Leading Leaders

Uva: [00:00:00] Hi, Catherine. Hi, Uva [00:01:00] Welcome. How would you describe who you are and what you do? Well, Uva, that's a big, big question. I've been different people at different times. And so if I'm gonna wind back, maybe we can start about what motivated me from a young age to do what I'm doing. So, youngest of five, I grew up in a family where there was quite a bit of addiction. It was a tumultuous upbringing.

Catherine: Can I go personal like this? Absolutely. Okay. And so at the age of, gosh, 14 or 15, I was working and my grandfather really recognized that it was time to kind of get me out of Dodge a bit and just to get away from the situation. And so he found a spot of family in Spain where I was going to go for the summer.

And I landed in this tiny little town called Segovia and I was living with a family of five in a two bedroom apartment. I had the most glorious summer ever [00:02:00] because my world opened up. It went from being very small, with a lot of friction, to international, to big, to loving, to stable, and to seeing parts of the world.

And people that I couldn't even have imagined. And it was at that point coming back that there was just something that happened, some spark that I recognized that's what I wanted to do in the world at that point in time, which was to spend it overseas and particularly work in parts of the world where humanitarian assistance was needed and, or there's democracy building or just some need.

When I got out of college. I was fortunate enough to have two job offers. One was at National Geographic and the other was at an affiliate of the United Nations called the International Peace Academy and it was the training arm. And so I started in New York City working for 16, 000, but basically for five years I traveled all over the world.

Started in Africa, went to El [00:03:00] Salvador. Russia, but everywhere I went, it was not only the ability to sort of be part of communities and see people and customs in the world in such a different way, but it shaped who I was when I came back. From there, it set my career. It was there that I recognized the role of strategic grant making.

In helping to make really important social change again, at that point, I was still was going to go on to go overseas again, but then children came along and life and Philadelphia, which I was only going to stay for a couple of years, became hometown and magnificent, magnificent place. But from there, I also knew that I wanted to see the other side of the world, which is the business side.

So had experienced, you know, public affairs and philanthropy and nonprofit work and sort of international. And I realized there was a part that was missing to understand the whole picture of the different universes that come together to make change and the business side, the private sector was missing.

You know, and I touched a [00:04:00] little bit of government as well. And so when, just by happenstance, I met Jessica Berwind, did a lunch, and then it led to the invitation to come and start the family office. It was that wonderful opportunity to see the whole world in a much fuller way. What I didn't recognize is what a, like a shock it was to the system when I started at Berwind.

But I came with the understanding with the Berwind siblings that we were going to do something Big and wonderful and meaningful, but we just weren't sure what it was. With a little bit of naivete, healthy naivete, maybe a little bit of hubris as well. And then a heck of a lot of luck. We found, and partnered with folks that were just so much smarter, you know, practitioners and they kind of were the ones that, that led the way in terms of developing what the vision of Spring Point Partners.

So there were years that we were. planting seeds [00:05:00] and learning and meeting people in these different fields who were so extraordinary. And it was just this wonderful kind of co-creation time for the four siblings in their, their roles. And then, you know, I had the incredible opportunity to just like, add water to it.

Uva: As you talk about your role in kind of watering the seeds, right? I think it sounds like you were all planting them together, but I hear. So many of the pieces that are alive and well at Spring Point now, you talked about trust and learning and trying things and really centering practitioners, centering others.

So all of that, it sounds like it was all coming together over time as you were becoming the founder of this organization. Can you talk about what it felt like? Because I can only imagine that this was a big responsibility that they were trusting you with, right? They were trusting you not only with their resources, but really with, with their [00:06:00] hearts and with their aspirations in the world.

Catherine: It was both exciting and scary at the same time. This is their legacy, their resources and their dreams. And I'm the conductor in some ways. Quarterback and I am a leader by accident. Hmm. If you look at almost all my career I was always the number two. I was the number two to a major general. I was the number Two, two.

Ambassador OI was the number two to CEO at PO. I loved to be behind the scenes. It's just where my comfort zone is. Mm-Hmm. . When this thing got bigger, I, I had to push myself to get outta my own way sometimes.

So when I say I'm a, I'm a leader by accident, I'm also, I think a leader of leaders because it's the only way I can survive in this world. And also how I actually deeply believe that a good organization has leaders throughout. The entire organization and people [00:07:00] feel about empowered and it's that their organization.

Uva: Why was number two more comfortable for you?

Catherine: I think it goes way back, you know, to how you grow up. And being the last, I always had older brothers and sisters, I also was just deeply shy. And people say to me now, really? I can be outgoing, but I'm still very shy in nature. So being in the background is a much more comfortable place for me.

So I had to work hard at it. I can fake it till you make it, but it's not, it, there's some leaders and others who just, you can see it, you can feel it. They enjoy being just center of attention or anything else and are really good at it.

I've come to learn not to be so hard on myself. We're taught that leadership looks one way, and it probably looks one way for different people from different communities, right? But you just have this mental model, or at least I did, of what it was supposed to be. And I, I didn't, I don't fit [00:08:00] that. So over time, and seeing what leadership looks like, and the many forms it takes.

has been both a relief to me, it's probably given me permission, but recognizing that different places and different communities required all different shades of, of leadership.

Uva: Humility is one of our values. Why has that been so important in this work?

Catherine: Grace and humility to me go hand in hand. I think like all of us, we pull from what we've learned from the past.

You know, my mentor and my North Star was my mom. The grace that she always exuded with everybody. I mean, it's, even at her funeral, it was, that's the one word. Everybody universally used with her. And humility, which is anything that you do is because there are a lot of people around you either supporting you or have done it first and stumbled.

So, yeah, you can [00:09:00] maybe take a tiny bit of credit for it, but really, the truth is, it rarely is, you know, singularly because of one of us.

Humility is the essential core element to level the playing field. There are times like it's, it's natural. We have got such talented people everywhere, our partners, you know, our team. So it's easy sometimes to forget, but it takes a village to make things happen. It's not one person or one team or anything else.

So um, grace, I'd go back to if I could have had put that in a, you know, our list of values I could have exchanged. You know, but humility is, is, is darn close.

Uva: Love that. All of those are the spring point partners ingredients, right? With, with humility being at the core of that. And we talked about how this all kind of came together over time.

There wasn't necessarily a master plan to [00:10:00] do it a certain way, just iterations and learning and, and unlearning. Today, how would you describe? Spring point partners. What did you create?

Catherine: Well, what did we create? We created a nimble, gritty, funny, determined, justice seeking team. Partners inside and out.

Deeply committed. Creating some justice in this world. The inequalities today are so much worse than when we got started. It almost gets harder and harder. Given what's been happening in our world, which makes it all that much more of why I think we get more and more determined But I think we also we match the determination With a lot of lightheartedness in order to keep it real because it gets hard it gets heavy I mean, but you know There are days where it's just you kind of feel like you're beating your head up against a wall [00:11:00] on some things because the structural inequities go so deep and the work gets Overwhelming.

That being in it together and going at it harder has to be balanced with self care, which we talk a lot about. How do you make sure you have that balance of going home to your family or to your dog or, you know, to your friends and walking away from it and replenishing yourself?

Uva: I love that when I ask what you have done, you remind me it's what we have done, right?

And you keep going back to this idea of co creating with the team. Um, so I want to reflect on The fact that you have been able to bring in some really bright, just driven and committed people who really care about the work that SpringPoint does, and you create the space for them to do the work in ways that make sense for them.

Catherine: I was the very first employee ever.

We live in the Springpoint world, but it's set in this context, this exquisite context, which is not seen, you know, in many parts of the country. What Berwind [00:12:00] Enterprise has is many different disparate parts that are coming together. Around the values in a way that I don't often hear when I'm out and about, which is that the family values during generations, the same thread goes through all the different enterprises, whether it's in the operating companies out in the field or around the world to Berwind Corp, to Alter Spring Point, the family values unify all of us.

Now we all have different missions. But those values really knit us together.

Uva: You're also a person who is kind of straddling a number of different worlds, right? So you are not only stewarding all things SpringPoint, but you are also thinking about and supporting the family, right, across the enterprise in a large way.

And so you have to think about these disparate worlds that you mentioned. So that's an interesting perspective and responsibility to have as a founder. How do you reconcile that? How do [00:13:00] you allow for each part of this, sometimes we call it the constellation, each part of this world, the enterprise, to have its own identity, to have its own work, and at the same time to come back together and center itself in those family principles. How do you maintain sanity around all of that?

Catherine: Well, I don't always maintain sanity. So that's the start. I'm very high energy and a little frenetic. When there's a lot going on, I amp up a bit. Mm hmm. And so the way I. Um, and so, um, the way that I always go back to the family values and maintain very open lines of communications with the family members and the trustees.

They're two different groups. Uh, it's one in the same group, but there's the family and the independent trustees. And so, When something doesn't feel unified, the operations of the operating companies, and how folks are treated, you know, in some, in a factory someplace, how does that [00:14:00] feel at Springboard Partners?

Like, there should be respect everywhere, and their value should knit together. Doesn't mean we're doing the same things, and we often are, you know, we've got different North Stars and the like. So, but we talk a lot about it. I mean, we come together quarterly, You know, weekly conversations with the trustees.

So much of my morning job between 8 and 10 is phoning home to them and making sure we are not out in front of our skis. I have seen many organizations go down because they stopped following the guiding star and or the values of the founders in a way then that they separate and they feel disconnected to it.

And so one of the things we all pledged together and I. I'm going to do it every single year is, do you still feel connected to this organization? Do you still have trust in this organization and where it's going? And so it's that checking in because when it [00:15:00] begins, even over generations, I mean, this is five generations.

The Berwins. In some ways, the siblings, the four, are operating like second generation. Their father completely diversified it and grew it to this incredible, successful enterprise. This generation has really been able to continue to appreciate and seek out leaders. Give them autonomy earned autonomy and a hell of a lot of trust and let them do their thing and theDunnon't get out of the way, but they they walk alongside so I have never felt in all this and sort of, you know wearing many hats that We were not aligned because if we, if I felt unaligned or they did, we have to talk about it because if not, there's a breakdown in the, in the trust.

Uva: It's very obvious that there's alignment between you and the family. You remind us of the importance of that alignment. I think, um, in the work that we all do, but mistakes happen, right? So what are mistakes? What [00:16:00] about mistake making? What role has that played, um, in your own, Um, stewardship of this organization and enterprise and, and just in your career overall?

Catherine: You know, it looks very different now than it did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

So as a kid, I. was brought up perfection, right? You had to get it right. And so making mistakes was just like the end of the world. You know, just if I let somebody down, if I didn't do something to the, the best of, you know, my ability or what the expectation, I mean, it would just, I was crushing and it's exhausting.

When you are like that, you also get better and better and better, right? Because you're, you're just working harder and harder and harder. And it's also I think a gender thing. I think women just, we feel that in order to prove ourselves, I have felt that in order to prove myself that I just had to work harder, had to be better.

And when I got to Berwin, the four, especially Jessica, [00:17:00] would always laugh at herself when she'd make a mistake. And I remember thinking how How joyful and how refreshing that she could just, she could absolutely say something, do something. She'd forget something. And it was like, or I would, and she'd laugh.

And it was the place which was started to crack, which is like, Hmm, okay, you, you, you can have a culture. Where you can certainly laugh at yourself, and it's not the end of the world. It's just, they were harder than themselves, to a different degree. But certainly for me, and then for everybody else. And I hear them over and over again.

It's like, okay, what do you learn? What have you learned? And we do our grant making. Around honesty about our partners coming in and not selling but just saying this is what we need This really this was horrible this, you know last year sucked, you know, whatever it might be I did not know that coming in.

I never felt it. Mm hmm I [00:18:00] needed to see it and feel it and trust it. I just said to my daughter this morning Look, you don't learn from all the great stuff you do You know, sometimes when you really feel lousy and you just, you know, look at it, think about it. So, but it's a good time and I'm also close to 60.

So I do think that, you know, the older you get, the wiser you get and you're able to sort of look at yourself and just be a little gentler. And so when you can do that with yourself, then you sure as heck can and should be doing it with others.

Uva: Final question. There's a lot behind us and a lot ahead. What do you want SpringPoint to be relentless about in this new year?

Catherine: I hope that SpringPoint Partners is relentless with its hope. It's hope that the impact and the work we are doing with our partners is making a difference. My hope is that we can see things like the racial wealth gap changing, [00:19:00] seeing children in schools and in classes, having, you know, mentors and teachers that they can identify with.

And they can embrace them for who they are and the kind of learning that they do and that they need but to tangibly for this team to tangibly see what's finally coming to bear right now because where we are in our evolution, we started strategies, we refined and now and then we added to our team, we've got a full complement, got extraordinary, extraordinary people inside and out.

And so we can go really deep now. And we can make a lot of change in ways that we haven't been able to in the past because we just weren't fully baked and we were changing and we didn't have all the kind of the elements. We've got all the pieces of the puzzle right now and it's just believing in it, keeping up the hope, and just going at it relentlessly.

I do believe it is going to get harder. You once said. And as a [00:20:00] team and as an enterprise, I think we're continuously seeing what I wish we weren't, but we are. And we gotta do something about it. And so, SpringPoint Partners is positioned with our partners in the field to just go at impact so hard and relentlessly.

And I want this new year also to be about self care. Because you can't do it, you can't do it all. And it is people first. I mean, you go back to that original value. People often ask me, what is it that you're going to remember the most? Like, what are you going to be most proud of? And everybody's always surprised when I, I don't say impact, but I say it's the people because it's all those people that are doing the hard work. I'm not doing it. I'm blessed by having those folks, you know, who are going hard.

It's the team, it's the communities, it's all of those that we kind of, you know, lock arms with. And, that's what gives me the [00:21:00] hope.

Leading Leaders
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