ELC Entrepreneur Highlight: Valerie Irick Rainford
ELC Board Vice Chair Valerie Irick Rainford is the Founder & CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies, a consulting firm that partners with senior leaders to drive strategies that visibly increase the representation of diverse talent within their companies.
Q: How did you get the idea or concept for your business?
A: In my 30-plus years in Corporate America, I built a reputation as a strong business leader, with expertise in transformation and change management. Diversity was never my full time job, but I found myself serving as executive sponsor and advocating for diversity and inclusion initiatives consistently. In 2016, I was appointed head of JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Leaders strategy and charged with attracting, hiring, retaining and advancing top Black talent at all levels of the organization. I decided to approach things differently, to do things I had not seen other diversity leaders and programs take. I combined the metrics-driven approach I used in business initiatives over the years with my understanding of the diverse talent experience in Corporate America. Under my leadership, representation of Black professionals rose to historic levels, including an increase in Black senior executives by over 50% in three years. I found myself sharing results with corporate clients and partners and it became clear there was enormous need and interest from other companies to implement similar programs to drive change—and from there Elloree Talent Strategies was born.
Q: To what or whom do you attribute your success?
A: Much of my success as a business leader in Corporate America was based on my fact-based approach to problem solving. All successful leaders know it’s both difficult and inefficient to fix an issue without first identifying the actual problem. So, it made sense that I applied this same analytical and metrics-driven approach to diversity. Before an organization can develop a strong strategy to fill diverse talent gaps, it must first understand where those gaps exist. Otherwise, it’s just throwing money at the problem of diversity. My approach has been incredibly successful, as it both uncovers issues CEOs, Boards and senior leaders are completely unaware of and it allows them to analyze and address improving diversity with the same tools and understandings they use with other business initiatives.
Q: Any tips for new business owners or struggling business owners?
A: Successful entrepreneurs aren’t driven purely by money or profits. You MUST have a deeper reason and purpose for your business, and this should be the factor that informs your offerings, identifies your best clients, determines your pricing structure and defines what success looks like for you. While it may be tempting—especially when you are starting out—don’t just take on clients or make short-term decisions solely for the money.
The ELC Entrepreneur series highlights ELC Members who have been successful in starting businesses. Their stories will provide insights on what went into their decision and how they navigated some of their toughest obstacles. They will also provide tips for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make the leap.