Laura McQuade

CEO of Airmedh Advisory

Laura McQuade is a multi-level C-Suite visionary leader holding positions as CEO, COO, and CFO. She has a proven track record in re-envisioning and transforming organizations across many sectors, most recently in change management in the healthcare sector. She has a deep, lifelong commitment to women, girls, and all underserved communities around the globe seeking self-determination and the ability to live their fullest lives. In July 2020, Laura launched Airmedh Consulting, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory services and interim leadership within the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Laura is the Former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY), a merged Planned Parenthood affiliate comprised of five legacy New York State affiliates that include Planned Parenthood of New York City for which Laura was President and CEO since June 2017. PPGNY launched on January 1, 2020. She has demonstrated commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, a lifelong passion for promoting human rights, and has applied her considerable skills throughout her career to empowering women worldwide to determine their own future. Her experience includes building and managing strategic visions and leading staff and volunteers to take organizations to a new and higher level. In 2014, Laura was appointed the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which is now Planned Parenthood Great Plains (PPGP). During her tenure as CEO, Laura led two mergers to create Planned Parenthood of Great Plains, providing healthcare, education, and advocacy leadership in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. For the six years before joining PPGP, Laura served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global human rights organization, based in New York, using law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that governments around the world have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfill. Additionally, Laura has held executive positions with Financial Services Volunteer Corps, a public-private initiative with a mission to help build sound banking and financial systems in developing and transition countries.

She served as the organization’s first Chief Financial Officer, opening its first office in Asia and helping to develop and implement initial program activity in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India. She also served as the Chief Financial Officer at the Foundation for a Civil Society and a program officer at the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs.

She has lived and traveled around the world, promoting democratic principles of citizen participation and government transparency and building the capacity of civil society organizations to help citizens hold their governments accountable. Other organizations whose constituents have experienced the benefits of her leadership includeBank of America Global Corporate & Investment Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

Laura was honored as one of Crain’s 2019 50 Most Powerful Women in New York. Other honors include City & State New York: 2019 Above & Beyond; City & State New York: The 2019 Nonprofit Power 100; City & State New York: The 2019 Women Power 100; City & State New York: The Healthcare Power 50. Additionally, in November 2018, City & State New York recognized her on their inaugural Women Power 100 list.

Where did the idea for Airmedh Advisory come from?

I launched my consulting firm, Airmedh Advisory, in the second half of 2020. It might not have seemed like the best time to start a new business, but the areas and sectors in which I have the most experience have been some of the most stressed during the pandemic. The nonprofit sector generally, and healthcare more specifically, have experienced sizeable challenges since Covid began. Many organizations have experienced severe downward revenue pressure that resulted in layoffs; remaining staff were asked to do more with less, leading to burnout and more staff turnover; and all of that was magnified within the healthcare sector. Many organizations are struggling just to keep their doors open and manage day-to-day pressures with little or no time for thinking strategically about what their future can and should look like post-pandemic. For much of my career, I have been that strategic visionary with the great privilege of being able to look beyond the day-to day because I had staff who kept the all important trains running. This has allowed me to work with teams to re-envision and transform organizations to get to the next level in their organizational lifespan. This is the value added I have brought to organizations throughout my career, so when it came time to launch my own business, it’s exactly where I went. Communities, particularly historically underserved and black and brown communities, rely so heavily upon their local social justice organizations and healthcare providers. All too often, though, those organizations are stretched thin financially and professionally. To be able to partner with Boards, management, and staff at these critical community organizations to build more sustainable financing and delivery models feels like the best use of my skills and experience at this critical moment.

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

Airmedh, incidentally named for the Irish Goddess of Healing, is a start-up, so I’m still building the business. Unlike other startups where raising capital may be your first step after visioning the business, consulting is all about the clients. You have to start with your own contacts and build a reputation from there. You begin with first level contacts – people and firms that really know you and your work – and build your pyramid from there. On each call I do with a first-level contact, I try to come away with at least two contacts of theirs to which I can reach out. I am laying the groundwork for not only getting projects that are available now, but building relationships with organizations so that when a need arises, I’m on the top of their list. It’s not wholly different from applying for a traditional job where you need to send 100 applications to get two interviews!

I’m also developing and fine-tuning my process. Clients are equally if not more interested in your process than even your substantive experience. I’m not re-inventing the wheel here – there are many powerful models out there like McKinsey or Bain from which to start and build. There are certain givens in consulting – defining the problem, undertaking analysis, putting together a plan and timeline – but like any startup, I want to bring something new to the table. Many of the organizations I would like to work with may never have had the resources to undertake a strategic consulting project or they’re suspicious of transformation efforts that feel like the corporatization of their values-based work. Anyone can come in and deliver a report that tells an organization exactly what they need to do to strengthen and sustain their mission, but how many of those reports either sit on shelves gathering dust with viable strategies never implemented or organizations start and fail to gain the momentum to see the work through. One nugget of wisdom I should have heeded earlier and more often in my career is, “culture eats strategy for breakfast!” Transformation cannot come solely from the top – where it often begins and ends. You certainly need buy-in from Boards and senior management, but without buy-in and champions at all levels of the organization, transformation no matter how urgently needed or how strategically sound will fail. My goal is to create a process to share with clients that includes this up front as a critical part of the investment in success. The trick, though, is time. Many organizations – and I’ve certainly been there as a CEO myself – are looking for quick change. Culture work takes time, so I’m working on a process that balances the urgent need for new strategies and approaches, with a recognition that people hate change and will push back on initiatives that are well thought out but don’t include their feedback.

What’s one trend that excites you?

This doesn’t have anything to do with my consulting business, but I’m really excited by trends in consumer upcycling and repurposing. I have been a lifelong consumer of fashion and believe shopping can sometimes substitute for a trip to my therapist, but the global rise and expansion of “disposable” fashion and its impact on the environment is jarring. I’m not going to say that I’ve given up all disposable shopping habits, but buying and selling at physical and online consignment sites now constitutes probably 35-40% of my buying. In addition to fashion sites like The Real Real, Thred Up, and Depop, I regularly buy and sell on AptDeco and Facebook Marketplace, and now am just as likely to opt for a trip to a local thrift store as I am to head out to a department store or boutique.

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

I am addicted to innovation and am constantly seeing ways to make things better – whether people want my advice or not! LOL You have no idea how many times I wish I could speak to operations management at Starbucks! When you combine that trait with my fairly limitless tenacity, I think it comes together to enable me to take on challenges others might not, overcome roadblocks as they appear, and to hear solutions and different ideas no matter where they come from.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I am addicted to innovation and am constantly seeing ways to make things better – whether people want my advice or not! LOL You have no idea how many times I wish I could speak to operations management at Starbucks! When you combine that trait with my fairly limitless tenacity, I think it comes together to enable me to take on challenges others might not, overcome roadblocks as they appear, and to hear solutions and different ideas no matter where they come from.

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

Most bad drivers on the road are men in hats.

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

Except for the inevitability of failure and pick yourself up and start over again. That’s true in almost every aspect of life, but when you’re building or expanding a business, you’re going to hear NO far more often than YES and you have to deal with it and keep going. I recently read an interview with Alan Alda and he said that these three words are the secret to life – adapt, adjust, and revise. They’re not only the key to life’s happiness but the key to success as an entrepreneur!

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

Affordable, bespoke global travel packages. Bespoke travel is almost always only open to the wealthy. Living in NYC, I know that you can have a phenomenal time in this city – eat great food, experience great entertainment, and stay in charming accommodations – without breaking the bank. Sure, you can probably figure out how to do some of this by reading those books – “Fill in the Blank City on $100 a day”, but wouldn’t it be great if you could connect with a travel firm that gave you bespoke vacation packages at different budgets put together by experts who really knew the ins and outs of the destinations of your choice?

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

Four tiki mugs from Dukes Waikiki in Honolulu, including the recipe for their MaiTai! If you can’t go to paradise, then you need to make sure you can recreate paradise at home!