, if I had done, if I had decided something else would I still be where I am today, would I still be doing the things I am doing today? For me, I think meaningful work has always been important. And that's helping someone else? That's what energizes me, that's what inspires me, that gets me excited to get out of bed. I also love the learning experience, the ability to create something new all the time.

Maribel:

So in order to move on, I mean, it's part of our personal development to be in difficult situations or to have to make decisions that later you think, I wish I should have chosen differently. I wonder if you have forgiven yourself for that choice? Because, you know, after that, then you said there was guilt and shame involved? How do you feel about that now?

Lynn:

Good question Maribel. Thank you for that. I am not sure if forgiveness sounds like a really, that's not how I would phrase it. I would say that I have let go of what happened and, perhaps to a certain extent, made peace with what happened. And just okay, this is what happened. And now we look forward and see what comes up next, and what I can take from it, and what I can share with other people, which is what I'm doing, by sharing my story. And hopefully, this can then either inspire someone in how they lead their lives, or help them in some of the things that they're going through right now. So I guess I've just kind of let go of that. I'm not angry with myself, or I don't feel guilty about myself anymore. I'm quite happy to share what happened. And to help someone else by sharing that story.

Maribel:

That's really great. So because usually, many times we have this inner critic voice that is very, very loud and you should have done this or that. And yes, I like the way you phrase it, that you've made peace with that and moved forward and are using it in a positive way. I wonder what are all the things that you're doing now that have come up from that initial situation?

Lynn:

So I guess from having left investment banking to where I am today, I worked at Estee Lauder, I worked at Adidas from where I started to expand more into Okay, how can business be used as a force for good? How can we actually create a positive impact on the communities, on our employees and on the environment and develop our business and grow new markets and create new products, how can we do all of that together? So how can we create win-win situations rather than win-lose situations where it's an either or. We either create profit or we help our employees or we do something good for the community but there's not both at the same time. In that period since I left investment banking I see that it is possible to have all of this. And in fact, if you lead first with purpose, if you run what you do and what your beliefs are, your values, and then think about Okay, what are the strategies? What is the strategy that I can develop that's related to my values and to my core belief, then it becomes a lot easier to see where are the activities? Where is it that you want to focus your energy and time on. And so from this journey, let's call it nine years ago, I have discovered that well, I'm pretty good with developing and designing programs that enable multiple generations, so women coaches, as well as teenage girls, to come together to solve business problems. But in these programs under the ACTV8 Network umbrella, the companies that participate in these programs, they get real business value, because they are solving a business problem, the participants in the program solve a business problem. Number two, the women participants in these programs, they come from the company, and they feel more engaged with their fellow co-workers who are part of this program because you know, they're doing something together and they might not necessarily have that interaction outside of their day to day work. So there is that connection that comes from working on a project together that's outside your business description, and you might not even know each other because you're sitting in different parts of the organization. So that's that community that has that impact on that engagement. The women feel that they're doing meaningful work. Because the third pillar of the programs, the students you're impacting the students. The female students typically come from underprivileged backgrounds. And they get this opportunity to work with a company to see Oh, these are the different jobs available for women. And maybe I can do this in the future too. And that is community impact. The women coach the students in terms of how they set goals, how to manage stress, how to manage anxiety, how to deal with different, just general life stressors that we all go through. So there's a triple impact that comes from these programs. And I think I would not have got here but for the different steps in my journey through understanding business, finance, maybe even in law to see the different perspectives that come with these situations.

Helen:

So it sounds like you're helping other women to set themselves audacious goals as well, would you say?

Lynn:

I would say so, particularly for the teenage girls. I typically work with girls between 13 and 16 years old. They might not be exposed to women who work, the people around them might not, the women around them might not work, their moms, their aunts, and their neighbors. And so by exposing them to other women who work in technology, who work in the digital space, different types of jobs and global organizations, they then say, Oh, this is something that I could do in the future as well, this is something that I can be. So now it doesn't mean that they have to go out and be an engineer tomorrow, or to set up their own business. But it gives them that spark of Oh, I can do this too. I can be bigger than who I see myself today. And I think that's quite important to show them that nothing is impossible, everything is possible. Because if you can't see it, then you can't be it. And by showing them that look, women do these jobs, they have children, they are wives, they do different things. And it's and it's all possible, you can have all of this too.

Helen:

So you said in your move from being a lawyer to an investment banker, the qualities within you that you were nurturing, I guess, was passion, perseverance, and grit. What other qualities have you learned in this new line of work? What have you learned since then? How would you describe yourself now?

Lynn:

I'd say I’ve developed patience and kindness for myself. I think patience is a really big one. Sometimes things don't go fast enough when you're trying to build your own organization. And I'm just learning to be kinder because there's so much, there's so much to learn and so much to do. And it's okay, as long as I'm moving in the same direction. That's what I tell myself anyway. All right, as long as I keep going in the direction that I'm heading to. Yeah, that's all that matters.

Helen:

Okay. And I'm gonna push you on this question that we asked before we started recording, where do you see yourself? Or where are you pushing yourself towards?

Lynn:

Um, so that I mean, this platform that I have to create impact for people from diverse backgrounds and women, I hope that in 10 years people take this model, take the programs that I've created and replicate it in their own communities. I want, I'm not precious about this idea. I'm not precious about the programs that I've developed. But what I want is to see that, that impact scale, and that we have diverse voices at the table, we can hear everyone and everyone feels included and safe, to not be judged by what they say. So that's what I hope will happen in the next 10 years. That we will have more equality of access.

Helen:

Perfect. I wonder if you could say something about the book that you produced this year?

Lynn:

Yeah, so I mean, the book... COVID-19 was actually a catalyst for a couple of things. One of which was well with COVID-19, it saved a lot of time in terms of commuting to meetings, commuting to the gym, there was obviously less social activities to be had, so I had a lot of time on my hands. So that was one. There's no better time than to write a book at the onset of COVID-19. But also what COVID-19 showed me was that companies, public, private, nonprofit organizations, government organizations, all these different groups came together and they're all desperate and they might not necessarily have talked to each other before, but people came together to supply protective equipment, medical equipment, to come up with vaccines and to share knowledge in order to solve a global problem. And for me, I was curious as to how we could actually do that, how we could make that come, make that happen again for all the other problems that we have. So whether it's related to the environment, whether it's related to climate change, poverty, having access to clean water, for instance, how can we, what are the things that are needed in order for us to bring groups of people together to solve some of these global and global complex issues? So that set me on the path of the altruistic capitalist, to write this book to interview people who work in large companies, social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, investors, impact investors as well, to understand what is it that needs to happen in the minds of leaders? What kind of leaders do we need in order to create a positive impact on the business as well as the people and environment in our world?

Maribel:

When I first read the name of your book, The Altruistic Capitalist, I thought, hmm, isn't that an oxymoron? So you are showing that that is possible? What is the mindset that a leader needs in order to be that?

Lynn:

So I'm going to pull first on the thread of the oxymoron. It was intentional to be an oxymoron. I think a lot of people, I say the majority of population, 60-70% have a distrust of big businesses, big tech, there is that skepticism as to what businesses do. It’s very self-interested, businesses are very self-interested. And so there is distrust for such businesses now. And that is due to how capitalism has been, I guess, put to an extreme place where it's all about short-term thinking at the moment. That started with Milton Friedman's article in The New York Times in 1970, where it was said that the social responsibility of business is to increase profits. And so taken to extremes is where we've got to today, where sometimes businesses are very much focused on the short term, what is the earnings, and it's always going up and up and up, there is no sustainability in that. And so I think that's what has led to some of this distress. But to me capitalism is not good or bad, it is just a tool, like technology is a tool, it can be used for good things. I believe capitalism encourages competition and innovation, and it gives the market what it needs and what it wants. And we see some corporations that use capitalism as a vehicle in which to create social innovation that help serve markets that were not served before, that provide services that they might not have access to medicine, for instance. And this really is changing business models, changing the traditional ways of doing things. It's all possible using capitalism. And hence altruistic, it is I guess, opposite of what people think capitalism is today, where it's thinking about the different, the other players, the other stakeholders, in businesses, in for-profit companies, whether it's the communities that businesses operate in, the employees, the partner suppliers that businesses work with, and also the environment, of course, and investors. I think we should not discount the importance of making money or profit or growth in solving some of these global problems. There needs to be financial discipline in order to solve some of these social problems. So it's all of it together rather than profit at the exclusion of everyone else in the business. Now, going to the second part of the question, which is what is the mindset of altruistic capitalists? From the conversations that I had during the interviews, as I was researching the book, the three threads that came out, that I pulled from these conversations were, firstly starting with mindfulness. Second is curiosity. And third is collaboration. And really collaboration comes from what I said before, which relates to grit. You can have, if you're passionate about something and you have perseverance, then you have grit. And perseverance for me, you can build that by collaborating with others, by partnering with others. Let's say you're preparing for a marathon on your own. It helps if you train and work out with someone else, that will help you persevere through that marathon, through the grueling preparation in the run up to that race. But even during the marathon, imagine your network of supporters, that really helps you, that could really help you persevere to the finish line. So I just picked on one of the three mindsets. But that is what I think is what is needed in order to create a positive impact on the planet, and the people.

Helen:

Thank you. Thank you so much, Lynn, for explaining this to us, it's been a very interesting conversation that we've had with you. We're coming to the end of it now and I'm gonna ask you one more question, which is the question we always ask our guests at the end, to do with the name of our podcast, which is AudaciousNess. And the word audacious relates to having the audacity to do this thing that you do in the first place. And the word ness actually describes a spit of land, which juts out into the sea and remains strong, no matter what the weather is throwing at it. So our final question to you is, while you've been pursuing all these different goals in your life, where did you get the solid grounding to continue, despite what life was throwing at you?

Lynn:

That's a very good question, Helen. And I think for me, it's always been my family and friends who support me, regardless of what I do, whatever crazy adventures or different experiments that I want to try out. Even this book that I've published during Covid, they thought, Well, okay, we’ll go along with this. This is quite different from what you've done before, I'd never written before. But they've always supported me. And so their love and support for me has always helped me continue learning and to have the confidence to step out of my comfort zone.

Helen:

That's lovely. Thank you so much, Lynn.

Maribel:

Thank you.

Lynn:

Thank you very much.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.