Michelle Diamond, CEO of Elevate Diamond Strategy, a growth strategy and execution advisory and interim executive firm recognized by Forbes NEXT 1000, Entrepreneur Magazine, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, CEO Journal, CFO Magazine, Philadelphia Business Journal, and the Interim Association, has 25+ years’ strategy, general management, marketing, finance, go-to-market, audit, M&A, and operations experience.
She has strong expertise in helping high growth companies scale, scenario planning, and in developing, evaluating, and implementing diverse, yet innovative growth strategies, strategic plans, and go-to-market initiatives for acceleration and long-term value creation, leading mergers and acquisitions (pre and post), identifying where to invest and then capitalizing on market opportunities through competitive advantage and differentiation, and in turnarounds/ restructuring to optimize costs and overall profitability, for both domestic and global organizations.
Michelle is an expert, executive, and entrepreneur who has worked on Board and C-Suite issues for 65 companies ranging from startup, early/growth stage, small/mid-cap, private equity/venture capital, to Fortune 50 in 31+ industries including CIGNA, Colgate-Palmolive, Elsevier, MetLife, Daimler, DEKRA, NRG, and Club Med – to name a few.
Michelle currently resides in Beverly Hills and enjoys sports, dance, entertainment, and travel.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Michelle Diamond: I grew up in Queens, New York, and started my career in Accounting & Finance. I worked at several corporations (Colgate-Palmolive, Citibank and others) and then at a large accounting firm, Ernst & Young (now EY). After getting my CPA and then my MBA from Duke, I worked in strategy consulting at Accenture and at large organizations (i.e. CIGNA), where I began to focus on growth and expansion strategies, marketing, new market entry, competitive intelligence, finance, and general management.
After building the Competitive Intelligence function for one of the key divisions at CIGNA, I realized I missed the variety of working with multiple companies and decided to go back into consulting. However, at the time, I did not want to ‘live out of a suitcase’. I told myself if I could not find a firm that provided the balance I wanted, I would start one myself. When I did not find what I needed, I started my own firm.
In addition, I wanted to serve clients of all sizes, especially small to midsize companies who did not typically retain growth strategy advisory and consulting services for their companies, and provide innovative, yet PRACTICAL and EXECUTABLE strategies and solutions for all companies of all sizes to help them better drive and accelerate top and bottom-line results.
I then came up with a business name and registered the business. I also reached out to individuals I knew (‘my informal advisors’), that created and ran successful consulting and other high-end services and advisory firms to gain a better understanding of how they were able to achieve their success. Their advice was invaluable because it helped me to better plan, recognize timing, and overcome obstacles.
After several months of networking, I got my first client. That was more than 16 years ago.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Michelle Diamond: Don Porter. When I was only 26 years old, I got the opportunity to oversee a $20M Business that was housed inside a Business Unit of a large Fortune 100 company. Don was the Head of the Business Unit. When I first came in, we met briefly and talked about his family and other things. He then told me that the Business was stagnant and that there were certain members of the Board and C-Suite of the Parent Company that wanted to get rid of it. He also said the existing management team of the Business had made a recommendation to keep the Business ‘as-is’. It was rejected, as the Board and C-Suite felt it was biased. On top of that, he told me that the same management team would be reporting to me.
I listened and knew I could handle it. Even though the existing management team was all a lot older, all male, and thought I was there to make them lose their jobs, I saw it as a challenge. Prior to that, I worked at a large consulting firm, and thought getting things done within a company would be a great opportunity, as I had not worked directly for a company for a few years. However, the interesting thing was that I did not have to go into detail or provide Don with a pitch. I simply said, ok. Then Don said ok. And that was it.
He believed in me. I was not thrown off by his response because I had worked with and been exposed to many C-Suite and high-level executives in my career. I understood that most successful ones know how to operate with both intellect and instinct. They often do not take long to make a decision.
He gave me free rein, yet always let me know that if I needed him, he was there. He showed me how to communicate to a Board in one page or less and pushed me on increasing my executive presence and confidence level. I ended up streamlining, consolidating, and turning the $20M Business around, saving $2.5M in six months.
Others told me later, that many people in the Parent organization did not believe that I could successfully handle that role. That turned out to be my most challenging ‘people’ role to date. However, I am grateful, because it better prepared me to handle other challenging ‘people’ dynamics going forward, which is essential to success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
Michelle Diamond: When I was told by my informal advisors that it may take between 6–12 months to get my first client, since, in essence, I was starting from scratch, I decided to create a resume business. I knew that I could easily start one and generate revenue quickly. I had been writing and reviewing resumes for years, achieving a 100% placement rate. I never mentioned the resume business during networking for the growth strategy business, as I looked at them as two separate businesses, with two different types of customers.
However, at one networking event, I was approached by a woman who asked me if I knew how to write. I was thrown off at first because I had no idea why she was asking me this. She said she saw that I have a resume business. At first, I was bothered because I was working so hard at that time to build up my reputation and personal brand as a high-end growth strategy advisor and consultant. I told her yes, I know how to write. She then asked me if I could write an advertorial for one of her firm’s clients.
I had never heard of the term, advertorial. I told her I did not know what it was or how to do it and then walked away. I always want to ensure that I am honest and upfront with people about what I can and cannot do. That was a mistake. Fortunately, for me, I mentioned what happened to someone else and they told me to go back to her. I did and told her even though I had not done one previously, I would give it a shot. She said ok. I then called a good friend at the time who was a marketing expert. She gave me insight into what it was and the format to do it. I had seen advertorials all the time, I just did not know the terminology.
That ended up being my first client engagement. It turns out the woman worked for a small consulting firm that was always looking to partner with other like-minded or complementary skilled consultants. Their process is to give independent consultants small engagements first, and see how they do, before providing the option to put them on larger engagements. I got $1,000 for writing the advertorial. I also got a partnership with that firm for the next two and a half years, where we worked on multiple clients together.
My takeaway from that experience is that sometimes you never know where the business will come from or what form opportunities may take. It is important to stay open. A lot of running a consulting and advisory practice is that you are constantly planting a lot of seeds. You do not always know when those seeds will turn into opportunities, but many inevitably will.
If I did not go back, I would have not only walked away from $1,000, but a multi-year relationship that ended up generating significant revenue for my firm.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Michelle Diamond: I define resilience as never giving up. Adversity unfortunately will come and test whether or not an entrepreneur and all of us as individuals in general, will have the mental strength and toughness to not only survive these times, but overcome them in a way that will make us stronger, better, wiser, and more financially prosperous and successful.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Michelle Diamond: I believe what makes my company stand out is that the recommendations and roadmaps provided are holistic.
Regardless of the engagement, I want to ensure that every company and client I work with has a sound, comprehensive, and implementable growth strategy in place (that accelerates both revenue and profits), that its plan is clear, and that all activities and initiatives within their organizations flow from that strategy and plan.
In addition, I ensure that all strategies and solutions are easy to implement and understand. One of my firm’s mottos is “Strategies Do Not Belong On A Shelf.” The reason why many great growth strategies are not effectively executed is that they are overly complex and difficult for the true owners to implement. As a result, I oftentimes oversee the initial execution of growth strategies and plans for the companies I work with as well, to eliminate any roadblocks to strategy execution.
One of the other areas that make my company stand out is that I typically have a training component, so the insights obtained and information provided is not lost after I work with a client company and their teams. Many CEOs, business owners, and other executives often complain that when the advisor or consultant leaves, so does their knowledge.
My firm solves this problem by training the C-Suite and senior management teams on their growth strategy development and execution solutions, as well as provide ongoing support via retainer agreements if that is what a client wants.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Michelle Diamond: My three character traits that I believe have been instrumental to my success is that I am honest, a great listener, and know how to communicate effectively with almost anyone.
My diverse background in strategy, marketing, finance, general management, and operations, as well as in operational roles at Fortune 100 companies and as a consultant and advisor at large consulting firms, has enabled me to work with a lot of people and understand their viewpoints. For example, I don’t speak to someone in Finance the same way I would someone in Marketing. They inherently come from different perspectives. Understanding this helps with my success.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Michelle Diamond: Yes, I believe my personal brand reflects my company’s values. My company’s credo is in direct alignment with who I am and what I believe.
- Listen First – Elevate listens to you and meets your needs with customized, tailored solutions.
- Make Complex Solutions Easy to Understand – Elevate believes solutions should be easily understood by all stakeholders, to enhance effectiveness in both the short and long term.
- Operate with Integrity – Elevate only does work we know how to do and consistently strives to give you over and above what you need.
- Care – We have a genuine interest in relationships and in seeing companies meet and exceed their strategic and growth goals.
- Focus on Execution – Elevate begins with the end in mind, is results-oriented, and has a “get it done” mentality. We are not interested in pretty decks. “Strategies do not belong on a shelf.”
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Michelle Diamond: I would tell a young person to always work hard and make excellence a habit (in everything you do). Focus on achieving your goals and then after achieving them, make new and greater goals. Opportunities will come in both expected and unexpected ways. Make sure you are ready to receive them and remain open to both.
I did not have a traditional career path to get to where I am today. However, when I learned of something and decided I wanted it, I did what it took to get it and be successful at it. I believe if a young person follows that, he or she will succeed.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Michelle Diamond: I actually have two, but they both have the same premise regarding being prepared.
The first one is – “It is better to be prepared and have no opportunity than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”
The second one is – “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
These resonate with me because I realize the importance of being prepared ahead of time for both opportunities and issues, not only in terms of business acumen, but being mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically prepared.
There were some opportunities and issues that came throughout the course of my life and in my career that I was not prepared to handle and as a result, I had some regrets or suffered some losses. However, learning from those mistakes and making these quotes my life lessons, has enabled me to always strive to be prepared.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michelle Diamond for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michelle Diamond or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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