Michelle Diamond Shares 5 Tips to Lead Your Company from Good to Great
Michelle Diamond Shares 5 Tips to Lead Your Company from Good to Great
Michelle Diamond is the CEO of Elevate Diamond Strategy. The company is a “growth strategy and execution advisory and interim executive firm.”
As an executive, Michelle Diamond has over 25 years of experience in “strategy, general management, marketing, finance, go-to-market, audit, M&A, and operations.”
Michelle Diamond also boasts of “strong expertise helping high growth companies scale, developing, and implementing diverse, yet innovative growth strategies, strategic plans, and go-to-market initiatives.”
Likewise, Michelle Diamond’s expertise covers “leading mergers and acquisitions (pre and post), creating competitive advantage and differentiation, and in turnarounds/restructuring to optimize profitability.”
Throughout her career, Michelle Diamond has worked with over 50 organizations “from startup, early/growth stage, small/middle market, private equity/venture capital, to Fortune 50 companies.”
Among the companies which Michelle Diamond has worked for are CIGNA, Colgate-Palmolive, Elsevier, MetLife, NRG, Constellation Energy, DEKRA, and Daimler.
Before Elevate Diamond Strategy, Michelle Diamond created the Group Insurance Division at CIGNA. The division earned over $1 billion.
Prior to that, Michelle Diamond “oversaw CIGNA’s $20M Printing & Distribution business.” She also managed Strategy at Accenture, as well as in Mergers & Acquisitions and Assurance and Business Advisory Services at Ernst & Young.
Michelle Diamond earned an MBA from Duke University. She also graduated summa cum laude from Morgan State University.
Finally, Michelle Diamond also went to Wharton Executive Education.
Check out more interviews with experienced executives here.
You don’t always know when those seeds will turn into opportunities, but many inevitably will. Michelle Diamond, Elevate Diamond Strategy
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Michelle Diamond: I grew up in Queens, New York and started my career in Accounting & Finance.
I worked at several corporations and then at a large accounting firm, Ernst & Young.
After getting my CPA and then my MBA from Duke, I worked in strategy consulting and at large organizations, where I began to focus on growth and expansion strategies, marketing, new market entry, competitive intelligence, 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 didn’t 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 didn’t typically retain growth strategy consulting services for their companies as well as provide innovate, yet implementable strategies to companies both small and large, that would drive top and bottom line growth.
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 15 years ago.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Michelle Diamond: When I first started, I knew I had the background, pedigree, and track record of results needed to be a great growth and business expansion strategy consultant and advisor, who could help companies achieve their goals.
However, I did not account for the fact that my not being from the city where I first started my business, would have an impact.
I lived in a city that had a protective ‘small town mentality’.
Most business owners and decision makers cared more about my connection to the city and whether or not I was going to stay vs. the fact that I could help solve their growth problems and help them achieve their growth goals.
It was frustrating for me at first. I thought it was one thing if a potential client did not think I was a fit for their needs.
It was something completely different when they would not even give me a chance because I was new to the city and did not have any real roots yet.
However, I never thought of giving up. I just saw it as a problem that I needed to solve.
(Ironically, during some of the ups and downs over the years, I thought of giving up. But not when I first started out).
I had the drive to continue because I already knew there would be a certain level of difficulty because consulting and advisory work is a relationship-based business.
I knew that it would take time for me to introduce myself and what I could provide to a new business community, as well as for others to get to know me.
The individuals I reached out to for advice told me it might take me six months to a year before I got my first client. Knowing this gave me a reason to continue to press forward.
To solve the problem of me not being ‘a local’, I decided to make alliances with other local, but complementary companies (i.e. accounting firm, venture capital firm, other local small consulting firm) that I knew had great brands and were well respected in the marketplace.
My value proposition was cross promoting the value add of the option of providing consulting services to their clients and when I gained traction, referring to them as well.
In exchange, I could use their brand names as an alliance partner in my marketing efforts (website, presentations, marketing materials, etc.).
I also focused on ‘influencing the influencer.’
After attending multiple networking events, I started to see the same people. I have a habit of paying attention to dynamics and how people interact with each other.
There were a few individuals who other people tended to gravitate towards or followed. I introduced myself to those individuals and focused on making a connection.
Then I shared what I did and my firm’s value proposition.
A few of them became my champions, introduced me to others, and gave me more ‘local’ and overall credibility.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ 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 on 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 complimentary 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 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 don’t 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 business.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have the right leader in place
Many people know there is a difference between strategy and execution.
I worked with a small $35M Business Unit of a $2B+ publishing company that had recently acquired another company.
A new president was brought in to lead the newly combined company.
A corporate level strategy was provided to him when he first arrived, to give him insight into the rationale for the acquisition.
However, the strategy provided did not easily translate to what was needed at the Business Unit level.
The president was aware that most mergers and acquisitions fail to accomplish the synergies they set out to achieve prior to the transaction taking place.
As a result, before he went full speed ahead with certain aspects of the integration, he took a step back, and bought me in to evaluate their existing growth strategy, identify any gaps, and provide recommendations to close them.
After I developed and flushed out their post-merger acquisition growth strategy for the newly combined entity, the President asked me to lead a senior management team workshop, where I identified his team was working on over 40 different initiatives.
We used that session to streamline the initiatives to eight and prioritize the top two to three over the next four years, to enable them to have a roadmap to double their revenue in that timeframe.
Only a true leader knows when to take a step back, when to move forward, how to ensure the right strategy and foundation is in place, and how to make sure their entire team is on the same page and have specific responsibilities to ensure initiatives are carried out in alignment with the overall strategy and plan.
It’s one of the best ways to make huge gains and go from good to great.
- Have a strong business and operating model
A pre-IPO high growth $10M Software Company was seeking to go public and grow to $100M in two years.
From a business model perspective, the Company was already doing well in its existing verticals and wanted to expand into others in the future.
However, they also wanted to ensure they could handle their future growth, as their organization was already ‘busting at the seams.’
I worked with the Company to design an internal infrastructure growth plan and benchmarking tool to give them a step by step guide on what their organization needed to look like from an operational perspective, to properly scale and achieve and sustain both their revenue and profitability goals.
The Company also wanted insight into how a larger competitor was able to achieve success, to see if there were any gaps they could take advantage of or at least anticipate ‘moves’, so they could adjust their business model (if necessary), and win beforehand.
I helped them with that as well.
The Company successfully went public with a strong business and operating model.
That is one of the key factors that enabled them to go from good to great.
- Know where and where not to play
I previously oversaw a $20M in-house printing and distribution (P&D) business that was in danger of being shut down.
The parent company was a Fortune 100 insurance company that had members of the Board who did not believe they should keep the company as it was not in strategic alignment with their primary business of Insurance and was in a shrinking industry (Paper).
My first priority was to evaluate the business and provide a recommendation on what they should do.
After the evaluation, I determined that the P&D business only needed one location on the East coast instead of two (there was a West Coast location).
I consolidated the business and shut down the West Coast location, sold off its assets, brought over some of its business and people to the East Coast location and outsourced the rest.
In addition, the P&D business had too many product lines and was trying to compete in the color printing market, even though they were not competitive and did not have the future business to sustain the investment required to win in this market.
I then focused the P&D business on only providing products and services where they had a competitive advantage, which was black and white printing products, and spun off the color printing business.
I also led vendor consolidation and negotiation and streamlined the organization by reducing staff, eliminating redundancies, shoring up accounting and financial reporting, and improving processes throughout the plant.
I then improved Marketing and Communications as P&D’s primary customer, its Parent Company, had a majority of employees that purchased its printing and card products from outside vendors as many did not know the P&D business existed.
As a result of these actions, I saved the P&D business $2.5M in six months and created the foundation for future growth.
That would not have happened, had the business continued to try and compete where they were not competitive.
Part of going from good to great is knowing where and where not to play.
- Achieve & Sustain Competitive Advantage — Anticipate & Win Against Threats
An $800M Middle Market Global Medical Device Technology Company was a market leader in the products they provided. Some of the reasons they achieved success, was that they were constantly innovating, expanding into new global markets, and heavily defended their key patents.
However, the Company’s key patents were set to expire within a couple of years.
The Company knew they needed to be proactive, as the competitive landscape would greatly change once their patents expired.
They were also getting tips that some of their competitors were already creating new products, to attempt to achieve a competitive advantage once expiration occurred.
Since the Company had spent so much time on expansion and defending its patents, the Board and C-Suite realized that they did not know much about their competitors or how to compete against them.
I was brought in to create a comprehensive global competitive landscape (where I identified over 100+ competitors vs. the 10 the Company was aware of), and provided the Company with a five-fold strategy on not only how to defend, but win against all of their competitors, including those who were emerging.
A good company weathers the storm.
A great company anticipates the storm and rises higher, so the potential storm does not affect them.
Learning how to compete and win took them from good to great.
- Know When to Pivot
A Fortune 1000 Chemical Company was #1 in the Pulp and Paper market and had been in operation for almost a hundred years.
As the paper market shrunk (since people and companies do more online now and do not use as much paper), so did their profits.
They initially did what most companies do, which was layoff employees and cut costs, until they could not cut them anymore.
After getting pressure from their Board and investors (the stock price was falling) to grow the top line, the Company decided to pivot and look outside of their primary product line.
It was difficult for them at first, because all they knew and were experts in was Pulp and Paper.
However, I was able to help them leverage their existing capabilities and identify a new market and industry to target, Biofuels.
It turned out that some of their chemicals could be used in both the existing and next generation Biofuels market in both the US and other key countries around the world.
I helped the Business Unit successfully enter the new market, adding $300M in long term revenue.
Great companies not only know when to innovate, but when to pivot. As the world changes, so must companies.
It is the only way to not only stay great, but survive and thrive, and not get left behind.
A great company anticipates the storm and rises higher, so the potential storm does not affect them.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Michelle Diamond: Being a ‘purpose driven business’ is great for companies from both an offensive and defensive perspective.
From an offensive perspective, being a ‘purpose driven business’ has benefits including increased customer loyalty, employee retention (especially from millennials who care about a business’ social impact), investors (who are increasingly focusing on where a company is from an ESG perspective), and other stakeholders who will often look favorably on a business that is ‘purpose driven’.
From a defensive perspective, being a ‘purpose driven business’ may prevent or minimize bad publicity from not having a social impact (which can affect your bottom line), loss of investment, customers, employees, and others.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Michelle Diamond: To increase conversation rates, business and salespeople should be prepared and think about how to anticipate the needs of a potential client.
When you can solve a client’s problem, answer their questions, and clearly articulate how you can help them achieve their goals, you put yourself in a better position to close the sale and increase conversion rates.
That requires the you know your target customer, understand your competitors and leverage your competitive advantage to show why you are better than the competition or whatever is currently being used by your target customers, know your numbers, know your products and services, and most importantly, be confident and straightforward.
For service-based businesses or businesses that require a client visit for a sale, the customer is buying you as much as they are buying the product or service.
They need to feel comfortable that you can and will deliver for them in a way that will satisfy them. Someone who lacks confidence will not instill that.
People need to know your brand, like your brand, and trust your brand before they choose you or your products. Michelle Diamond
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Michelle Diamond: Through consistency of high-quality service, products, and achieving results.
People need to know your brand, like your brand, and trust your brand before they choose you or your products.
Then when you deliver on that consistently, it strengthens your brand. That goes for businesses both large and small.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Michelle Diamond: They can go to the Elevate Diamond Strategy website or via LinkedIn.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
The post Michelle Diamond Shares 5 Tips to Lead Your Company from Good to Great first appeared on Tekrati and is written by Jerome Knyszewski