BizStarts is excited to present the October 2016 Featured Mentor, Diane Chamness. Each month, BizStarts highlights a mentor from the Mentor Program and asks questions that provide knowledge and inspiration to other Milwaukee area and Wisconsin entrepreneurs.
Interview with BizStarts Mentor, Diane Chamness
Tell us a little bit about your own background and then why you decided to help others by mentoring. What do you get out of it/enjoy most about it?
I have degrees in Business and Professional Communications from Alverno College and earned my certificate in Organizational Development from UWM. I spent 8 years in HR primarily as a communications liaison between business and management in a large metal recycling company. I participated in negotiating contracts with AIW and Teamsters, worked to legalize immigrant employees and traditional HR recruiting, hiring, policies and training.
Also, I spent 7 years as the Marketing Director for two local service firms with an emphasis on strategic positioning, business development and PR.
In 1988, I started my own business as a business development consultant to a wide range of industries. I have focused on strategic planning and positioning, sales, training, organizational development and mergers and acquisitions. Most recently, I have been working inside organizations to help them grow, develop leaders and deal with succession.
I also have had a talk radio show on WISN for the past 11 years, “Business Solutions with Diane Chamness,” where we talk about small business challenges and offer solutions and honor the entrepreneurs in our community by sharing their stories.
I have had the pleasure of being a mentor to woman-owned businesses in the past and saw the value even simple guidance, sharing experiences and offering suggestions can have on a small business owner.
Besides, I LOVE entrepreneurship. I am fascinated by the ideas people bring to the marketplace and how they build a business around those capabilities.
Having been involved with so many different types of businesses, in addition to running my own company, I believe I have lots to offer.
If you want to encourage innovative ideas, how do you go about it?
Well, it really starts by listening to the person and the idea. Hearing what they are trying to accomplish and understanding their vision and how they intend the idea to work. Once you know that, encouragement and direction is easy.
In my experience, this is easy to say and not so easy to do. You have to remember that what you are doing with the person you are encouraging is not about you or your experiences, but about them.
If you want to create an environment where motivation can thrive, what’s the first thing you would do?
Well, I believe there are several criteria to creating an environment where people are motivated. For me, it starts with openness and trust. Open communication where no subject is off the table.
Then it has to be fun and supportive, but it also has to be challenging. People want to be stretched. I can hear my father saying, “Getting a C on your report card just means you are doing average.” He would work with us by creating fun challenges and problems to solve. That pushed all of us and I have to admit, it was fun. We had the opportunity to experiment and be creative. There was never one solution to the challenge.
You have to have a great team – people who are encouraged to work together and rewarded together. And, I think you have to inspire them while they are working together. Share your experiences and stories, stimulate their minds.
You have to be fair and treat people as equals (another thing that is easy to say and not so easy to do as we tend to relate to certain people more than others).
Teach and mentor…all the time.
Who has been a major influence on you?
My father, the three presidents of the companies I worked for, and my grandmother.
My father was tough but brilliant. The three presidents were all men who believed in me but pushed me by giving me opportunities beyond my formal training and helping me to succeed. My grandmother was pure joy and fun. It was a good combination of influences.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
- Be positive. It is so easy to fall into all the negativity in the world. Move past that.
- Know that it is ok to be different. Difference is what makes us and the world interesting.
- Live by the golden rule.
- Be willing to take risks – even if you fail a few times. Walking on the edge and believing you could do it even though everyone said or believed you couldn’t.
- Find someone who you believe in and believes in you, and let them be a model for you.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
- Early on I wanted to be a professional dancer. I also liked directing things.
- Teens and early 20’s I was focused on being an industrial psychologist. Read the book by Studs Terkel call “Working” and gained an appreciation for people in the workplace.
- Mid-thirties – I found I loved business. I loved working with people in business and became a consultant
What professional or personal struggle have you overcome and what did it teach you?
There were, and to some degree still are, so many struggles. Losing my mother at 9 years old was a big one. I had to be responsible so early in life. I realize now that this experience afforded me the opportunity to learn so many things – things like learning how to organize, problem solve, manage people, keep the peace, be caring and compassionate, negotiate, communicate with adults and kids – so many of the things that have shaped me into the person I am now. And…it helped me to become a hell of a cook.
How has BizStarts helped you develop and grow?
Being able to be part of an organization that focuses on entrepreneurs feeds my spirit.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs?
- Follow your heart. It’s the old saying, “do what you love and the rest will come”
- Be clear about what you are going to do and not do
- Don’t let other people tell you no or you can’t – be willing to go further
- Never forget what it was like to be an employee and adjust accordingly
Congratulations, Diane Chamness, for being the BizStarts October 2016 Featured Mentor! If you’re interested in our Mentor Program, contact us today.