Berry Liberman - Using Financial Capital as Force For Good in the World


5 April 2021

1 hr 1 min 11 secs

Season 1

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode

With one of the most recognisable family names in Australian business circles Berry Liberman is using her financial capital to make a positive impact in the world. Her family office, Small Giants, is 100% invested in Impact ventures - challenging the traditional notion of "do anything to make it and then give it all away" philanthropy.

Berry Liberman is the co-founder and Creative Director of Small Giants and the Publisher and Editor of Dumbo Feather magazine.

Small Giants was founded in 2007 to create, support, nurture and empower businesses that are contributing to the world in a meaningful way. Dumbo Feather is a labour of love. Designed, edited and printed in Melbourne, Australia, it is a quarterly journal highlighting the stories of extraordinary people, living lives of passion and commitment to changing the world we live in.

"We spent our first decade growing a collective of businesses committed to positive change, including Impact Investment Group, The Sociable Weaver, Dumbo Feather and The School of Life. Our focus has been moving capital from the old economy to the next. We’ve sought to prove that a business can be profitable while remaining purpose driven and ensuring value for all stakeholders, including the environment. Likewise, we’ve found time and time again that value can be created without investing in extractive industries."

Standout Quotes:

  • "Family was Business, and Business was family, it was one thing" - [Berry]
  • "Both my parents in a way saw work as service, you contributed to the society that you were lucky enough to live in" - [Berry]
  • "When you go to your grave, you go with only one thing, and that's your name" - [Berry]
  • "If you know your shadow self, there isn't anything that can take you by surprise " - [Berry]
  • "I wanted to do big work, and I didn't want to be afraid, and I knew that the thing that scared me most was everything that was happening on the inside of me" - [Berry]
  • "One of the things about family businesses is they're often a massive spaghetti ball, and all of the spaghetti is interwoven into all the other spaghetti and it's very hard to separate" - [Berry]
  • "Business and Financial capital can be a force for good in the world" - [Berry]
  • "We didn't have the language for it at the time but we had the intuition, that growth at any cost, that the extraction economy, was coming to an end" - [Berry]
  • "Money in families is complicated, and Family Business is complicated, and it's never about the money, it's about the people and the relationships and the emotional maturity of those people" - [Berry]
  • "We are the custodians, not of financial capital that is our entitlement, but the financial capital that is handed from one generation to the next, much like fresh air and fresh water, we are custodians" - [Berry]
  • "Impact investing is a paradigm shift, it's not an asset class, and once you make that shift in your mind, you can't do anything but invest that way" - [Berry]
  • "You are the company you keep" - [Berry]
  • "I would tell them not to hate anyone, ever, and to love hard, I don't think you lose anything when you love" - [Berry]

Key Takeaways:

  • In a true 'rags to riches' story of how the family clothing business began, Berry describes how her grandfather alongside the family, used to recycle the unsellable silk stockings discarded by a company, and eventually caused a shift in demand in his favor.
  • Berry shares that she was raised perceiving business as fun, and something that involved the whole family. Unfortunately following the crash in 1991, the impact weighed equally upon the family.
  • She narrates how she was able to forge her path outside the norm, because there was very little attention on her, especially following the passing of her father and ensuing family changes.
  • As for her psychotherapy, It became clear there was a need to answer pertinent questions about herself and sort through unresolved issues personally. "I wanted to do big work, and I didn't want to be afraid, and I knew that the thing that scared me most was everything that was happening on the inside of me". She also disclosed that ultimately she wanted to be her own person but she didn't want to do it at the expense of family harmony.
  • By the time Berry stepped in to join the family business, seeing how it was being run, she knew she wanted to do things differently.
  • Narrating the events surrounding the inception of the company "Small Giants", Berry highlights the deep concern that was born following her knowledge of very critical climate issues, and this ignited a passion to create a better world for her kids to live in.
  • It's an intergenerational project and the main goal is to become a good ancestor if you're a person of privilege and you have the resources.
  • Much like with the financial capital that is handed from one generation to another in family businesses, we are also custodians of the fresh air and water handed down to us.
  • Mike shares that the phrase "Stewardship" comes from environmental sustainability and so aptly applies in the context of this conversation.
  • Berry explains that Philanthropy means "love of humankind" and in her view should be a whole portfolio vision; love of humankind with everything you have.
  • "The Doughnut Economy" by Kate Raworth: This book describes a metaphor that likens the outer part of a doughnut to the bounds of the environment, and the inner part to society. Kate suggests living in the sweet spot between the bounds of ecology and human flourishing, such that you can engage in business but with more accountability built-in.
  • The pillars of investments by Small Giants include Food and agriculture, Energy, Finance, and the Built environment.
  • While Berry admits that little effort has been put into planning for the future as regards her kids being involved in the family office, she notes that doesn't want them to do Small Giants necessarily. She would rather they had the same freedom she had, to go on their journey, with full support to become themselves fully.
  • Berry emphasizes the importance of talking to her children; "No topic is out of bounds, and I will let myself be challenged by my children because they've got a pretty good compass"
  • Recent research shows that Kids that know where they come from, and particularly the trials and tribulations of prior generations, are usually resilient as a result.
  • From Berry to her kids: "I would tell them not to hate anyone, ever, and to love hard, I don't think you lose anything when you love"

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:54] About today's guest, Berry Liberman.
  • [02:30] Berry describes her family origins.
  • [09:07] What were the key building blocks along the path to the growth of the business empire?
  • [15:00] Could you tell us where you started, and what you wanted to do with your wealth as regards the impact you wanted to have on the world?
  • [25:37] Berry describes the structure at the family table when she stepped in.
  • [38:58] What are some of the impact investments you have made?
  • [41:55] How do we ensure there is a return so that we can keep on doing good?
  • [47:36] Small Giants' Pillars of Investment
  • [51:22] Do you anticipate your kids getting involved in the Small Giants family office?
  • [56:50] Has the documentation of your family history been intentional so far?
  • [59:50] A letter from Berry to her kids.

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