Colette Nichols

Learn how to create and nurture relationships sooner.


Colette Nichols is Los Angeles born but a New Yorker at heart. She graduated from Westmont College with studies in Political Science and Economics/Finance. She then went on to complete a master’s and PhD at Capella University in Organization & Management.

At her last position, as CFO & COO of a $435MM hospital in Los Angeles, Colette inherited a $2.7MM bottom line and turned it into $64MM within 18 months. Throughout her career, she has successfully built high-performing management teams. She has the innate capacity to really develop people. She’s a perfect mix of strong for-profit and not-for-profit experience in both operations and finance. Colette uses her operations background to drive big financial performance.

She currently lives in Los Angeles and is running her own business consultancy where she is focusing on improving quality to drive revenue. She’s also the CEO and Chairwoman of The Empower Foundation, where they focus on three major community issues – homelessness, vulnerable children, and health. The Foundation’s mission is to build hope and fund charity. Colette is committed to leading this Foundation without any compensation.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I’m a self-made woman, because I had to be. I’ve been on my own, supporting myself without a safety net, since age 17. I was gifted in school, so I was able to matriculate faster than my peers. But I’ve had to earn everything in life that I’ve achieved, and I’ve overcome a lot of challenges and adversity to become the woman I am today. That’s why it’s so much in my DNA to want to reach out and help others and give back. I paid for my own education. I’m creative. But I’ve had to learn how to develop opportunities and programs and be very resourceful. So that comes naturally to me. Starting a consultancy, where I can help others bring solutions to complex problems, is right in my wheelhouse.

I have a special skill in bringing order out of chaos. I’m not afraid of ambiguity or complex problems that don’t have an obvious solution. That’s where I thrive, actually. My secret weapon is a blank sheet of paper. I’ll use it to start drawing boxes and circles, and before you know it, there will be 15 minutes and an action plan that’s efficient and effective. It’s a skill set that I’ve developed over a long period of time and a lot learning experiences. At the end of the day, quality and culture are the things I’ve learned to focus on. If you nail both of those in any business, the revenue follows.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Everything gets done mainly because of relationships. That’s the most important thing in life. If you’re going to make a difference, you can’t do it by yourself. You need to have an army of people that share that passion. So, I put at the top of the chart my relationships with people and how we can make a difference. And that bond and those relationships lead me to all kinds of wonderful opportunities beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I’m a connector. So, my typical day starts with my beautiful 10-month old daughter, Livvy, and spending some quality wake-up time with her watching cartoons and relaxing in bed. Then I work on my projects, which involves strategy, tasks, meetings, and dreaming up solutions. Then I build future relationships from a business perspective and for my foundation. Then I do lots of diverse chores, which any mom would understand and usually includes 50 loads of laundry. And then I go get in a round of golf. That’s on a good day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

You bring ideas to life by having a very engaging, heart-felt, and compassionate management style. There is no such thing as a bad idea when you’re brainstorming. I have my own life-experiences that bring ideas to life. Real-life. Second, is through my network, I learn from other people in my circle of relationships and a lot of things come up from that, just in normal conversation about their businesses or challenges they’re facing. It’s important to read. I try to keep current as much as I can on topics that interest me. So, between my network of friends, my own life experiences, and topics that interest me, these things just seem to come to the surface. I was walking through an airport in my early years when I traveled a lot and realized there was nothing that caters to manicure and pedicure needs during a long layover for business professionals who didn’t have time for that before they left for the trip. And now, I see those shops in a lot of the major terminals. That’s just one example of how ideas come to me. Life’s experiences.

What’s one trend that excites you?

What really gets me going, is this higher need to help fellow man. Everyone is trying to raise money for their purpose to do good. So, what excites me is working with people who are passionate about attempting to make a difference in the zone or sector that they’re dealing with. Whether it’s homelessness, vulnerable children, or health. And then helping to bring a network of people together to make a positive difference.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m a dog on a bone. When I focus on an issue, it’s a razor-focus. I’m never satisfied with the status quo. And I’m driven.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Learn how to create and nurture relationships sooner in my career. When I was younger, it was easy to focus on where I wanted to go, as opposed to enjoying the relationships I could create along the journey.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

In life when you pitch ideas, a lot of people say that it will never happen. They don’t see the endless possibilities like I can. I have an incredible capacity and energy to overcome obstacles put in my way. And I always look at a situation and believe the glass is half-full. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Nothing ever happens if you subscribe to that philosophy.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Never, ever, ever give up. You always find another way. It’s that tenacity, the work ethic, and the belief in yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish. When you have moments of weakness, there’s this inner voice that says you don’t give up. But you’re human, so there are times you must lean on your network of friends and colleagues. But, in your basic makeup, you must have the core value that you never stop fighting.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Don’t be afraid to be curious and ask questions. They don’t make you look inept or ignorant, they start conversations which lead to interesting lessons, which leads to the next solution for the challenge you’re trying to solve. That’s my sensitivity to where my client or colleague is coming from. I put myself in their shoes and trying to understand what’s causing them to believe what they believe and see where they’re coming from. I know how to engage people, listen, and take their concerns and translate them into possible solutions that can be implemented. These are the skills that you need to have to interact with people well.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think the failure was that we had huge success with changing the governance of a public hospital by a landslide vote of the public, while significantly improving the financial and quality performance of the organization. The failure was convincing the public to pass a general obligation bond for $350MM, due to the political environment. It’s my biggest disappointment.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Someone should start a retail business that serves healthy, nutritious, water-based beverages. Like Starbucks, but without the sugar. And uses ingredients that have health benefits, like collagen, charcoal, and ginseng. So, instead of ordering a Starbucks latte, you’d order a Collagen Sparkling Cucumber Mint. I’d drive through every single day for that.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Well is was a little more than $100, but it comes to mind. And that was the tribute concert to Jackie Robinson’s life at UCLA. It was so inspirational; about everything he had to overcome and achieve in order to make career options possible for others that came after him. And it just resonated with how I live my life and re-energized me to continue the work that I am doing.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

My Gmail calendar is the source of truth for my whole life. Without it, chaos would prevail.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I read Crucial Conversations and participated in leading a management retreat on its principals. The tools provided in that book have been instrumental in helping me navigate really difficult situations and conversations that most people tend to avoid because of a fear of conflict.

What is your favorite quote?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Key Learnings:

• People are genuinely, good and want to do the right thing. We all need to help our fellow man.
• Belief in yourself and the importance of relationships to achieve extraordinary results.
• Be honest and have integrity, because no matter what anyone says about you, the truth always prevails. And, in the end, good ALWAYS wins.
• When I’m 90 and I look back at my life, I won’t remember the job titles I held, or the salaries. I’ll remember the lives I touched, and the people who touched mine and how those lives and friendships really added value to make a difference in this world. That’s really the only thing that matters.
• It’s never about me as the individual. What motivates people is to have purpose, to make a difference, and to do something meaningful. The importance of anything is that it’s bigger than you, it’s a higher calling, and to always keep your eye on that principle.