View from the top, now on the bottom rung

Reverse psychology: Corrinne Graham held corporate-management positions in her teens -- then decided to shoot low (and aim high) with her startup business consultancy.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

If there’s one thing Corrinne Graham learned from starting at the top, it’s the value of starting at the bottom.

A multiple degree-holder – including a PhD in healthcare administration and a master’s in global management from the University of Phoenix, plus undergraduate degrees in business management and accounting from SUNY-Old Westbury – Graham worked her way into leadership rolls while still in her teens.

One of her “multiple corporate rolls in quite a few industries,” she noted, was as senior manager – before age 20 – for a regional IBM reseller, where she was “fortunate that they respected me and recognized my work ethic.” Others gave Graham insights into different departments, from accounting and human resources to marketing and customer service, in industries as varied as retail, healthcare and construction, even nonprofits.

Such high-level experiences early in her career taught Graham many lessons – including, ironically, the benefits entrepreneurs can glean from scuffling through the startup phase.

“We all are guilty of thinking we know how it ends,” she told Innovate LI. “But we don’t always understand or even realize the importance of the details in the middle. You kind of have to go through that. It’s the only way to be successful.”

So when Graham earned that PhD in 2012 and decided to parlay her multiple experiences into a business consultancy, she chose to focus on startups and other early-stage companies – circling back, as it were, to help not only her clients but her own young enterprise learn the business-growth ropes.

graham-international-2“I decided to go back and work my way back up,” she said.

In 2013, the entrepreneur founded Graham International Consulting and Research Inc., a Lindenhurst-based consultancy with some unique cards up its young sleeves. Staffed by Graham and a freelance team of subcontractors and “conditional hires,” the firm looks to “transform the vision of companies or individuals into possibilities,” Graham said, primarily through management services that help rookie business owners make the tough calls.

“We identify the needs of the business and try to get an effective message to them, to help them make the right decisions in terms of business growth,” she added.

That’s par for the course for any business consultancy. But by focusing her substantial education and diverse professional background on small to mid-sized businesses, Graham is attempting to consult when most businesses need it the most – not advice on how to maximize profits or corner a market, but more basic guidance for a business’ earliest days: renting equipment versus purchasing it, hiring or standing pat, how to penetrate new markets, when to relocate, and where.

“I become that second pair of eyes for the CEO,” Graham said. “That second brain that helps them think about strategic planning and development, that can help them build their expertise and experiences in ways they perhaps didn’t think of.”

Graham International’s most out-of-the-box vertical, arguably, is a function of its New York certification as a Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise. By hiring the firm for project management and other business-consulting purposes, clients can earn credit toward their own MWBE certification – and even qualify for state programs, including Requests for Proposals prioritizing minority- or female-run companies.

Noting New York’s “pretty aggressive push” in support of minority and women business owners, Graham called her MWBE-for-hire vertical “a small but significant part” of her own startup enterprise.

“Based on the experiences I’ve had, several people have reached out to ask if I’m a certified MWBE,” Graham noted. “Now, when an RFP comes out, [startup companies] can reach out to us to perform different aspects of their work – managing billing or human resources, those types of services – and perhaps they’ll qualify based on the services we provide as a certified minority-owned business.”

In one case, Subsidium Healthcare – an offshoot of Louisiana-based healthcare-services provider Schumacher Clinical Partners – subcontracted Graham International’s management services specifically to qualify for an RFP from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. In another, Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Fechheimer Brothers Corp., an Ohio-based uniform maker with a large operation in Brooklyn, brought on Graham International to qualify for a contract with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Graham, meanwhile, continues to stoke several fires, perchance to create even more unusual verticals. She routinely leads workshops at SUNY-Old Westbury and Farmingdale State College covering branding, marketing and other issues of “personal and operational development” for early-stage business owners.

She also lends her expertise to various high-minded causes. Graham is part of the management team of a “collaborative effort” – including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University and other partners – exploring the use of photovoltaic systems to power critical life-support systems.

Not bound by terrestrial constraints, she also sits on the board of Space Renaissance USA, an activist organization dedicated to the “peaceful development of extraterrestrial space to expand the human realm into a solar civilization.”

While she acknowledges that certain companies and organizations reach out to her specifically because she’s a minority and a woman – “I use my certification wherever I can,” she noted – that’s not always the case.

Sometimes, they reach out to Graham just because she’s smart – smart enough, at least, to recognize the value of starting at the bottom, even if you’ve already skimmed the top.

“Of course I’d like a bigger office with more employees,” she said. “But first, I want to help [entrepreneurs] see how they can navigate these landscapes.

“My goal is to become the elite consulting firm for small, mid-sized and startup businesses,” Graham added. “The PricewaterhouseCoopers of that world. It’s a big dream, but I’m working on it.”

Graham International Consulting and Research Inc.

What’s It? Business consultancy for startups, with an MWBE bent

Brought To You By: Riches-to-rags-to-riches (she hopes) entrepreneur Corrinne Graham

All In: A personal $70,000 stake, covering marketing, branding, website development and other basic startup costs

Status: She might actually be heading into space