Co-Founder and CEO of Alicia J Diamonds. Former Managing Director of global food business En Route International.
How have you found starting a business during a global pandemic?
Starting a business in a global pandemic is not to be taken lightly. But that’s what I’ve just done. I’d already got the wheels of Alicia J Diamonds in motion when the dreaded lockdown started, but to be honest, that enforced time at home when I couldn’t go to meetings, network, or attend events, it let me get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the business. I set up a website, employed marketing staff (to work remotely) and have been getting everything from branding to systems set up.
Of course, the pandemic has been awful for many who have lost work, clients and income, but there is a part of me that relishes disruption. When I ran En Route, a global food business for the airline industry, we had a few major panics over the years. First – when the business was in its infancy – was 911, when airlines removed products from tray-sets with zero notice in order to save money, another was the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that brought airlines to a standstill for weeks. The 2008 banking crash didn’t exactly help either. At these moments I go into overdrive. When the going gets tough the tough get going doesn’t feel like quite the right maxim for me (I don’t see myself as a tough person), but I definitely work well on the adrenaline of risk.
What is your advice in times of crisis?
When things got tricky in the past, what I learned was not to listen to the money men. My instinct told me to ignore the financial directors and accountants. Their mentality in times of trouble is to freeze – hold fast, tighten the purse strings and wait it out. Mine is to find a way of carrying on, tilting the business so that it can ride the waves. It’s worked for me so far. I’m not afraid to shift strategy.
I see businesses during the Covid crisis that have pivoted and stayed afloat – restaurants becoming takeaways, appointments being transferred to Zoom calls. Of course, for some there is no alternative. But my advice in times of crisis is to be a disruptor – find a creative solution.
How did your career begin?
I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was 10, I grew tomato plants to sell for a £20 profit for the Guides. That was my first business! Later, I went to Germany with a boyfriend (who became a husband). I worked in his fashion business for a few short weeks before deciding to start something on my own. That first real business was a language school for executives in Germany. Later, I set up a sandwich company in Germany, and I learnt through mistakes about how to run a successful food business. This evolved into En Route International, which I have since sold to Dnata, part of the Emirates group.
For me, business is about hard work, determination, creating a great team, not taking no for an answer, and thinking creatively.
Tell us about Alicia J Diamonds
Starting Alicia J Diamonds has also been a personal decision. I’ve always loved fine jewellery, and the years spent travelling to Dubai and beyond for my food business meant I could buy wonderful gold and diamond jewellery in places where there wasn’t a huge high street hike on the prices.
A light really switched on when my son’s friend came to me as he was very unsure about how to buy his girlfriend a diamond engagement ring – which sellers should he trust? What diamond should he look for? I knew how to source great diamonds and had a bit of knowledge. I knew I could help him bypass the hyped-up sales and excessive choice on the high street and walk him through getting a wonderful piece of bespoke jewellery at a good price.
Next step was to train with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the world’s leading diamond and gemstone accreditation body. I then teamed up with an expert partner in Dubai, and Alicia J diamonds was born.
I know that there will always be a demand for tailormade diamond and gemstone jewellery, and I know that I can help people get the best accredited ethical gemstones, help them create beautiful designs, and buy with confidence without a high street mark up in price. So, as I said earlier, the lockdown has actually helped us get to grips with a marketing and branding plan for the business. We can talk to jewellery customers over Zoom, via email, and even by phone. We don’t have to meet in person – though we can easily do socially distanced meetings as well.
"For me, business is about hard work, determination, creating a great team, not taking no for an answer, and thinking creatively."
Alison Cooper Co-Founder and CEO of Alicia J Diamonds
Challenges and opportunities
The entrepreneurial disruptor in me is very much alive and kicking at the moment. I think the time for changing the way we buy jewellery is now. Every person is unique, and now it’s become accessible for everyone to create unique jewellery.
As with any new business, there are sure to be challenges along the way, but I’m excited about the path. You can’t predict the future, but you can make sure you work hard and plan well, and if things go pear-shaped, start thinking creatively.
If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing, please contact Alison Cooper or Tom Bruce, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.
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