This is the latest in a series on spotlights on interesting companies I’ve worked with in my small business legal practice. Diamante Public Sector Group is a Sacramento-based crisis and emergency management consulting group that has worked on a number of high-profile major disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to the 2010 PG&E Pipeline blast in San Bruno, California.
Earlier in my career, I worked with Diamante’s three founders, Reggie Salvador, Mark Ghilarducci and Tad Bell, in the California Governor’s office.
After the administration ended in 2003, the three joined Witt Associates, a public public safety and crisis management consulting firm founded by former FEMA Director James Lee Witt. They later launched Diamante Partners.
From Hurricane Katrina to Pipeline Explosions
John Corcoran (JC): Tell us about the work you currently do.
Reggie Salvador (RS) (co-Managing Director): Diamante specializes in bridging the inter-dependency between the public and private sectors. Specifically, we provide our clients with intimate intelligence related to governmental processes as well as focused operational services support.
We work with local, State and federal governmental entities, business entities in the agriculture, energy, public safety, infrastructure, real estate and financial sectors as well as non-profits and philanthropic foundations.
JC: I know you’ve worked on some incredible projects and emergency recovery operations over the years, from Hurricane Katrina to the Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California in 2010. Can you share with us a few highlights of the types of projects you have worked on?
RS: Sure. In 2004, Hurricanes Francis, Charley and Ivan destroyed the Florida Tri-County areas of Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee, and we were brought in to assist them in developing a Long-Term Economic Recovery Plan.
When Hurricane Katrina occurred in 2005, we assisted the State of Louisiana to help them with their response and recovery efforts. In Louisiana, the National Guard had responsibility for emergency services. This alone created numerous issues from military support to operational and political quagmires. In the long run, we were successful in convincing the State (through new legislation) to remove emergency services from the National Guard and place it as a stand-alone agency.
We’ve also done work more recently in China. We assisted the Sichuan Province in their efforts to standardize Emergency Medical Services.
We also continue to assist Pacific Gas and Electric and all municipalities in their service territory involved in the Glenview Fire Incident in San Bruno in facilitating and processing all response and recovery costs.
JC: How did you get into your current line of work? Was there something that inspired you when you were younger to seek it out?
RS: We (the initial three partners) started off working closely together in government. Tad (Bell) was the Undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Mark (Ghilarducci) was the Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and I was Deputy Cabinet Secretary where my portfolio included Food and Agriculture, Emergency Services, among others.
[Note by JC: Mark recently took a position as Secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, meaning he’s the guy the State of California turns to when there’s a disaster. I told Mark when he took the job, When the sh*t really goes down, I’m calling you to let me in the bunker.]
When the Administration changed, the three of us continued to work together but this time in a company founded by former FEMA Director James Lee Witt. It was as if the three of us continued to do the same thing we did in our previous government capacities, but this time it was for a private company.
It was not something we sought out to do. Rather, it was something that we just continued to do because there was something between the three of us that enabled us to work well together.
JC: What famous or not-so-famous role models or icons have you looked up to, particularly for inspiration as you have built your business/career?
RS: This is an interesting question to ask. We can give names and reasons why. First, in all honesty, there are those that know who they are and why. Second, there are those whom we also associate with inspiring us in a business sense with respect to ways in which how NOT to do things. Either way, it’s a question better left unanswered because they may or may not be the same people.
JC: If you could go back in time, what advice do you wish you could give your younger self about entrepreneurship and starting and building a new business?
RS: Our advice would be to make sure you ask the right questions. Asking the right questions will allow you to make the right decisions. Also, always be cognizant of yourself and your environment. That is always part of any personal and professional basis under which to take action.
When we were in government, we had so many resources and issues to deal with that we were only concerned about finding resolution to the issues because there were so many in waiting that we had to resolve as well. Then when we came over to the private sector, we continued to find resolution to issues on behalf of clients, but it was to the greater benefit of our employer.
That was when we realized that there are those that are made to be employees and there are those that were made to be employers. Both groups come with different costs and benefits. At that point, it becomes an individual (with respect to sole proprietorship) and/or group (with respect to partnership) decision [and the question is] which [type] you would rather belong to. Again, all you have to do then is ask the right questions.
JC: What one thing has been the biggest factor in why you have been successful?
RS: Aside from relationships, there should also be integrity. Because we do no advertising or direct marketing, all of the business opportunities we have entered into have been as a result of our relationships.
We continually build upon a nearly cumulative 70 plus years of providing professional services in both the private and public sectors.
Everyone that we have worked with in the past continues to work with us today because we have always kept our integrity intact.
JC: What are the biggest challenges you face in your business today?
RS: The overall state of the economy is impacting bottom lines in every sector (public, private, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and non-profits). Because of increasing labor and health care costs, governments and private companies are putting fewer resources towards non-revenue increasing projects.
However, this also provides for the opportunity for these entities to bridge their resources together if they share the same goals. A perfect example would be what we have accomplished in the Central Coast area of California in bringing together a private foundation, federal, State and county governments resulting in increased community emergency preparedness as well as a brand new County Emergency Operations Center.
JC: What advice do you have for solopreneurs or small business owners who are seeking to grow their business larger?
RS: Whatever you do, maintain your integrity. You and your team have to make sure that the business has both the capacity and the technical skills to deliver.
We’ve seen companies that seek to grow organically who end up over promising and under delivering. They continually seek business by making promises only to find themselves in a situation where not only have they compromised their clients but their own reputations.
JC: How do you see your market changing in the years ahead? What challenges keep you up at night? What opportunities do you see on the horizon?
RS: One major challenge for us is the perception of retaining our firm and firms like ours. Because we are the ones governments and companies hire when they are trouble, they are often paradoxically hesitant to bring us in. In other words, even if they really need our operational or technical assistance, governments or companies are often hesitant to retain our firm because of the message it conveys that their house is not in order. It is simply the nature of the business when you provide crisis or emergency management services.
Another problem is the slowing economy has meant fewer governments and companies are able to be proactive about crisis or emergency management preparation. We counter this by explaining that being proactive rather than reactive definitely allows companies and governments to ease any potential impacts of future emergency situations and/or disasters. Additionally, with enough time and the correct approach, the economy should pick up back to the point where government, companies, non-profits and NGO’s will have more resources once again.
Greater resources will increase the resources and abilities of our private clients and lead to greater reporting requirements on the public side with each side able to see the value of investing in crisis management and emergency management resources and preparation.