Diana Verde Nieto
Founder & CEO, Positive Luxury
Posted on: October 24, 2012 | Go to profile
Diana Verde Nieto is a businesswoman on a mission to help all women have access to style and well-being through an updated online consumer guide. Diana founded PositiveLuxury.com in 2011 after leaving her position as founder and CEO of Clownfish. PositiveLuxury.com aids consumers by providing information about each featured brand’s social and environmental actions in a simple and straightforward way. A CEO with an activist’s spirit, Diana has helped Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Nike with their corporate sustainability efforts. She was recently picked for the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader Program and is a member of the Global Agenda Council for Sustainable Consumption. Today, Diana can be found in London where she continues to bring a stylish flair to the advancement of the sustainability movement.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: Back in 2002, when sustainability was even more confusing and unpopular than it is today, I founded a sustainability communications consultancy called Clownfish. The company grew from a London base consultancy to international agencies with offices in Shanghai, NY, Milan and Madrid. I sold the business to a media agency in 2008 and stepped down as CEO in 2010. The buzz of having built and sold a business was short lived – I felt empty and without a purpose. I thought I’d never find something again that gets me out of bed without coffee, something that I wanted to give 100% of myself to every day. After a lot of soul searching I realized I wanted to make sustainability cool, normal, sexy, and stylish. I have always believed that the sustainability movement could be a lot more successful if it was to be presented in a positive stylish way.
What makes us different from our competitor is that we don’t put a value judgment on the sustainability efforts of brands and companies. We communicate what they do in a consumer friendly language that is easy to understand – in real time, at the point of purchase and at a click. Companies live or die by consumer choices – our website helps consumers to choose the brands that are good quality and good for people and planet. The power lies in the people.
Q: How can someone who is not in a traditional position of leadership, still inspire a shared vision in her workplace or community?
A: I think that the key ingredients for leadership are consistency, listening and trust – it’s important to give direction, but taking the time to listen to the input and feedback of others can improve the business. I think that the great leaders are the ones that are humble, kind, and speak from an honest place. It is important to recognize that people are not infallible and that sometimes to move forward, you have to go backwards and re-group – and that’s okay.
Q: When I stepped down as President of a company after 9 years in that position, it was quite emotional. If you have ever sold, folded or needed to leave an organization you helped (or did) start, what was that experience like for you?
A: I didn’t start Clownfish with the intention of selling it. My goal was to grow it to an international brand with digital and data at the core. So really I only thought about selling it when Aegis, my client at that time, asked me, “Would you consider selling your company?” and I think that my answer was – “Well, would I be able to keep my job?” It is hard to let go of something that you put so much time and love into making work in the first place. I loved what I did for a living. When I sold my business and then stepped down as the CEO 2 years later, I felt heartbroken and completely empty. I had fallen in love with my business and I questioned whether I would ever be able to feel the same way again.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. How do you stay focused on executing your big picture vision?
A: I was born under a dictatorship where human rights were not available. I was ten years old when I started learning what democracy was about, so I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights which lead to a passion for social and environmental responsibility and for me this is the big picture. Yes it’s important to stay focused but it’s also important to let yourself stray from the path sometimes because doing so can offer inspiration and the chance to re-evaluate and re-focus. It’s timing and patience – that’s what a business takes. You’re not going to build it in a day, it takes time. It’s like a marathon, you train hard, you run it, you push through the wall to get the best time, you ache, agonize and wonder why you put your body through it, and then when you cross the line you just want to do it all over again.
Q: What do you believe makes a great brand?
A: No brand is perfect but, for me, the main component of a good brand is their company behavior, i.e what they do rather than what they say. Established brands that have survived the generations are brands like P&G, Levi’s, Cadbury and Timberland who have all embraced the need for change. They continue to deliver quality products but are constantly bettering themselves behind the scenes.
ON Starting Out
Q: What are your top 3 tips for a woman entering the “real world” workforce?
A: 1. Believe in yourself
2. Learn from your mistakes
3. Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself
Q: Even in a job you love, you won’t be able to utilize all of your talents or explore all of your interests. What other outlets can women connect to, to feel a sense of wholeness?
A: 1. Volunteering can be incredibly rewarding and offer a bit of escapism from work. It can also help to ground you and remind you of the bigger picture.
2. Mentoring and Being Mentored – I don’t like the idea of a role model because I don’t like putting people on pedestals. Mentoring is different – it’s sharing successes and failures so you can grow by learning from the experiences of somebody else. John Elkington, Karen Hanton, and Alex Ferguson have lived incredible lives, and I have been lucky that they’ve shared their experiences with me.
3. ‘You’ time – It is SO important to have ‘you’ time whether it’s running, yoga, cooking, reading or whatever zones you out, whatever makes you happy.
Q: It is a common saying that failure is a stepping stone to success. Can you share a story of how a failure led to something great?
A: I set up a company in Singapore with a business partner and it didn’t work out. I then returned to the UK and explored social enterprise, but it just didn’t seem to click for me. If I had succeeded in Singapore I may never have founded Positive Luxury, and even at less than a year old, Positive Luxury is already something incredibly special. Our Blue Butterfly Award is fast becoming a globally recognized trust mark. Every experience is a learning curve and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the knock backs. If you process them in the right way they make you stronger and wiser.
ON Time Management
Q: What are the items on your desk that you could not work without?
A: Really boring but…
1. My Computer
2. My Phone
3. My Notebook
ON Giving Back
Q: Why is it important for every single person sharing this earth to give back in some capacity?
A: Because no matter where you’re from or who you are, giving something back, no matter how little, will have a positive knock-on effect.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure”. What do you know for sure?
A: That collectively we have the power to create change.
Q: I’ve learned from experience to take inventory of my relationships, to see who is imparting more negativity, stress or insecurity than confidence. Have you had to reassess a personal or professional relationship that was holding you back from becoming a more fulfilled or successful person?
A: I was married and I’m now divorced, but I don’t have a tragic divorce story to tell. It was never that he was holding me back. Sadly we just grew apart, but my ex-husband is still one of the most supportive, kind and caring men I have ever met.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson your mother taught you?
A: It would be my Grandmother, and she taught me to always stand up tall.