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Mindy Diamond: One Push Away from Starting Diamond Consultants

In 1998, Mindy Diamond started a recruiting business while working from her bedroom floor with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and a phone. Diamond Consultants became her third child that she nurtured and developed with her husband into one of the leading consulting and recruiting firms for financial advisors in the country.

I’ve been able to work with Mindy and know Mindy and she is passionate beyond measure, and she is somebody who really cares and gets the job done, and gets the job done well. She is so authentic and keeps relations at the forefront. In this episode, she really shares her approach to business, her approach to life, and her stories. It’s a very powerful episode for anyone starting a business and also any young professional thinking about the long term in their career, understanding where they are trying to go, and how not to make short term decisions that undermine their trajectory.

Takeaways:

  1. One foot at a time. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. “The first step was I was smiling and dialing…” This was Mindy’s first step. And often times, the first step is not always the most difficult one to take, but the bravest one to take.
  2. Live a life of congruence. When how you live, the decisions you make, and the actions you take are congruent with your values, life feels authentic; And authenticity, is true legacy
  3. Identify your true North Star. True north is 100% about meeting your others (including clients) where they are, being a really good listener, and solving those needs.

Transcript:

BRYAN WISH: What is the One Away moment that you’d like to share with us today?

MINDY DIAMOND: It’s challenging to boil my professional life down to one big thing because I’ve been a business owner in this business, Diamond Consultants, for the past 23 years and have a professional life that spans about 30 years. I’d say the biggest thing for me is the notion that I never really fancied myself a business owner; certainly not an entrepreneur. I think that when I started Diamond Consultants, it probably would have overwhelmed and paralyzed me. Instead, I was good at the task at hand. I was a really good recruiter. Every day, I came to work putting one foot in front of the other, doing the best I could to be a good recruiter and it just happened to grow into a business. I learned to be a business owner.

BRYAN WISH: What you said evolved and it happened naturally. Before you knew it, you started the business. What were the skills, what was your development process as a recruiter and how did that evolve into saying, “Maybe I can go out and do this on my own?”

MINDY DIAMOND: I graduated from college in 1984 as an accountant. I was an ill-suited accountant. 1) because I hated it and 2) because if you know me, I’m a people person. The notion of being stuck in a room and adding numbers and managing numbers is not in my wheelhouse at all. Because I’m a type-A personality, I got the best job I could as an accountant out of school, big 8 public accounting.

In those days, it was big 8, not big 4. I left at about two years as an accountant and really hated every minute of it. Two years in, I went to an accounting search firm, a recruiting firm looking for an accounting job in New Jersey. We had just gotten married and I figured if I have to do a job I hate, I might as well do it closer to home. I went to the search firm looking for and hoping they’d find me an accounting job in New Jersey.

The recruiter who interviewed me, who I thought was an old lady at the time – in hindsight, she was probably my age now. She said to me, “Honey, you shouldn’t be an accountant. You should be a recruiter. Come work for us.” She laid out a path but a really crummy compensation plan. I want to say it was paying $15,000/year in a draw, not even a salary. I thought that was absurd. My husband has always been my greatest cheerleader professionally and personally. He said, “You hate what you’re doing. Go try it.” I tried it and I fell in love with it. Within a month, I was soaring and became that firm’s – it was a national recruiting firm – their top recruiter. Then I didn’t work for seven years when I had my kids.

I was a traditional stay-at-home mom. At the end of that, I really got bored and wanted to do something else. A friend of ours was a manager from Morgan Stanley and he talked about how there was a dearth of good recruiters in the financial services field. He and Howard, my husband, went on a campaign to convince me to recruit financial advisors and the rest is history.

BRYAN WISH: What are the skills of a good recruiter?

MINDY DIAMOND: When I recruited accountants, I was young. I was 23 years old when I started and I did it until I was 30. It was a very transactional sale meaning I solicited a job order. Any firm was looking to hire an accountant of any kind and I went out and tried to fill that job. It was all about meeting the needs of the client who was the firm looking to hire someone and selling an accountant on making a move to this new firm.

The business that I run today is entirely different. The skill that made me a good recruiter, in those early days, as I was exceedingly tenacious. I remember asking, “What do I need to be successful?” They said, “Make 100 calls a day.” So, I made 101. I was personable, smart, and I knew how to connect the dots and think on my feet. I learned to be a good salesperson.

That’s really the bottom line. I became a student of the industry. Although those are admirable skills, those are not at all what make me successful today. What I figured out when I started this business, which again, I didn’t have an intention of starting a business. It was more about I was just a good recruiter and it grew into a business. It was realizing that financial advisors didn’t want to be sold.

It was all about understanding their needs and helping them to determine what the best course of action for them was even if that meant staying put and I wouldn’t get paid to make a deal. For me, the greatest lesson is about really knowing what true north is and true north is 100% about meeting your clients where they are, being a really good listener, and solving those needs, and not looking to sell them but instead to add value.

BRYAN WISH: What you said about the listening aspect, I think it’s so easy as a business owner or parenting role or different roles of life to kind of find solutions for people without listening and hearing them. To your point, what was really strong was saying, “Hey, even if you want to stay put, I’ll be that ear for you. Maybe if you want to change later, we built that relationship” and that can carry you pretty far because you invested in someone and you weren’t paid on the backend of the deal. You’ve played the long game is what it sounds like.

MINDY DIAMOND: 100% that’s true. I think as long as you have in your mind I’m doing this because I want to eventually have a relationship that I’ll be able to monetize, then that’s a transactional mindset. I think my success is about never having an agenda or expectation. People sense that. It’s a disarming. It’s genuine, authentic, and real. Because they sense that I genuinely don’t have an agenda or expectation and I genuinely am in this to help them make the right decision regardless of the outcome and I’m never worried about my personal financial gain, they trust me and that’s what develops a relationship where they may or may not move and I’ll monetize that relationship at some point down the road.

BRYAN WISH: There is no agenda for you. It sounds like you’ve mastered the relationship-building aspect without any undercover intention. You really care about the person fully. If that blossoms, great. If it isn’t great. You’re there for them to make hard decisions.

MINDY DIAMOND: For sure. It’s relatively easy for me as a 58-year-old woman today and have been very successful in this field for the last 23 years or more to say, “Detach from the outcome. Have no agenda. Regardless of what it means, don’t worry about your personal financial gain. Just do the right thing as your true north.” That’s easy to say because I’m on the back nine or the last decade of my career. What I want your listeners to know is that my son, who is a millennial, 29, almost 30 years old, joined me in the business five years ago. At whatever age you’re looking to be a success in an industry you don’t really know anything about, you instinctively want to sell. You want to make deals.

My son, Louis, grew up in a family where this was our ethos. We talked about the philosophy around building the business. My son at 29, who is at it five years and not 25 years and is certainly much earlier in his career than I am, absolutely abides by the same principles and so does everyone who works for me. It’s not about age. It’s not about money. It’s not about any of it. It’s truly about if you really have, as your true north, having no agenda or expectation and doing right by your clients, the money will follow.

BRYAN WISH: Louis is very polished and sharp, very nice. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him. I can see him having those values. Where did that value that you have of the long-term, the true north, the relationship first come from?

MINDY DIAMOND: I think they’re instinctive to me. When I began to recruit financial advisors almost 24 years ago, it was more it felt disingenuous to be transactional, to presume that I knew what was better for somebody than they did, to presume I had the perfect opportunity for somebody and I didn’t know who they were. Maybe it was a lifetime of seeing the opposite. In other words, being in interactions with salespeople in whatever industry, whatever profession, and whatever part of my life and noticing the difference between somebody whose only agenda is to sell you and somebody whose agenda is to help you, who wants to add value. I think a lot of it was instinctive.

Very early on in this part of my career 23 years ago, someone and I can’t remember who, turned me onto a book called The Go-Giver, and it is part of a series by Bob Burg who I interviewed recently for my podcast series. That book changed my world, rocked my world. I was just sort of at the beginning of figuring out that I didn’t want to be a transactional salesperson. I wanted to do it differently; only I didn’t have a name for it and it wasn’t fleshed out in my mind. Someone somewhere, thank goodness, turned me onto this book which is all about what we’re talking about. The whole true north is about adding value, not looking to make a sale, and the money follows. When I read that, it crystallized everything that was brewing in me instinctively and that really informed the approach.

BRYAN WISH: That book is phenomenal. The other book that speaks to me on this topic is Give and Take by Adam Grant. I value your insights on this topic of relationships and how you’ve built them in your own life and career. Let’s go back to when you first started. You never expected to build a business. Take us to that moment when you were out of the workforce for 7-8 years and you got that itch again. What was the state of your mind at the time?

MINDY DIAMOND: Flat out terrified. Deer in the headlights. Lost all my confidence. I had been out of the workforce for seven years. When I recruited the first time, we recruited with pens and papers and telephones and filing cabinets. I barely knew how to use a computer. The world had changed so much in the seven years I had been out of the workforce. I had lost all my confidence. I had spent my time taking the kids to Gymboree and music class and whatever else. It was the greatest gift of my life to be able to be home and raise my sons but I had lost all my confidence. I am so incredibly grateful. One of the other messages is that everyone needs a cheerleader. Everyone needs somebody that believes in them unconditionally.

That was always my husband. From the first day where he said to me, “You can do this. You hate what you’re doing. Yeah, it means a step back and it may mean we might have to eat pasta without meatballs for some time, but go do it because you deserve to be happy.” He had faith in me and he’s pushed me all along the way. That fateful dinner we had where our friend is talking about this dearth of good recruiters, it was my husband that said, “Mindy was a very successful recruiter.” The two of them set out to say – Ed our friend said, “I’ll teach you whatever you need to know,” and I was smart enough to connect the dots, to take the information he taught me and use it to inform the ton of knowledge I didn’t have at the time.

BRYAN WISH: Having your husband be that for you, I know how important that is in my own journey. To have that support and to be able to make that decision to go forward even when it’s terrifying and you have no confidence. Once you made that decision in probably full terror, what were your first few steps?

MINDY DIAMOND: The first step was I was smiling and dialing. I picked up the phone. I called a Merrill Lynch advisor. I started on a Monday. On that Sunday afternoon, I remember sitting down with our friend, Ed, who knew the wealth management industry very well. He was a manager for Morgan Stanley. He helped me to put together a script. “Hi Bryan. This is Mindy Diamond. Let me tell you about X, Y, and Z.” I used that to make some calls. Then I would call Ed at the end of every call or every day or at some point every week and he came to my Wikipedia when there was no Wikipedia at the time where somebody would say, “I sell structured products” and I didn’t know what a structured product was. I faked it.

You fake it until you make it. Then I’d call Ed and say, “What’s a structured product?” He would tell me and then I knew. That’s how I built my knowledge base. It was not an overnight success for me. Not even close. It took me a year to make my first deal in this business. That was very different from what I had experienced when I recruited accountants because when I recruited accountants, I made a deal probably in the first month I was there. We’re talking about a very different level of the candidate. I was used to a transactional business where I was a dealmaker. It became clear to me that this business was going to be something very different.

To this day, our deals – we do many fewer deals in a year than most and our deals – they’re big deals – move at a glacial pace. There were probably 10 times in that first year where I almost threw the towel in and said, “This is not for me. I’m not good at it. I’m never going to make it.” Thankfully I stuck with it because just after that first-year things really began to turn around.

BRYAN WISH: You went from industry in accounting where you saw instant success. It was more transactional to more of an industry that needed more long-term and patience. How did you go about your first steps of making relationships within that industry where you had not stepped before?

MINDY DIAMOND: It’s 100% about authenticity. I showed up every day in every phone call, in every interaction as authentically me. People began to sense that I was a different kind of recruiter. I was not just making this call because I was a transactional salesperson looking to sell them on a deal but rather I was asking smart questions about what are the things that frustrate you where you are and what are your goals and do you see yourself where you are 3 or 5 years from now? Those were questions that advisors never heard before.

Certainly no recruiter had ever asked that of them before. They found it refreshing and it wasn’t a sales strategy. It was a genuine and authentic approach. I think by doing that over time, people began to realize that a lot of people – if you’ve ever gotten a call from a headhunter, people avoid calls from headhunters like the plague unless you’re actively looking for a job.

Financial advisors certainly do. People were happy to take my call because my approach was all about educating them and not about trying to sell them. As that began to take hold, that’s when the business began to pick up. The firms, the managers at the Morgan Stanley at the time and other firms that were my clients, began to appreciate that approach as well.

I went from just recruiting from my friend Ed’s office from Morgan Stanley to I remember, three months in, he called me and said, “I’m on my way to a national branch managers’ meeting and I have other managers that want to use you and I need business cards to pass out.” I was like, “Business cards? I don’t even have the name of a company.” My husband, once again, ever my champion, said, “I’ll go to Staples and let’s pick a name.” Literally, on the fly, we said, “Let’s call it Diamond Consultants.” Had business cards made. Drove them to Ed’s house. He started passing them out and from there, it just soared.

BRYAN WISH: Howard is your husband but what about him as a business partner and throughout this journey? Where do you think he gets this optimistic “we can do it” kind of vigor and energy from?

MINDY DIAMOND: Howard is more of a risk-taker than I am. A good, smart risk-taker. If I were left to my own devices if that recruiter, some 30 years ago, had offered me that job and I wasn’t with Howard… I was already a married woman but I remember going and telling my parents about this opportunity and they thought I had lost my mind. To them, it was all about me making $23,000/year as an accountant and I was going to be offered a $15,000/year drop.

They thought that was just nuts. It was about the money. Howard is a much bigger thinker. A) He just had total faith in me. B) He had a healthier appetite for risk than I did. The calculus was “We don’t have kids and we don’t have a lot to lose. So, go for it.” I have done a lot of mentoring of young people over the years and I’m passionate about it and I feel grateful to be able to do it. My message to all of them is to follow your passion.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a Howard in your life meaning someone like my husband who cheered me on, who had faith in me when I didn’t have it in me or was able to sort of look beyond the money or the black and white, following your passion and your dreams leads to really big things. I’m reminded of a young woman who is the best friend of my daughter-in-law. I can’t recall what she was doing but she was in a career that she hated. She wanted to start a coaching consulting firm. Like me, her parents thought she was crazy. “Do it part-time. Continue your full-time job. That’s the safe way to go.” I said to her, “Look. I don’t know your finances.

I can’t presume to know better than anybody else but if you believe that building this coaching consulting business is right for you and you could add value and you can see what it’s going to be, go for it. Part-time doesn’t work. It just doesn’t because you’ll wind up having your feet in two lands and not feel you’re excelling or exceeding at any one thing.” That’s what she did. She’s 5 or 7 years out and crushing it not just because she’s making good money but she’s enormously happy. She’s so thrilled at the value she’s adding. She loves what she’s doing. She’s proud of it.

BRYAN WISH: She’s fulfilled beyond the money. I agree with full-time versus part-time. You have to make the leap at some point and bet on yourself so you’re not swimming in two lanes. When did it hit you that what you’re doing today in building this business was the great passion you needed to pursue?

MINDY DIAMOND: I’d love to tell you that in the seven years I was out of the workforce, I had some brainchild for building a business. I refer to myself as an accidental entrepreneur. I was not an intentional entrepreneur at all. I grew into the role and I’d like to think I’m a pretty good business leader at this point. That wasn’t something I had aspired to be. For me, it was fake until you made it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. I shied away maybe for a decade into it. I was already having some success. I had even hired a couple of people to work for me and they were having success.

We were growing and having proof of concept but it was a good 10 years in before I really allowed myself to even acknowledge that it was a business and not just a hobby. As soon as I gave it the imprimatur of business, it meant that the stakes got high. If I failed, I’d feel embarrassed; that if I failed, others would know. That was terrifying to me. I started this business on my bedroom floor and Howard, for years, begged me, “Let’s at least build an office down in the basement so at least you have dedicated office space.” I was afraid to do it. I didn’t want to turn it into a business. We finally did that some years later.

Then, five years later after that, I’ve got three employees working for me and we’re all working in the basement in my home. It’s becoming unwieldy. Howard convinces me once again that we need to find office space. We take office space above a pizza place in Chester, New Jersey. Yucky, little space. I remember the first time an acquaintance/friend saw the sign Diamond Consultants outside and called and said, “I didn’t know you had a business.” It took me days. I was hyperventilating.

Days to recover from that. Like oh my god, the world knows I’m a business owner. The stakes got so much higher for me. What if I fail? It’s so funny because as I tell that story, that’s so much part of my story. Here I sit 23 years later with so much conviction around – you can call it whatever you want. A business, a hobby, it doesn’t matter. I just feel 100% confident that we’re doing such good things. We’re adding so much value. I’m proud of the people that work for me. I’m proud of my son and my husband who are my partners. I’m proud of what we’ve built and everyone we’ve served. I don’t care what you call it. I don’t care if we fail at some point. I’m proud of what we’ve done.

BRYAN WISH: The girl I’m dating said to me recently, “Why do you still have a founder on your profile? You’re a CEO. You have a business.” I was like, “I’m not confident in that. I’m scared to call myself a CEO.” For you, you’re scared to say you have a business. The awareness around that and kind of speaking to that, that’s a powerful story. Was it just failure you were scared of or was there something more?

MINDY DIAMOND: It was unmitigated fear. As I tell the story, I tell you that the time an outsider said, “I didn’t know you had a business” it got real for me and made me hyperventilate. It seems like what I was afraid of was what would the world think if I failed? I think what it really was was how would I feel if I failed? I had never taken on anything. I’m a true type-A personality. I’d always been good at whatever I tried. I generally didn’t stick with things that I wasn’t good at. I was a straight-A student in school. The thought of doing something where I couldn’t get straight As was anathema to me.

BRYAN WISH: Let’s go to the first 2-3 years when you were on the bedroom floor. As you were building this business, what were some of the early learning lessons as you were on your own?

MINDY DIAMOND: One of them was I probably hired my first employees 3-4 years in. I didn’t hire them, “Come join my business.” It was, “Come join me.” I had no real structure or anything of the sort. Four years in, I had four employees. Now suddenly, they were looking to me for some direction. I really had to step it up. It forced me even though I was terrified to call myself the CEO. They needed me to be. They were expecting me to be. I realized I was letting them down.

I could have my own demons privately but I would be letting them down if I didn’t step into the role. I remember four years in or so, maybe even less, holding my first staff meeting. To this day, our firm is 23 ½ years old and every Wednesday from 12-2, in non-COVID times we’d be in the office and buy lunch for everybody. In COVID times, we still meet from 12-2 over Zoom. That is sacrosanct. We use that time to share lessons and make each other better, share insights, do role plays, and all sorts of stuff. In the early days, I pictured myself being a little girl playing dress-up like wearing high heeled shoes that were too big for me and lipstick all over my face. A little girl playing dress-up faking it. I didn’t have a choice. I would be letting everyone who was counting on me down and I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. So, I faked it until I made it.

BRYAN WISH: These people were relying on you for their livelihood. You said you felt this pressure to step in a new type, a new way to lead these people. What was the development process for you to help these people who are leaning on you for direction? How did you change your behaviors in the ways you did things so they could be successful in their own careers because it wasn’t just about you anymore?

MINDY DIAMOND: 100%. One of the biggest things is that authenticity that is a part of my ethos in being a recruiter is what I’ve always deployed in running my business. I’ve always been very transparent with everybody who works for me about not just my successes but my failures as well and I’ve had plenty of them. That has created a culture or an environment where people aren’t afraid to fail. We do deal with postmortems often and nobody feels ashamed to say, “I lost this deal and here’s why,” or “I messed up and wish I would have done this differently, and here’s why.” That comes from the top. That’s number one. Number two, I have always led by example.

While today, I have much less time to cold call or smile and dial than I once did, I know that what makes me an effective leader is being in the trenches with them. Even if I only have time to make one outbound call a week, I’ll make that one call because I’m with them. How could I have any credibility? How could I teach them to be a better recruiter if I’m not doing it myself? Today I spend a lot of my time writing. I do a podcast. It’s the on the ground experiences, actually being on the phone and in the weeds that inform everything I do. I’m a player/coach and I’m grateful for being able to do it.

BRYAN WISH: Arthur Blank, the Falcon’s owner, I think he was involved at the early days of Home Depot, part of the founding team back in Atlanta where I went to school. There are stories about him dressing up or going around talking to customers after Home Depot was pretty built out and asking the customers about how things were because he wanted to be on the ground of the business even though it had scaled instrumentally to develop insights. I think what you’re saying is having that player/coach mentality of letting your team know you’re there for them and not just expecting them to do all the work sets you apart and makes people want to work harder for you because you’re investing in their success. You’ve done this business for about 20 years. Where’s the business today? How have things evolved for you since you first started?

MINDY DIAMOND: I am really humbled and proud to say that today we’re the leading search firm for financial advisors on the street. I never saw that coming. One foot at a time. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. We just kept doing the next right thing and the next right thing and somehow it grew. My son, Louis, joined us in the business about five years ago and at first, he was a recruiter. He learned to be a recruiter and a very talented one. I’ve been amazed. It’s been my greatest joy to really watch him soar and grow and develop his own style. One of the things I worried about was him feeling always in my shadow and not developing his own voice and he very definitely has which is wonderful.

Under his next-generation leadership, he is really modernizing us. We are putting in a new CRM system and we use Slack now which you’re probably laughing at because all these things to millennials seem like nothing but under my direction, that never would have happened. In terms of the business itself, it’s always been for me the next right thing always shows itself. Where your intentions are pure and you’re authentic and want to do the next right thing, it always becomes obvious. Louis had a consulting background. He spent a lot of years consulting to financial services firms. His vision of looking at the business and how to make the business better combined with my 23 years of experience of just being an authentic relationship person has been a really strong combination.

BRYAN WISH: What do you see as your legacy when it’s all and said and done? What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to say about you?

MINDY DIAMOND: The word congruent comes to mind. I talk to the advisors I counsel about that. Living a life of congruence means that how you live, the decisions you make, and the actions you take are congruent with your values. It’s authentic. It’s not driven by how do I make the most money or how do I build the biggest business? Just doing the right thing. I think that that sort of brought a refreshing. It wasn’t my intention. As I look back at my 23-year career with Diamond Consultants, I think that’s really legacy is having built a business that is unique in its ethos, that is authentic, and that brings a refreshing perspective to the financial services industry and to the profession of recruiting. I’m thrilled about that. I’m really proud of that.

BRYAN WISH: Where can people find you?

MINDY DIAMOND: Email is mdiamond@diamond-consultants.com. Our website is diamond-consultants.com. I write a weekly blog called Perspectives which can be found on the website. I do a weekly podcast for financial advisors called Mindy Diamond on Independence which has about 130,000 downloads now. It’s become a real go-to resource for financial advisors and educational resources. I’m very proud of that. That also can be found on our website. Of course, we’re on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook as well.

One Away Podcast
Leah Walsh

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