Christine Comaford is a best-selling author and serial entrepreneur who has worked under two U.S. presidents. She has founded and sold five businesses including Artemis Ventures and First Professional Bank and has been a board member for more than 36 start-ups, as well as investing in over 200 companies. In this exclusive interview Christine talks about penning her New York Times bestseller Rules for Renegades, providing tech staff for Microsoft and passing a $4 billion bill for entrepreneurs under the George Bush administration…
You’ve built and sold your own businesses with an average 700% ROI – that’s quite an achievement! Please could you share how you started your career…
I’ve always been curious about finding problems that are painful and wanting to solve them. Early on I decided problems + pain = profit. So then it was a matter of finding painful problems. That’s what I did when I started one of my companies that provided tech staffing. Microsoft needed to place a number of their contractors under the employment of a separate company. So I threw one together on the spot (literally) and had a few dozen employees overnight. One of the first phone calls I made was to my Dad… ‘Hi Dad, payroll – how does it work? ‘ Then I had to scramble to cover it, since I didn’t have a cash reserve and Microsoft wanted to pay me weeks after I had to pay my staff!
In your experience what are the five key attributes every entrepreneur should have if they want to succeed in business?
- Tenacity – fall down seven times, get up eight
- Humility – be able to say please, thank you, I’m sorry, I don’t know. Be able to ask for help
- Spirituality – whatever your form is, there’s nothing like a spiritual foundation to help you navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship
- Humour – there will be bumpy times, may as well enjoy them!
- The desire to grow – this means you’ll likely need to dedicate your work to something bigger than you so keep growing even when you’re super successful in the eyes of the world
Executive Coach, Leadership Coach, CEO Advisor, Business Blogger & Strategist, Presidential Coach, White House Advisor, Keynote Speaker… that’s a lot roles and skills, which are your favourites?
Many of them fall into the coaching category, which I love deeply. There’s nothing cooler than witnessing a person light up when they have a break through, when they see into one of their blind spots and suddenly their entire perspective changes. What was a crushing problem isn’t any more. What was a painful habit is now released and replaced with an empowering alternative. To be coached requires all the above qualities of an entrepreneur, and most likely the desire to grow.
What’s the most important aspect of your role as an Executive Coach?
Honouring a person’s experience and supporting them in growing at the speed they are capable of. Being honest and calling it like it is, even when it’s uncomfortable. If you’re truly dedicated to your clients, you are always straight with them… in a kind way, of course!
What was it like being an advisor to the White House? Please could you explain more about this role and what your key duties were…
Wow! There was a LOT of bureaucracy at times. The Clinton and Bush administrations and projects were very different. For the Clinton administration my role was to help craft and deploy the government’s intranet strategy, so we were helping mainframe programmers to transform into web developers. It was amazing and very intense, and yes, we succeeded! With the Bush administration my role was two-fold: first, I decided that entrepreneurs needed $4 billion to fund them – the internet bubble had burst, 9/11 had occurred, it was a mess for small business. So if I could pass a bill for congress we could extend the funding of the SBIC. That almost worked, but the funds were redeployed at the last minute to the Iraq war. I was a bit grumpy about that. Next the goal was to revamp the SBA to show government support. That was somewhat successful. We needed a lot more entrepreneurial spirit though.
What inspired you to become an Executive Coach?
The desire to help leaders avoid the many mistakes I’ve made! The thrill of helping a person step into who they truly are – it’s remarkable to be part of this process.
You’ve written three best-selling business books, which is your favourite and why?
Rules for Renegades took three years, because I wrote it after my father had just died and it started as a series of memoir essays. I wanted to understand my life, what it meant, how it had come together and what the key themes were. Much later did it become a book, with business advice wrapped around the memoir vignettes.
I do think being in the comfort zone at work is a good or a bad thing?
Bad thing! Humans tend to get complacent quite quickly. This has always fascinated me. Growth is key; with growth comes change, with change we can expand. We’re either flexible or rigid – be flexible! Challenge yourself daily – or at least weekly; do something totally new or different.
What was your dream job as a child?
I was always entrepreneurial, with lemonade stands, selling art to neighbours etc.
Which professional do you look up to the most?
I’ve not met him, but Richard Branson seems to be well balanced, have fun, create cool things and make a difference. I have met and had dinner with Barbara Walters and she is fascinating. So real, so humble, so genuinely interested in others. I also had the good fortune to interact with Bill Gates for 16 very formative years. He is far more remarkable than people realise he is. His vision is absolutely vast, add that to his tremendous resources and a lot of great things can happen. I saw the courage it took him to leave Microsoft to pursue philanthropy. It was a big shift for him.
What’s your proudest working achievement?
Helping five of my past protégés become millionaires; helping millions of people through my books, work, keynotes and workshops.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Gardening, meditation, studying ancient wisdom, hiking, playing with our dog, hanging out with my wonderful husband and friends, hospice volunteering.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
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Finally, what is your life motto?
It’s from Marco Polo: ‘It is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you are not’. I see so many people trying to be something they are not, uncomfortable with being who they truly are. The older I get the more I understand the courage, beauty and importance of finding out who you are and being it.
GET IN TOUCH WITH CHRISTINE…