All Articles Leadership Inspiration What business owners can learn from the Carlyle Group’s "One Carlyle"

What business owners can learn from the Carlyle Group’s “One Carlyle”

5 min read


This post is part of the series “Workplace Morale,” a weeklong effort co-hosted by SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership and the folks at Switch & ShiftKeep track of the series here and check out our daily e-mail newsletter, SmartBrief on Leadership. Don’t subscribe? Sign up.

It doesn’t matter if your company has 10,000 employees or five — a healthy corporate culture is the secret for healthy workplace morale. One company that takes pride in its corporate culture is The Carlyle Group. The steps co-founders David Rubenstein, Bill Conway and Dan D’Aniello have used at Carlyle can easily be applied to any size business.

Their corporate culture is built on what they call “One Carlyle.” When asked to define it, Rubenstein said, “The ‘One Carlyle’ official definition is having all Carlyle professionals collaborating seamlessly across funds, industries and geographies to deliver the wisdom, knowledge and resources required to invest wisely and create value for our investors.”

The ultimate goal of “One Carlyle” Conway adds is to make sure the company constantly differentiates itself from the competition. “For example, company X has lots of capital, as do we; company X also has a lot of smart people who went to prestigious schools, as do we; etc. Therefore we need to do a better job of harnessing the pinnacle of productivity and execution from the global team we have painstakingly assembled. That’s the core of One Carlyle. If these people can truly work together across funds, industries and geographies, then we will differentiate ourselves from the competition and create greater demand for our funds from our investors.” This teamwork across all platforms can be seen in their minority stake investment in Beats, which was just acquired by Apple.

Defining and promoting “One Carlyle” became a priority around 11 years ago. To help the culture flourish, the founders did good old-fashioned marketing inside all of their offices. They spoke about the “One Carlyle” values at employee retreats and training meetings; they wrote about it in their internal memos, website, intranet and annual report; and they even made physical reminders to tie it all together with desk tchotchkes and wall posters. No matter what Carlyle office you go to around the globe, the visual reminders of “One Carlyle” will be found on employees’ desks and posters in the lunchrooms. One longtime employee told me this “reminds us what we stand for.” Employees say seeing the same visual reminders again and again provides a source of comfort and camaraderie.

But, most importantly, Rubenstein, Conway and D’Aniello knew adoption of these values depended upon properly incentivizing employees. Once a year, the company recognizes an employee that demonstrates the “One Carlyle” way of business by honoring them with the “One Carlyle” award. It is considered the highest honor that can be bestowed on an employee. Annual performance reviews also take “One Carlyle” behavior into account.

Culture is a living, breathing creature. You have to nurture it and foster it over time. Making employees feel valued and have a sense of ownership are key to the overall success of a company. It’s the working together that enables a company like Carlyle to execute the deals they are known for making. “When we exit deals we send around an internal memo that provides financial metrics, as well as how we created value … including how “One Carlyle” helped create value,” said D’Aniello.

“Everyone is truly a member of one firm and they are incented to make sure they work as one firm, or they will be penalized if they don’t,” Rubenstein explains. This framework provides the comfort of inclusion and the guidelines employees need to thrive.

The three fundamentals that serve as a foundation for “One Carlyle” are inclusion, courtesy and teamwork. Glenn Youngkin, COO of Carlyle, emphasized how important business etiquette is for Carlyle, “We have two rules — always return your calls and walk people to the elevator.”

How important are those two rules? They make mental notes when they meet other executives from other companies who fail to uphold such common courtesies.

A company’s culture is the essence of how managers and employees approach and execute plans, and this culture comes from the top. Management needs to put in place a clear set of objectives, and everyone in the organization has to believe in them to execute plans effectively. These lessons can be applied to any company, no matter the size.

Lori Ann LaRocco is the author of “Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders” (Agate Publishing, 2014), “Dynasties of the Sea: The Shipowners and Financiers Who Expanded the Era of Free Trade” (Marine Money International, 2012) and “Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today’s Top Business Leaders” (Wiley, 2009). As senior talent producer at CNBC, LaRocco has the ear of some of the world’s biggest business minds. Prior to joining CNBC, she was an anchor, reporter and assignment editor in various local news markets around the country. Visit her blog.