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Founders, Makers, Doers — Diane Hessan


Founders, Makers, Doers is a series of blogs about incredible people who are key players and leaders of significant change, ventures and initiatives. Can't you just feel the energy? Today: the incredible Diane Hessan

A Brief Intro to Diane Hessan

Diane Hessan is a powerhouse of activity in so many different realms. She wears many hats including that of entrepreneur, researcher and author. She does this with great leadership and energy.

Twitter: @DianeHessan

Salientventures.co

A lengthier bio can be found after the Q&A.

10 Things You Never Knew About Diane Hessan

What I am working on right now

Right now, I have a portfolio life. I serve on nine boards, I spend a significant amount of time investing in and mentoring startups — especially in Boston — and I am engaged in a longitudinal study of the American voter, using technology from C Space, which I founded in 2000. Regarding the latter, I have written about 35 Op-Eds, which are all for the Boston Globe, and I now serve on its Editorial Board.

A significant event(s) that has shaped my professional self

Early in my career, I had a job at General Foods, a major consumer packaged goods company at the time. When asked which of the hundreds of products I wanted to work on, I said that I would take anything. I just asked them not to assign me to something I didn’t understand, like decaffeinated coffee. (Why would anyone want to drink something that didn’t taste great if it didn’t deliver the primary benefit?) Well, I was assigned to Brim Decaffeinated Coffee, and it was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. It was also the beginning of what became my life’s work, which was about understanding people who are not like me. (I built a company based on this theme, and my voter research is also focused here.)

The leadership traits I admire the most

I am attracted to leaders who are both passionate and authentic, and this is a unique combination. The passion thing is easy: isn’t it awesome to be in the presence of someone who absolutely loves their company, their mission, their team, and their future? Of course, that passion has to be authentic, rather than just words. Authenticity is about being candid, about admitting mistakes, about sharing what worries you as a leader, and about speaking from the heart as well as the head.

Something that I would do over if I could

I would have started my entrepreneurial journey earlier in my career.

The three opportunities that propelled my career forward

  1. A boss suddenly left for another job — and I convinced his boss not to hire a replacement; 6 months later, I had his job

  2. I took a job leading a new and risky business within a larger company. It was successful and it built my reputation.

  3. I gave up ownership control of my startup, by raising $17 million and allocating a significant amount to employees.

The three things that I have done of which I am the proudest

  1. Raised wonderful daughters

  2. Built a company that has employed 1000s of people over the years.

  3. 11 of my former employees are now CEOs — the goal is to get at least 100!

The most challenging professional obstacle(s) I have overcome

There is no professional obstacle more difficult than leading a company that looks like it is going to fail. I did this as an entrepreneur, with that awful pit in my stomach, counting pennies and knowing that we were running out of cash. It is a humbling experience, but it definitely had me extremely focused and committed.

A few words to people beginning their professional career

Life is long! You will have many chapters in your professional life — and your journey will have its ups and downs. Find bosses who will develop you and be good role models, always be learning, and be open to serendipity. You are more likely to find new opportunities from those unexpected moments than from anything else. And, stop comparing yourself to others; some of them will peak in their 20s and you don’t want to do that!

Something that I would like to learn in the future

To speak Spanish, to be a good grandmother, to play better golf, to write fiction, to play the guitar, to be a better writer.

The question that I wish someone would ask me

What one word has helped you be successful in your life?

And... the answer to that question!

The word is AND. Women are taught tradeoffs, to focus on the word OR. Will you be a good mom or a good professional? Will you give back to society or build a big capitalistic company? Will you do that project or go to the gym? And so on. So much of the time in life, you can replace the word OR with the word AND. You can be a good mom AND a good professional. And so on. I learned this from my male colleagues because that is how they operate.

A (Not-so) Brief Intro to Diane Hessan

Diane Hessan is a successful entrepreneur, researcher — most notably on voter sentiment in the US — and co-author of the book Customer-Centered Growth: Five Strategies for Building Competitive Advantage, a Business Week best-seller that is published in 11 languages. Her resume is as impressive, as it is endless. Here are just a few highlights:

  • She is Founder and Chairman of C Space, (formerly Communispace). Diane was CEO of the company during 14 years of exponential growth

  • She initiated Salient Ventures to consolidate her investment and advisory work for the growth of tech companies.

  • Diane has led two companies in the education space, as CEO of Startup Institute, and EVP of The Forum Corporation.

Just a sample of the honors that Diane has received include:

  • The Pinnacle Award from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • The Boston Power 50 awards from the Boston Business Journal

  • The Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year (National Finalist)

  • In 2018, Diane received honorary doctorates from Bentley University and the New England College of Business.

Diane serves on the boards of Panera, Eastern Bank, Brightcove, Tufts University, MassChallenge, CoachUp, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and is Special Advisor to Datapoint Capital, a leading early-stage venture firm.

She has two grown daughters, and is also founder of The Sound Bytes, an a cappella group that sings about business.


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©2020 BY R. K. MAYER