Episode 5: Relaunching as an Entrepreneur: From Pad and Paper to Industry Leader with Mindy Diamond
iRelaunch Chair and Co-Founder Carol Fishman Cohen interviews relauncher Mindy Diamond, Founder and CEO of Diamond Consultants. Carol and Mindy discuss the sometimes circuitous route to career passion and relaunching in a new career.
Carol Fishman Cohen:Welcome to 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch... I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and Co-Founder of iRelaunch, the industry leader in career reentry resources. In each episode of 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, we'll be speaking with guest experts in the career reentry space to help make your transition back to work smooth and successful.
Hi everyone. Our guest today is Mindy Diamond, President and CEO of Diamond Consultants. Mindy describes her company's origin as the third child that she nurtured and developed from a pad, pen and phone, working on the bedroom floor in her home. We're talking to Mindy about how she went from a five-year career break as a stay at home mother to founding one of the leading consulting and recruiting firms for financial advisors in the country.
Hi Mindy. Thanks for being with us today!
Mindy Diamond: I'm thrilled to be here, so thank you for asking me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes, we're thrilled to have you, so why don't we start out talking about your career beginnings, because you actually started out as an accountant, right? I'm very interested in how you went from being an accountant to how you got into recruiting.
Mindy Diamond:Yeah. So anyone who knows me would tell you that I was never meant to be an accountant. Hated it from the second I started out in big eight public accounting, hated it, and then figured I can't ditch it completely. So I'm going to try private accounting and went to work for Lever Brothers and hated that more.
And then I was working in New York, and I had just gotten married and we were living in New Jersey, and I said, "You know what? If I've got to work at a career I hate, I may as well hate it at least closer to home." So I went to a search firm, an executive search firm, to a head hunter who specialized in accounting in New Jersey to help me to find a New Jersey based job.
And the woman who interviewed me, who I thought was old at the time, in hindsight, she was probably my age now, 54. But she said to me, "Honey, you shouldn't be an accountant. You should be a recruiter. Come work for us." So at the end of the day, she told me that she would offer me some paltry sum of money as a draw, not even as salary.
I dismissed it because I was making pretty good money as an accountant, but I went home and told my then husband, we had just gotten married, that I had been offered this job and he said, "Oh my God, you have to take it. You have to try it. You hate being an accountant. And the worst that happens, you can always go back to accounting."
And so after a lot of arm twisting, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of, "Oh my God, how can I do that?" I did it. And from the first phone call I made from the second I started in that career, I just knew it was where I was meant to be, and what I was meant to do, it was the greatest gift of my life.
And so whenever I'm mad at my husband, he always reminds me that he's the reason I got here. So I'm grateful for that.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's terrific. Bring us along on your career path and tell us what then led to your career break? How long did you work as a recruiter before you took your career break?
Mindy Diamond: Yeah, so I worked for about seven years, at a firm called Accountants on Call, Accountants Executive Search.
And I had done very well. I was their top recruiter for probably six of the seven years I was there. I became National Director of Training and loved every second of it. And, in 1991, I had my first son, Louis, and I wanted to work part time. And they said, you really can't. And which to this day, I think was the dumbest thing they've ever said, but they said no.
And I tried being all things, meaning working full-time and being a good mom. And that just didn't work for me. So I wound up giving it up. And I didn't work for five years and loved being a stay at home mom, with the Gymboree and driving to nursery school, and I exercised every day and made a lot of wonderful friends, and it was great for four of the five years. By the fifth year, I just felt like I was ready to blow my brains out.
And I had enough of lunching with the ladies and all of it and volunteering, and I was ready to do something, but I was filled with an enormous amount of fear because I'd been out of the workforce for five years. In that period of time, technology had changed. I had worked with a pad, a pen and a phone, not a computer.
And I knew that the world had changed and I felt like a dinosaur and I had lack of confidence. And so I just had no idea what I was going to do.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. So what happened? What was the first step and what started it all?
Mindy Diamond: So my husband, I think there's a theme here and he's been my greatest supporter and cheerleader my whole life, my husband and I were out for dinner with dear friends of ours.
And our friend Ed was a manager for Morgan Stanley at the time in their flagship office in New York. And over dinner, Ed mentioned that there's a shortage of good recruiters for financial advisors. And Howard said, "Oh, Mindy was a great recruiter placing accountants. You should talk to her about it."
I said, 'No, there's no way. I don't know anything about financial services. I barely know a stock from a bond. No way. No how." After again, more arm-twisting by first, my husband and then Ed, I said, "What the heck?" My youngest son, Jason was born in 1993 and so this was probably in, I don't know, 1997 or '98, '99. He was going to kindergarten, it was part-time kindergarten, and I was bored. I just wanted something to do for a couple of hours a day. I had to be home to get him off the bus at noon anyway. So I said, "What the heck?" So I started, an hour a day, just making some phone calls, literally on my bedroom floor, I would keep a pad that I called my Ed pad next to me because I didn't know a stock from a bond and I'm not, I'm barely exaggerating.
And I would call Ed at the end of every day, and I was learning to email, or email him and say, "What's a structured product or what's derivative?" Somebody would use a word I didn't know, and that's how I built my repertoire. And I didn't even have a name for the firm. And the first time Ed was going to go to a national Morgan Stanley manager's conference, he said, "There are other managers that are gonna want to talk to you. You should give me business cards." I said, "Business cards? I don't even have the name of my firm!" So I ran to Staples in three seconds or less. I called my trustee husband and said, what should we name the business? And he said, "How's Diamond Consultants?" I said, "Sounds good to me." And there she was.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow! That is great. So you went to Staples, you made up the name in three minutes, you made the business cards and you were suddenly in business.
Mindy Diamond: Yeah, except that I didn't think about it that way. So Diamond Consultants may have had a name, my husband was an attorney at the time, so he created a legal entity, an LLC.
He was desperate to build me an office in the basement and buy me a desk. And I said, "No way." You may ask, "Why no way?" Because I felt that having an office and even making those business cards or putting a name on it or having a desk legitimized it. It meant that there would be expectations, and I was still really tentative and really scared. And I didn't want it. I didn't want anyone else to know I was in business. If I failed, I wanted to fail privately. And if I succeeded, it would just be my own personal little thing. And my goal, all I wanted was to make enough money to send my kids to sleep-away camp.
So for the first year and a half, it was me on my bedroom floor. Probably after about a year, it was a year with me on my bedroom floor. A year and a half we built an office in the basement with some knock together, cheapy desk from Staples that I let my husband buy for me because I just wasn't ready to admit that I was in business.
And I was already doing well by then. I was already starting to make some deals, enjoying it, working more than a couple of hours a week, but definitely not ready to call it a business.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. Okay. It's so interesting because I feel like that fear and that lack of confidence was fueling some of this denial that you were actually in business.
And I totally understand how you would feel like if this is a failure, it's going to be a private failure. So that was keeping you in that mindset. So at some point, did it shift and how long did that take?
Mindy Diamond: I think that it was a gradual.... yes, it shifted...thank goodness. But it was a gradual shift.
Like I wish I could tell you that there was some aha moment where one day I felt I wasn't in business and the next day I thought I was, but if I really thought about it, I think that, when I hired Shelly who is out today as I tape this, but has been the greatest game changer for me. So probably about two or three years in, while I was working down in the basement part-time, but I began to realize that I was keeping all my records on scraps of paper.
I knew where everything was. I was doing well, but it was very disorganized. Certainly, I wasn't technologically savvy, even a little. So I put an ad in the local paper. A teeny, little tiny three-line ad that said I needed help. I barely knew what I was looking for, but I think I called it an assistant and Shelly, who wound up being an incredibly smart and capable return to worker herself, who had worked in research at Princeton University and had given up working for a period of time to stay at home with her kids, saw the ad. It was local and she responded. When Shelly joined me, that was probably the shift, because Shelly took what was a hobby for me and made it a business, really systematized us, created systems, began to create a public driver, an internet. We began to hire some other recruiters. So that was probably the shift.
But even then, even then I was still in my house, what shifted it was that I realized that I was beginning to get more business than I can keep up with. And it was a choice at that point of either turning the business away, and just being okay being me and doing what I could and keeping it a hobby, or did I want to do something more?
So I put two more ads in the local paper and hired two more recruiters, Debbie and Barbara who are still here. I'm sorry, Kathy, then Debbie, then Barbara, who are all still here with me today. And that was 14 years ago. And, they joined me, but realized we couldn't work in my basement. So we wound up, my husband again, he's my superhero, found me an office, which was above a pizza place in Chester, New Jersey, five minutes from our house.
And in hindsight it was a gross office, but it was an office. And then it came time to put a sign outside. And I said, "No way." I didn't want anyone to know that I was in business again, private failure, private either way. But we had to put up a sign and that was the shift. That was it.
That three days after the sign went up, my husband was biking and an acquaintance friend ran into my husband and said, "I didn't know Mindy was in business!" I guess he had ridden by the sign and my husband came home and he was excited to tell me that. I thought I was going to throw up! The thought of the world knowing I was in business was terrifying.
But I think that was the shift. That was the shift of beginning to think about it, not just as a hobby, but a real enterprise that was beginning to make real money and not only supporting me and us, but other people. Ten years ago, my husband gave up a thriving law practice and joined us as our COO. So now we're a real business.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That is a great story. It's so interesting, the symbolism of having business cards, the symbolism of having the sign and the official office and how that contributed to how you viewed yourself and your business and how legitimate it was and real, very interesting.
What happened on the personal side, when you were growing this business and hiring more people and working hard... did you have some flexibility and were you able to manage things on the personal side the way you envisioned it might be, or was it different than you thought it might be?
Mindy Diamond: Yeah, I think I had no real expectation. First of all, by the time I went back to work, my kids were adolescents. And certainly it was a time of the tennis courts, the tutoring, the orthodontist appointment, the thousand other things that you do when your kids are young. And my one thing was there wasn't a chance that I wasn't going to be around for any of it. So I made sure that I was either home, I came home to be home for every tennis match and baseball game and soccer tournament. And my husband was wonderful about it, he would take on what he could, but I just wanted to be able to be there, to support them in whatever it was, whatever show, sports game, whatever it was.
And I did it, and the truth is my job is pretty portable and technology really enabled it to be even more portable. So I'd be lying if I said I wasn't standing on the baseball field with the phone in my hand and furiously taking notes, talking to an advisor, but I still do that. It worked. It worked.
] I don't feel like I missed a beat. I don't feel like I missed anything. I think my kids had wound up with great respect for a working mom who built something from nothing. And I'm hoping you're going to ask me about my children because my older son now works for us, joined a year ago. To me, if you ask me we're a real business, we've done great things.
We're the leading search firm in the space. We have an impeccable reputation. I love what I do, and I feel proud of everyone who works for me and with me. And it's been a great thing, but the thing I am most proud of is having built a business that now has a legacy I'm going to pass on to my son and he's loving it. He's thriving. And yeah, it's been quite a ride. So that kid that I would sit on the baseball field watching now works for me, or with me I should say.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That is terrific! Can you just give us just very briefly, a summary of what your business is, and maybe just explain a little bit about what's unique about recruiting financial advisors and specializing in that area.
Mindy Diamond: Sure, first of all, I feel excited because you just asked me a question about one of my children, remember my business is my third child. So just like when somebody asks a mom to talk about their kid, who wouldn't want to do that? So I'm happy to share with you. We are an executive search and consulting firm placing financial advisors, moving financial advisors, if they're at Merrill Lynch or UBS or Morgan Stanley or Wells Fargo, and looking to go to another traditional wirehouse or major brokerage firm. Or in today's landscape, a lot of financial advisors choose to separate from employee-land and go some version of independent to become entrepreneurs themselves. And so we play in both worlds. We do a lot of M&A work, mergers and acquisition work, within the independent financial advisor space. And so probably that's 50% of our business. And the other 50% is helping financial advisors to determine first where they want to work, how they want to work and then helping them to get there.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And that process you went through where you didn't know a stock from a bond, as you were saying, and you would write down words that people would say and then ask Ed or other people later. When did you finally feel like you had your arms around the finance industry in terms of the lingo and the products and how a lot of it worked?
Mindy Diamond: So first of all, that's a great question because I sit here now almost 20 years later in a place that I feel is top of my field. And it's still a learning experience, every day I'm learning, less about the lingo and more about just the financial services industry is anything but static. It's probably the thing I love most about my job because no two days are ever the same and I'm always learning. But number one, I was an enormous reader.
I was a student of the industry, so I made sure to read anything and everything I could that could educate me and help me to understand it. I'm a very good listener and a very good synthesizer of information. So as soon as I heard something, I owned it. I would take it if I didn't know a word, a term, an idea, I would look it up. And so I never didn't know it again.
So I guess the main thing is I faked it till I made it. And that term,'fake it till you make it or act as if,' that's exactly what I did. I'm pretty sure if you talk to the financial advisors I talked to in my early days, they would never have known I didn't know what I was talking about.
Now, mind you, that's not to say I misled somebody into giving them bad advice. It just means what I realized is, I didn't need to know what a derivative was in order to counsel an advisor who happened to sell derivatives. That's really the bottom line. I don't need to understand the mechanics behind derivatives.
What I need to understand is I'm a career psychologist. That's a lot of what we do. I need to understand how people think and understand the landscape of the industry and how to guide them. But I don't need to understand a lot of the technicality. That's a big shift, and probably an important takeaway here is that I wish I had known that more when I first started, because I probably would have been less scared that you can fake it till you make it. And that a learning curve is okay. And it's okay to learn as you go along and I'm still learning, and not only is that not a bad thing, it's the best thing about what I do.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And what about lessons learned as an entrepreneur in terms of managing cash flow and making decisions where like, when you need to hire another person, or moving into an office, or ultimately, I guess you moved into an even bigger office. So any advice especially for relaunchers who are doing this after a career break around some of the business decisions you made for your own business?
Mindy Diamond: Yeah. So I think it's know yourself, know your limitations, be self-aware. So I am, I think a pretty great recruiter. I am a horrible accountant, which is pretty funny, cause it's how I started. And so I should not be managing our finances, our cash flow. I'm a really good strategic thinker. So not only am I the CEO of the business but I would like to say I'm our chief visionary as well. And I'm creative, but probably the thing I've done best is to make sure to surround myself with people that are smarter and better in areas where I am weak, than me. So we have a fabulous chief marketing officer named Carol, I mentioned Shelly has been just extraordinary, I have Laura, who's sitting here next to me as I tape, who is a fabulous administrator. My husband Howard is our COO. And so by surrounding myself with people that can do certain things that I can't, better than me, it's absolutely allowed me to soar and not to feel incompetent. If I were sitting here managing the books, not only wouldn't I like it, but I wouldn't be good at it.
I wouldn't feel good about myself. That's just not how I want to or should be spending my days.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. And then you mentioned that the first person you hired is also a relauncher. You put that notice, that little three-line ad in, and I'm guessing for you having a five minute commute, for her having a five minute commute, and I don't know if there was flexibility in there, but the idea that you brought on a relauncher as your first hire, how did that transition go for her?
Mindy Diamond: Yeah. So I think I really had no idea what I needed or what I was looking for when she responded. She didn't really have any idea what she was responding to, or certainly never expected that 12 years later she'd still be here.
And she went from being my gal Friday, I might've called it or some ridiculous, stupid title like that, to being our Director of Office Operations. And she's just indispensable, invaluable, and I can't say enough great things about her. I don't know that I thought about it that she was a relauncher at the time, all I knew I needed was somebody that was smart. She was technically competent and she was working very part-time. I needed somebody, I think 10 hours a week is what I said. It's grown into, she works a whole lot of hours. She works very full-time now. But that job with flexibility allowed her to raise her children. And Laura, who I referenced, who's sitting next to me now, was a relauncher as well. She started with us with some nice flexibility to make sure that she's able to be present for her kids' activities and the tutoring, the orthodontist and whatever else it is.
That's really a big part of our organization. Our organization is filled with relaunchers! Actually of the 12 of us that were here, I'm thinking eight of us are relaunchers. But one of the things that makes it work, and our kids have grown up together, in fact, this weekend, our first kid is getting married. Cathy who worked for us 14 years ago, the kids have grown up together, her daughter's getting married this weekend. But flexibility is key. We totally believe that family comes first and that's just how we do it.
Carol Fishman Cohen:That is so great to hear. You're a relauncher and eight out of the 12 of you are relaunchers. I love that. So I guess I want to wrap up now and I wanted to know if you could reflect on your incredible experience, and give us any advice that you think is key advice, that might be your favorite piece or something that you think it's very important for relaunchers to know, even if you repeat something that you had mentioned already in this podcast.
Mindy Diamond:Yeah. So I think, one is that 'fake it till you make it' is number one that's okay. Two, I think it's that you have to really trust your inner voice. I knew somewhere deep inside that I wasn't meant to be an accountant, but I did. My father wanted me to be an accountant. He felt it was a good career for a young woman who was probably going to get married. And it meant he wouldn't have to pay for grad school.
So I did it dutifully, but I knew all along in my gut, it wasn't right. And finding recruiting felt right to me, it felt soulful from the day I started. And I am a firm believer that when you find what's soulful, what you're passionate about, the money and success follow. So I think too, it's about following your dream and listening to your own inner voice. Three, it's about being open to watching and listening and seeing what comes along. I didn't set out to be a recruiter. I didn't even know what a recruiter was 20 something years, almost 30 years ago now. But it was my path. It was what I was meant to do for sure.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's incredible that you had that amazing moment where you went to see that headhunter and they told you, you should be in executive search or you should be in recruiting and not in accounting.
[00:24:03] And if that hadn't happened, it might've been interesting to think about whether you would have made your way to recruiting by some other path or if it might not have happened.
Mindy Diamond: I think about that a lot actually, would I actually have found this, had that not happened? And while I think that meeting was serendipitous, I think we found each other, but I have to think, because this is what I was meant to do. Clearly, I think I would have found it no matter what, it just might've taken a little longer to get there.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Mindy Diamond, it was terrific to have this conversation today. Thank you so much, for being a role model, for hiring other relaunchers, for the advice that you've given us. It was a wonderful conversation.
Mindy Diamond: Thank you. I'm honored. Thank you for having me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And be sure to visit us at www.iRelaunch.com in order to get the most important tools and resources for returning to work.
If you have any comments or questions, please email us at email@example.com and be sure to visit our website www.irelaunch.com .