If I could start a movement, it would be in alignment with women helping other women in their industry. We need to be able to have conversations about both whatever the new project is AND our kids, or our new handbag, or whatever, and not lose any credibility. When I was entering the workforce, femininity was not seen as an asset. I think that’s still the case sometimes. I want the world to know woman can still be women (be moms, show care for someone, wear high heels, etc.) and still get the job done and done well.
Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Constant, MBA.
Michelle has more than 20 years of experience in health security, pandemic planning and emergency management. She has provided expert consult to clients at all levels of government and the private sector on diseases and threats. She has spoken at the National Homeland Security Conference, the International Association of Emergency Managers Conference, the National Preparedness Summit and more. She has been published in trade journals such as the Crisis Response Journal and the International Association of Emergency Managers. Ms. Constant earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from California State University San Marcos, as well as dozens of other sector and threat-specific certifications. Ms. Constant founded Women in Homeland Security Southern California and currently serves as the organization’s Past President.
Her firm’s clients include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the State of California’s Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and several Fortune 500 companies.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ateach juncture of my career I felt as though I was called to do the work. I started in the field in the late 90s and my first “call” to stay in the field was 9/11. It was quite the call. From there I was asked to promote to a regional position. I didn’t really feel ready but they needed by skillset so I “answered the call” and took the job to manage emergency management programs for Kaiser hospitals across SoCal. In 2004 I supported the County of Los Angeles with a big weapons of mass destruction (WMD) exercise program so I “answered the call”, started my own business and did the work. With the downturn in the economy people were losing their jobs left and right and our industry was growing. So I answered the call to build the structure to be an employer. It’s been a theme for me. I keep getting “called” to help build a more resilient Nation and I keep answering the call.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
You only want one?! An ongoing challenge for me was moving from practitioner to CEO. Ask me how to prepare for an anthrax attack — I‘ve got you. Ask me what a P&L is — not so much. I made it a mission to become educated on the business of running a business. I asked colleagues, I hired consultants, and eventually I went back to school for my MBA. Degree in hand, I still voraciously read business books, consume business news, and make it a point to develop relationships with other business executives in my field.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
- Staff — I (finally) figured out how to hire the right people. Now we have a team of amazingly talented individuals whose core values align with our company’s. We’ve gotten so good at hiring that now our clients contract us to do their hiring! We are proving staffing service to both the US Dept of Defense and the US Dept of Homeland Security.
- Competition — I love the art of the competition. It is truly an art. And I come alive when someone tells me I can’t do something. I have so much confidence in my business, our staff, and the importance of what we do, I’ll happily go the extra mile to compete to win a contract. We now have work across the state of California, and in Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Washington DC.
- Calling — I feel very called to step up to support the safety and security of our great Nation, and I feel equally called to cultivate a company that provide a healthy, supportive, and creative platform for our employees.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone told me the amount of hours it would take! Being your own boss is NOT the easy route.
- I wish someone told me how fulfilling it would be to provide a platform for staff to grow and be amazing. It’s really something special to be a part of. I have multiple staff who started with me as Interns who are now highly sought after consultants leading projects with big name clients like the State of California, US Dept of Health and Human Services and Fortune 500 companies.
- I wish someone told me that, just because I knew how to do the job (i.e., disaster and crisis management) does not mean I’ll know how to run a company. Or hire staff. Or balance our books.
- I wish someone told me the importance of hiring top talent. We’ve revamped our interview process, background checks, job advertisements, etc. and finally have a system for selecting the very best staff. As an added bonus, great staff tend to recruit people like them to work for the company, so we are growing with the right kind of people.
- I wish someone told me to brace for the curve balls and pivots that businesses endure. In the end, as long as you are strategic, observant, and are ready to flex, the business will thrive. (OK, there may be some other factors in there but these are my top picks!)
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Eat healthy, work out, don’t work too many hours. Try to prioritize what’s most important. And delegate to your staff more. Let them fly. I bet you’ll be amazed at what they do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I think of my grandmother often. She came to this country in 1916 with hopes of a better life. She survived The Great Depression, two World Wars; she was a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. She instilled in us a deep sense of pride about our roots, a sense of responsibility to contribute to the workforce, and a sense of gratitude about the privilege of American citizenship. She taught me that living in this country meant that I had access to opportunities that some only dream of. She taught me that I had a responsibility to seize them.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally — I’d like more of what I already have — more time with family, friends, travel and relaxation. I’m pretty good at balancing it but I could be better.
Professionally — Don’t get me started. I have so many goals. The main thing I want to do is to achieve meaningful growth — and we are. I want to increase our top line (of course) but I want to build an infrastructure that creates an ideal platform for employees to support each other, learn, and grow. I want the good work that we do to be supported by intuitive IT systems and practices. I want to continue with our efforts to promote philanthropy, equity, and environmentally conscious practices.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I want to build the company so the next generation can take it to continue our mission for years to come.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I started a wonderful nonprofit called Women in Homeland Security — Southern California. Check them out at www.whssocal.org. The mission of the organization is to provide a platform for women in our industry to network, grow and give back. If I could start a movement, it would be in alignment with women helping other women in their industry. We need to be able to have conversations about both whatever the new project is AND our kids, or our new handbag, or whatever, and not lose any credibility. When I was entering the workforce, femininity was not seen as an asset. I think that’s still the case sometimes. I want the world to know woman can still be women (be moms, show care for someone, wear high heels, etc.) and still get the job done and done well.
How can our readers follow you on social media?