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Toolkit for becoming a change-maker, with CEO, CTO, investor Danielle Diliberti

October 23, 2022 / 13:48 / E7

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In this episode, Danielle shares her toolkit: How to make a game plan, get buy-in for that plan, and implement it effectively. She also shares the personal values that have made her successful, pitfalls to avoid when trying to change an enterprise, and advice for executives aiming for hyper-growth.


1:10 Danielle's story - How she went from accountant to investor, CTO, and founder/CEO
3:40 Danielle answers "How do you do so many things at the same time?"
4:32 Two traits Danielle values in her ability to make an impact
5:52 What does it take to change an enterprise? 
7:24 Advice for gathering intel that will bolster your change-making plan
8:24 Advice for anyone looking to make their mark on their enterprise
10:04 Danielle's "roadshow" strategy for getting buy-in for change
12:05 Advice for executives to enable your organization to move faster

[00:00:57] Jasmin: How did you get to where you are today?

[00:01:14] Danielle: I started my career in accounting. I find that accounting is one of the backbones of business constantly using my learnings from being an auditor to make decisions today. My career evolved pretty rapidly, so moving into portfolio management and risk management for a number of years, I was always the first to raise my hand to do a project, whether that be implementing a new accounting system or working on automating reports or doing quality assurance, which people thought I was crazy because that was not the exciting part of trading and banking and capital markets. But I really, really enjoyed it.

And so after working in the fixed income space for a number of years, I decided to take a small step back and start a consulting firm working with early stage companies to help them put together business plans and raise capital, and spent a lot of time in the venture capital community and working with early stage technology companies.

And I, I just realized I had such a passion for technology, but also it was really where I thought the world was going and I didn't wanna miss out on that. So I thought I'm going to dedicate the next part of my career to being part of that movement. So that's when I joined Eldridge about five years ago, and I had the opportunity to focus on strategy innovation with existing portfolio companies as well as, you know, looking for new investments.

And that brought me to the St. James that is really transforming the health and wellness industry. It is in hyper growth mode. So about a year into the St. James investment, we recognized that the technology wasn't going to be suitable to power the business. So I stepped in as Chief Technology Officer and have helped transform and grow the technical and digital components of that business. And then when the pandemic hit and I recognized that I had a couple extra hours on my hands, as did some others. And so we, we filled that time brainstorming and out came a new company called Sommsation, which is a, a modern marketplace. And so I'm now the CEO of. And I am working on, on growing a digital first company there. I think one of the things that people ask me is, how do you wear so many different hats? Like, that's impossible. For me. It makes my job better. It makes it, I don't necessarily wanna say easier, but the lessons learned from all of the different things that I've done, I leverage and utilize, which means that I think I'm better when I've pulled in, you know, the different components of being a Chief Technology Officer at one company means that I can have really intelligent conversations with the Chief Technology Officer at Sommsation.

[00:04:10] Jasmin: If you ever wonder. How much more you can potentially do. Danielle has just given you a little glimpse into, with the same 24 hours a day, what she's able to accomplish, had kudos, Danielle. Speaking of, of which success, which personal value do you attribute to your success?

[00:04:31] Danielle: There's probably two. The first. Which I think helps but can't get you quite there is curiosity. I'm just such a curious person. I have a desire to know. Whatever anything is. If I hear something and I don't know, I have to Google it.

When, when I knew I was curious about technology, I had to really scratch that itch because there was just so much I didn't know. And now the more I know, the more I can use it into business decisions. And then the other thing I think is, is just persistence.

I'm really focused on the long run. And I think that comes from my training of being an accountant, persevering ahead helps me kind of keep my fire to just keep going. And then of course, once you start to, to see your successes, you want more of them. So it's, I'm kind of always battling that curiosity and the, the persistence that I have.

[00:05:24] Jasmin: and probably you need both to your point, right? Curiosity, Yes. Is super important. But it also needs the continuity or the persistence attached to it to turn it into something that is constantly taking you new places. So I really, really love the explanation.

With the breadth of experience that you have and all the different angles that you use to look at enterprises. You're the best person to ask this first question from your point of view, what does it take to change an enterprise?

[00:05:57] Danielle: A plan, I think it takes a plan to change an enterprise, but putting that plan together is really the hard part, knowing what the goals of the organization are is so critically important, but also in order to do that, you really have to understand the landscape of the market by which your enterprise sits to make those changes.

There's so many organizations out there doing great things, you know, and if you are in a silo, you're not necessarily setting yourself up for success. Understanding the market, understanding the landscape, and then knowing what other organizations are doing is really, really important as well. One of the things that I always like to say is, don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.

Even with Sommsation, while we're doing something completely different that we don't think has ever been done before, when I decouple or bifurcate some of the things that we're doing, more often than not, a piece of that has been done really, really well. Or there's a partner. Or other organization out there that's doing it really, really well.

So thinking about all of those building blocks and how you're going to put the plan in place to change your enterprise means knowing what else is going on out there and knowing how it can serve you versus where you wanna focus on, on making that important change.

[00:07:18] Jasmin: Do you have any advice for when people are listening on sourcing that advice and that information?

[00:07:24] Danielle: I spend a lot of time learning from my peers, the market, and key decision makers of successful organizations. So, ask questions. Call your network, post on LinkedIn. Do the things that might feel uncomfortable, but that are gonna give you really good information to put that plan in place so then you can chip away at it. Because not only is changing enterprises, but keeping them afloat and making them successful is a long game.

I think anyone that that wants to have a quick win isn't gonna change an enterprise. You have to be resilient. You have to be thinking three, five years ahead and know that you have to put one step in front of the other and chip away at those milestones, and then you see really big change, which can lead to very successful things.

[00:08:16] Jasmin: What one piece of advice do you have for someone who wants to do just that? Who wants to make their mark on an enterprise?

[00:08:24] Danielle: don't do it alone while you're making your mark as an individual. It's really important to collaborate with team members. It's important to spend time with the leaders of the organization. It's important to spend time with the most junior people of an organization, and then it's important to know what you are building or what you are managing, and then what your partners or others are doing. Anyone that wants to do it alone is gonna have a really hard time doing it. The more smart people you can get into a room, the more you can share your knowledge. I think the better.

[00:09:01] Jasmin: We had Bob Howland from Dawn Foods on an earlier episode, and he basically said something very similar and he said, It's not about me. It's about the team, and it's about creating advocates throughout the company that actually become so much more important in achieving the goal than if anything I could ever do on my own.

And his example was that he, one of his first super hard conversations was with the CFO. And so he asked for basically his first lieutenant and said, So who's, who's a great person on your team that you trust that I can bring into my team and tell him everything that we are doing? So he understands best what's happening.

And actually what happened is that turned the first lieutenant into the biggest advocate for the project in the whole company, which I found so encouraging. You can come together as one, and actually that will make a joint mark on the business.

[00:10:06] Danielle: In finance, there's this concept of a roadshow. You literally go on the road and take an idea or an investment opportunity to different meetings to try to really create demand and get buy-in from those that are gonna invest. That's a concept that's been used for IPOs for a very long time. I actually use that in a lot of different things. For me, I try to go on a roadshow and talk to each of the stakeholders or, or those that it impacts to just have a smaller two-way conversation to one, get feedback, two, get buy in, because I think that prepares everyone to get into the room together and then be a little bit more prepared to continue on with the conversation. My goal with those road shows is to get everyone aligned beforehand, which not only helps us make decisions a lot faster, but also eliminates any surprises along the way, which is one of my golden rules as well.

The, the more you can eliminate surprises, the better. And then when you get everyone in a room, you can have really healthy dialogue. So the roadshow tool is one of the, the things that has been really helpful in my toolkit.

[00:11:11] Jasmin: And everyone has had a say, right? Everyone feels like they were part of the process. Rather than just being presented a plan at the end that they had no insight into.

[00:11:23] Danielle: That's a great point and that's a really important piece of the puzzle as well. You, you want people to buy in to the changes that you're making.

Change is scary for some people. For me, I love change. I'm really wanting change, but that's not everybody. So. You're absolutely right. Getting that buy-in is critical because you want people engaged, you want them to be passionate, you want them to have some ownership. It helps not only the organization, but you know, setting people up for success, as I always say, is really my number one goal.

[00:11:55] Jasmin: Any final words that you wanna share with the listeners on how they can make their mark on their enterprise or their career?

[00:12:09] Danielle: Thinking through organizational change. I think that there's a lot of leaders out there who don. Typically feel comfortable with what I would call a flat organization, allowing your deputies to have a lot of rain. So I think that that would be my advice to them is give this a try. Don't focus on the hierarchy so much. Partner with the other members of the C-Suite and listen to individual team members and, I don't wanna necessarily say rely on, uh, your vendor partner relationships, but really leverage them in a way that that maybe makes you feel like you're. Letting go of some things internally in your organization, but I think especially in the technology space, there's so much out there and we're moving so fast.

Trying to do everything internally doesn't make a lot of sense anymore. Relying on partners in ecosystems and you know, the MACH framework really gives us an opportunity to move so much faster. And I kind of proved that out with my role at the St. James incorporating the MACH framework into the organization and we saw a much more dynamic business model that way, but also building Sommsation from the ground up on that framework. We're moving a mile a minute and kind of doing things a little bit differently, which to me, a lot of times is where that, that flatness of the organizational change that I talked about comes from.

[00:13:39] Jasmin: Powerful statement right there.

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