The Lori Dernavich Interview


Lori, what is it you do exactly?

I’m a Leadership Development Advisor / Executive Coach. I work with founders, CEOs, and new leaders to develop the leadership skills they and their organizations will need to successfully scale their businesses. The skills needed to scale a company are very different from the skills needed to start it. And scaling a startup can be especially daunting for the 1st or 2nd time CEO or executive.

How does a startup CEO know he needs to call you?

Great question. If you are…

  • losing sleep because it’s been hijacked by business issues
  • realizing scaling will require a different set of skills and thinking about how you’re going to get them
  • wondering if you hired the wrong executive
  • worrying that your investors are losing confidence in you
  • wishing you could clone yourself because you can’t do it all
  • feeling like there’s no one to talk to about these things without being judged

… it’s called being a startup CEO.

Why would investors call you?

Investors want to answer a simple question, Can my CEO scale this business? After all their due diligence, investors ultimately invest in a startup because they believe in the CEO and their passion. That’s all fine and good, but most 1st time CEOs are gifted subject experts, idea people. That doesn’t make them gifted leaders. And if that CEO can’t lead people well, then the business will fail, NOT scale. PERIOD.

You mentioned a CEO’s passion. What is your passion?

I can be tough with leaders, after all, they’re hiring me to tell them the truth that most people will avoid telling them. But I also care about the CEO as a person – a person with flaws, fears, strengths and passions. I want to help that CEO to thrive! And if the CEO thrives, employees and the company will too.

What type of companies and industries do you work with?

My background gives me an in-depth understanding of a wide variety of personalities, functions and industries. While I work with companies of all sizes, my sweet spot is startups that are, or will be, scaling. They usually have very little infrastructure for organizational and employee development.

One might ask, if you’re qualified, why you haven’t built and sold a multi-million dollar business yourself. Thoughts?

That’s a fair question. Kudos to the CEO coach who has bought and sold a business. But I have partnered with, coached, and advised MANY businesses of varying sizes, industries, and cultures. I’ve seen the gamut of issues, crises, leadership styles and human interaction. THAT qualifies me to help CEOs and their organizations.

I’ve been told I possess the perfect combination of street smarts and book smarts for this role. I have a degree in Food Chemistry, so the geek in me understands science and tech personalities. I was a psychotherapist, so I understand people. I did high tech recruiting for a number of years, so I understand sales and hiring issues. That’s also where I learned about startups, middle market companies, and public companies, all within different industries. I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2002, so I understand ROI.

Do you only work with the CEO of a company?

I believe in a systems approach. Each person in a company is part of a larger whole. So while I work with CEOs, sometimes their leaders need help as well. Or maybe unwanted behaviors have been allowed to continue long enough to cause cultural problems. I’m called in at any of those junctures.

What’s the first thing you do when someone contacts you?

I have an initial meeting with the CEO, ask a lot of questions, and listen. And the essential question to ask is, “What does success look like to you?” I want to know that we have a clear picture and expectations. Entrepreneurs want to do things their way and fast. Each is different with different needs, so their engagements must be too. I usually work on a month-to-month basis once we determine their needs and goals.

Any “extra-curricular” activities we should know about?

NY is now my home, but I lived in Boston when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004. I will forever be a diehard Sox fan. I love boxing, which is probably a good thing for when NYers find out I love the Sox! And at the end of a long day, I like to relax with a great Scotch—neat.