Brice Smith Of InvestiNet: 5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Motivating others has not always come naturally to me; it’s a skill that I have consciously developed over time. The key, I have found, is in being transparent and authentic. It is about setting a clear, compelling vision that aligns with our collective goals, ensuring that every member of the team understands their role in achieving our shared aspirations.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is increasingly recognized as a pivotal leadership trait. In an ever-evolving business landscape, leaders who exhibit genuine empathy are better equipped to connect, inspire, and drive their teams towards success. But how exactly does empathy shape leadership dynamics? How can it be harnessed to foster stronger relationships, improved decision-making, and a more inclusive work environment? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brice Smith, founder, president and CEO of InvestiNet, LLC.

Brice Smith is a part-time drummer as well as InvestiNet’s founder, president, and CEO. He has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry, including business development, loan underwriting, collection, and legal servicer management. Brice began his career at Wells Fargo Financial as a Credit Analyst. He spent six years with Resurgent Capital Services, where he was responsible for portfolio management, profit and loss accountability, staffing, and collection strategy for portfolios owned by Sherman Financial Group in a 150 FTE call center with $5.5 million in monthly recoveries. Prior to founding InvestiNet, Brice spent four years with Eltman, Eltman, & Cooper. While at Eltman, he was responsible for all collection and legal strategies, agency and law firm performance, and profit and loss accountability for a national legal network. During his time there, he was instrumental in the development of their post-judgment servicing model and grew the new business line to over $2 million in monthly gross revenues.

Brice has a BS in Business from Florida State University and an MBA from Clemson University. He serves on the advisory board of the Greenville Area Parkinson Society, co-chair for the Caine Halter Family YMCA capital campaign, and is active in the Poe Mill Community of Greenville where InvestiNet is located.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about empathy, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thank you for including me in this interview series. I appreciate the opportunity to share my story. My career path has been shaped by a combination of my education, experiences, interests and values. As I matured, these influences began to form a conviction within me that the ideal business environment was one where people could offer the best of themselves toward work that mattered and then feel appreciated for it. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was beginning to focus on those values that would lay the foundation for my own company one day.

I graduated from Florida State University with a major in business. Early in my career, I joined Wells Fargo Financial, where I had the opportunity to be exposed to the entire credit life cycle — from origination and underwriting to delinquency control and recovery. During my time at Wells Fargo, I pursued and completed my MBA from Clemson University, enhancing my business acumen and leadership skills.

The collections industry is a tough place on many levels, and it is not known for its pro-employee work environment. I could not shake the sense that somehow collections work could be better. Surely there was a way to marry an exceptional employee experience and exceptional performance. There had to be a way to create a thriving company that also safeguarded and promoted a company’s most valuable asset — its people. This realization led me to go out on my own without a clear path forward, but my vision for the future was taking shape.

Thanks to the encouragement and support from family members, friends and colleagues, I was inspired to start my own business. This marked the beginning of InvestiNet. From day one, we sought to establish a strong organizational culture, and I hired talented individuals that believed and supported my vision. In our initial strategic planning meeting as a one-year-old company, our leadership team grappled with a fundamental question — Why do we exist as a company?

After thoughtful deliberation, we defined our purpose as follows:

“To create a positive work environment where our employees can thrive and be proud of, and ultimately look back and say that it was the best working experience of their lives.”

This guiding principle has become the foundation of our decision-making process, shaping both significant strategic moves and day-to-day operations.

While we acknowledge that perfection is elusive, we consistently strive to align our actions with our overarching purpose. This commitment has proven to be a valuable guidepost in our journey from being a startup to becoming an established industry leader. A main driver of our success for our clients is the consistent dedication to fostering a workplace where our employees not only succeed but also find fulfillment and pride in their professional work.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Early on, InvestiNet fostered new business relationships by saying “yes” when the competition said “no.” We realized that we were good at solving unconventional problems and our clients began to rely on us to help them solve problems when the answer eluded our competition. While we may not have always had an answer, I was confident that our employees would think outside the box and search for angles others may have missed. We quickly learned that it’s not just about managing accounts receivables — it’s about relationships and trying to solve clients’ problems. In doing so, we were able to set new standards in an industry where changing the norm has been tough. Our focus has always been on transforming the debt collection process into an empathetic, human-centered experience.

Additionally, another way I think InvestiNet stands out is our approach to company culture and community. We work to cultivate a workplace where our team feels genuinely supported and valued which includes giving back to causes they believe in. We match dollar-for-dollar any contribution our employees make to 501(c)(3) organizations and are proud of the fact that as a small company we have been able to match over $1.2 million in employee donations, reflecting our broader vision of business as a force for positive change, far beyond just our office walls.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?


  • One of the traits that has contributed significantly to our success is having a visionary perspective. About a decade ago, I noticed the emerging trend of fintech and online credit originations, where consumers would receive credit decisions almost instantly while never speaking to a customer service agent. As a company, we are always looking for ways to leverage technology, analytics, and strategy, so we proactively developed an omnichannel recovery platform. This platform incorporated email, text, and chat features, allowing consumers to self-serve through an online portal. This forward-looking approach not only aligned with the trend but also led us to integrate machine learning and AI into processes across our entire organization. This commitment to innovation reflects one of our core values — creativity — where we consistently seek new ideas to challenge the status quo.


  • I believe that a leader who puts their own interests above those of others will quickly lose the faith of the people they are trying to lead. Ensuring that I lead with selflessness and work to put the interests of others above my own has been crucial to earning the trust and respect of my team. While it’s impossible to be selfless 100% of the time, consistent displays of generosity and appreciation foster a positive organizational culture. Simple gestures like handwritten notes recognizing employee achievements demonstrate that leadership isn’t about personal glory but about supporting and empowering others to succeed.


  • Resilience is indispensable in the business world, especially when facing downturns or unforeseen challenges. You cannot control what life throws at you. A prime example was the international pandemic. Leading InvestiNet through the uncertainties of the pandemic required a high degree of resilience, as well as vulnerability with the employees to acknowledge the difficulties we were all facing. With the constant barrage of data and rapid changes, clear thinking in a highly stressful time became paramount. To maintain morale and connectivity during the work-from-home phase, we initiated virtual happy hours for employees. This not only provided a much-needed break but also demonstrated our commitment to supporting our team through challenging times. Responding to adversity with adaptability and determination has been key in overcoming obstacles and ensuring the company’s sustained success.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

All leaders face difficult decisions and choices. Each one I have had to face has allowed me to continue to grow and learn as a leader — paving a better path going forward. Rather than dwell on hard choices that are behind me, I aim to use those experiences to better demonstrate empathy during future challenges.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define empathy in a leadership context, and why do you believe it’s a vital trait for leaders to possess in today’s work environment?

The first principle is that running a company is not just about business metrics or financial statements; it’s about people. And I believe empathy in leadership is about cultivating understanding and valuing the perspectives and emotions of your team as well as the consumers you serve.

In our fast-evolving and diverse work environment, empathy is non-negotiable. It helps build the foundation of trust, innovation, and collaboration. When leaders practice empathy, they don’t just lead teams; they inspire growth and build cultures that create real, meaningful innovation.

Can you share a personal experience where showing empathy as a leader significantly impacted a situation or relationship in your organization?

Early in my career, I transitioned from being an individual contributor to being the manager. I made a conscious effort to share this journey with our new managers and team leaders at InvestiNet. I opened up about the challenges, uncertainties, and even moments of self-doubt I faced during this transition. By being vulnerable and sharing my own experiences, I aimed to create a sense of relatability and reassure them that they were not alone in their struggles.

One key area where empathy played a crucial role was in delegating responsibilities. Instead of just assigning tasks, I ensured that there was a clear line of sight for the new managers, explaining the broader context and how their contributions fit into the larger picture. This approach helped alleviate some of the initial apprehensions about delegation, making the process more collaborative and fostering a sense of ownership among the team.

Moreover, I emphasized the importance of establishing clear objectives and helping employees prioritize their work. By consistently asking what was most important at the moment, I provided guidance and support, helping them navigate their roles more effectively.

Having difficult conversations is an inevitable part of leadership, and showing empathy in these situations has been instrumental. I approached these discussions with a genuine understanding of their perspectives, acknowledging challenges, and working together to find solutions. This approach has strengthened trust within the team and improved overall communication.

Lastly, I shared the joy and satisfaction of achieving results through others rather than through individual work output. By emphasizing the value of collaborative success, I aimed to instill a sense of fulfillment in our managers, encouraging them to find joy in the growth and accomplishments of their team members.

How do empathetic leaders strike a balance between understanding their team’s feelings and making tough decisions that might not be universally popular?

Balancing empathy with decisiveness starts with transparency. It’s about explaining the rationale behind tough decisions and being receptive to feedback. Some necessary decisions may be hard and while you may not be able to make everyone happy, you can ensure that decisions are made thoughtfully and communicated with care.

How would you differentiate between empathy and sympathy in leadership? Why is it important for leaders to distinguish between the two?

Empathy involves actively understanding and sharing someone’s feelings, while sympathy is more about feeling compassion from a distance. In leadership, it’s important to be empathetic to genuinely connect with your team and drive meaningful action, rather than just feeling sorry for their challenges.

What are some practical strategies or exercises that leaders can employ to cultivate and enhance their empathetic skills?

To be an effective empathetic leader, you must surround yourself with leaders who share your vision. Employees should not just see a single empathetic CEO, but rather a cohesive team of people dedicated to the well-being and success of everyone within the organization. There are also times when that means you need your leaders to speak the truth to you when you aren’t hitting the mark. As much as I strive to be empathetic all the time, there are times when you need to hear the hard truth. Having a team like this around you helps enable you to address the often-complex issues related to running an employee-focused company.

Practical strategies include active listening, engaging in team-building activities, and encouraging open feedback. Create opportunities to see the teams around you as not just coworkers, but as people.

How can empathy help leaders navigate the complexities of leading diverse teams and ensure inclusivity?

Being an empathetic leader does not always relate to ensuring that you lead a diverse and inclusive team. It’s a good first step, but I think it’s key to take time to slow down and reflect on how you may have your own biases and surround yourself with people who feel free to challenge this. I am proud to be surrounded by a team that challenges me in this way and helps in discovering the best ways to navigate the complexities of running a company.

What’s your approach to ensuring that succession planning is a holistic process, and not just confined to the top layers of management? How do you communicate this philosophy through the organization?

My goal has been and continues to be for InvestiNet is to become a fully employee-owned ESOP organization. From the beginning, we have been all about sharing our successes, even starting off as a profit share company. As I think about the future, I realize that the true success of InvestiNet lies in the hands of the incredible people who work here every day. I’m committed to seeing this company thrive, propelled by the team who helped make it what it is.

To make this vision a reality for everyone, I’ve made it a priority to keep our communication open and inclusive. We get together every quarter for company-wide meetings where we talk openly about our profits, losses, and everything in between. We discuss our goals, and I make sure everyone understands how they fit into the big picture. It’s important that each of us feels connected to our shared future, ensuring that our approach to succession isn’t just a top-down strategy, but a shared journey we’re all part of.


Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership”?

  1. Building Trust and Fostering Open Communication:

In my experience, establishing trust is fundamental to effective leadership. It does not suffice to say the right things; your actions must consistently mirror your words. I have observed the decay of trust when actions and words do not align. As a leader, every decision, every action, must reinforce trust, paving the way for open, honest communication.

2. Leading by Example:

As a leader your actions set the tone for the entire organization. Preaching about core values is meaningless if I am not living these values every day. That said, nobody is without flaws. When I make mistakes, I view them as vital opportunities for demonstrating accountability and growth, setting an example for the entire leadership team.

3. Fostering Loyalty Through Genuine Reciprocity:

Loyalty is not a one-directional expectation; it is a continuous exchange. It is a currency earned and spent daily. As a leader, I recognize that to receive loyalty, I must demonstrate it. It is a mutual commitment, reinforced through every action and decision.

4. Encouraging Innovation and Embracing Risk:

Adopting a ‘fail fast, fail forward’ mindset has been transformative. It involves creating an environment where all ideas are welcome and exploration is encouraged. Inviting contributions from every level of the organization nurtures a culture of innovation, where every failure is not a setback but a step toward greater success.

5. Inspiring and Motivating Through Authenticity:

Motivating others has not always come naturally to me; it’s a skill that I have consciously developed over time. The key, I have found, is in being transparent and authentic. It is about setting a clear, compelling vision that aligns with our collective goals, ensuring that every member of the team understands their role in achieving our shared aspirations.

Are there potential pitfalls or challenges associated with being an empathetic leader? How can these be addressed?

The main challenge is maintaining the right balance between empathy and objectivity for decision-making. This can be managed by setting clear boundaries, finding time to recharge, and fostering a culture where empathy and pragmatism coexist and complement each other.

One of the primary pitfalls is the risk of emotional burnout. Leaders who deeply care may find themselves shouldering the emotional burdens of their team, which can be overwhelming at times. This doesn’t mean you should care less; rather, it’s about caring in a more sustainable and structured way.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As the CEO of InvestiNet, my primary concern revolves around the delicate balance between short-term profitability and long-term strategic investments for sustainable growth. Striking the right equilibrium is crucial for the success of a profit-sharing company.

The first concern centers on ensuring that our strategic vision is clear and communicated effectively throughout the organization. I constantly think about how to engage and inform employees so they understand the rationale behind significant investments. This involves casting a compelling vision that aligns with our growth objectives and seeking input from employees. Their involvement is crucial in creating a shared understanding and commitment to the company’s long-term goals.

The second concern is communicating the short-term impacts on profit share that may arise from these strategic investments. Employees have a stake in the company’s success, and being transparent about the reasons behind any temporary reduction in profit share is essential. This transparency fosters a sense of trust and helps employees recognize the importance of these investments in securing the future health and success of the business.

These thoughts profoundly influence my daily decision-making process. I am committed to making informed decisions that balance immediate financial considerations with the strategic imperative of securing long-term growth. Regular communication with stakeholders, both internal and external, has become a critical aspect of our operations. By involving employees in the vision and being transparent about the trade-offs in the short term, we can foster a collaborative and resilient organizational culture that is prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

It’s a small movement, but I am starting a community music studio in some of the existing warehouse space where our business is located. Our mission is to create an environment that fosters creativity and generosity within the local music scene to expose children to the power of music through musical instruction, music recording, and live music production. We are partnering with several non-profits in our area that provide after-school programs, summer camps, and mentoring to underserved and at-risk youth. We want to be a resource for those non-profits to utilize our music studio to enhance their existing programming. We are also developing a musician co-op, where local musicians can donate their time to teach these music programs, in exchange for free studio or practice facility time.

As a life-long drummer, music has had an extremely positive influence on my life. If we can change the trajectory of someone’s life for the better by putting a guitar in their hands or getting them behind a drum kit for the first time, to me there could be nothing more fulfilling than that.

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Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.