Diana Arama or the art of networking
The Lady of Mayfair – weaving links, creating synergies, staging amazing events, creating business opportunities for her clients … but also an entrepreneur, a manager, a mother, an influencer as well as an exceptional initiator of unique atmospheres, successful fund-raisings venues, tailor-made professional and business networking meetings.
I first met Diana just over a year ago. In London. The venue was a select event aimed at potential investors, mainly family offices, and the objective was to raise funds for a promising start-up active in the field of biopharma. I have to admit that I have grown rather used to (and extremely difficult to be impressed by) this type of meetings after almost two decades spent – in a previous life – in the shark-pool of corporate communications (first for one of the world’s leading players in private banking and later a major, New-York based, investment bank). I might even (to my utter dismay, promised) have developed a slightly cynical approach to them. So, as I was heading without enthusiasm for the cosy lounge of a prominent Mayfair luxury hotel hosting the venue-cum-lunch-cum-presentation-cum-business cards exchange session, I clearly remember having brooded over some uncharitable thoughts : “It’s almost always the same thing anyway… a bland lunch, held in some uninspiring if comfortable settings, with people potentially - but not necessarily - interested in a presentation received, at best, with polite indifference, in between one or two glasses of tepid champagne and three petits fours. With the added value of a polite exchange of business cards – soon to be forgotten at the back of a discarded file or crammed in a pocket. A rather low impact and not too sustainable exercise, all said and done, with a poor return-on-investment ratio, measurable essentially, if at all, by a few non-committal hand-shakes and potential public relations benefits…”. Yes, I was being rather optimistic, in my usual grumpy (because-it’s raining-and-I-haven’t got-my-usual-shot-of-triple-expresso…) way.
Well… I was wrong. And was soon to stand corrected. For the meetings and events organized by Diana are always special. They stand out, literally. More than simply recognizable, they are unmistakable. Business-like, and deeply so, but with a twist. That little “extra » which differentiates the ordinary fare of your local pub (nice but nothing special) from a dinner cooked by a starred chef. Diana’s original, one of a kind signature : networking at its highest and most efficient level. With elegance and know-how. Networking is a talent. Not just an address book – although this is certainly an essential success factor. It requires flair. And intuition. A knack for finding central yet elegant settings as well as extraordinary, unusual and striking stages for special events. The art of selecting and promoting a project or a company (be it a sale, a takeover or an expansion requiring new investors), a prestigious brand or a promising new company, and finding the right fit and the right people for them.
« I am a kind of successful matrimonial agency …»
As Diana later told me, with one of her dazzling smiles: “I am simply making happy weddings happen! It’s essentially business matchmaking, I would say: the right settings for connecting the right people, brands, entrepreneurs, investors and family offices.”
The “Diana’s touch”- that unique and formidably effective “IT Factor” which struck me at first sight: in that muffled world where deals and networking are weaved behind closed doors, the quintessential “hard place to get to”, silkily but ruthlessly competitive, at the very heart of elegant and successful London, where there’s no shortage of networking and events agencies, Mayfair Networking Events (MNE) stands out both for the originality of its events and presentations and for the quality of its guest lists. Specializing in business consultancy (providing also expert training and advisory services) and networking, MNE offers its clients a wide range of bespoke services such as the organization of marketing and investment meetings in exclusive venues, tailored-to-measure one-off events as well as series of boutique events. It has succeeded in carving itself a place of choice and a reputation for excellence within one of the world’s harshest and exacting business environment. Becoming, in the space of a few years, a key player and reference partner in the rarefied air of business networking and PR. A peerless networker as much as an exceptional business introducer and consultant, relying on a confidential but unparalleled relational network, and the creator and initiator of outstanding events. Whether for organizing a business or get-together meeting with investors or potential takeover partners, or for facilitating a capital raising, finding the perfect company or investment opportunity fulfilling the expectations of a prospective real estate buyer, setting up a contact database for a new company or participate in making a success out of a new brand or product launch, and even coordinating a fund raising evening for a charity project or a cultural event… Behind the impeccable mechanism and seamless fluidity stands a flawless organization, outstanding professionalism and unequalled address book… as well as the social and business skills, the natural ability to connect with people and mediate relationships of MNE’s founder and director: Diana Arama.
« Networking, hard work, connections, know-how… but also an innate charm, the sense of humour and a never-failing elegance”.
« Results, success, efficiency » could certainly stand as MNE’s motto on Diana’s business cards… A never-failing professionalism to meet the most exacting requirements but always infused with style and that little extra “something” in terms of irresistible charm that are her trademark signature.
I must admit that I was impressed. For I know exactly what it means to organize meetings at that level, with that kind of challenges and issues at stake. To make sure it will be a success. Much more: that it will be up to the hopes and objectives of even the most demanding clients. This implies intuition as well as a rare talent for organization. And the ability not only to link the right people with the right project, but also to find the best, rarest or less available locations, the most exclusive, the most difficult to get: from the Royal Automobile to the Savile Clubs to some exclusive lounge at the Claridge to a tiny, highly confidential bespoke lingerie boutique at the very heart of Belgravia – options, possibilities and wishes are limitless. The ability also to create the most agreeable and plush atmospheres, unforgettable ambiances, brilliant and unexpected settings. The art to work with the most famous and/or creative florists, stage decorators, designers, photographs, caterers and chefs, while providing communication and public relation services at a par with the highest expectations. And monitoring each event’s media coverage afterwards. A position fit for a real marathon runner … but clad in Dior and wearing Manolo Blahnik’s pumps. And intent on constantly setting new standards in terms of excellence. So, hats off to Diana: I come from that very specific universe. I have worked there for years. I know how incredibly competitive it is and remains, and, above all, I know, so well, how pivotal a role London, the ultimate global city, is actually playing in it. It is an exacting, challenging, hard and sometimes fierce world. “Many are called but few are chosen”, as the saying goes. An address book isn’t enough: one needs additional and rarer skills. To be able to, literally, weave links and create the proper frame and vibes. This is talent. Flair. And work. Hard work. As well as that rarest of component: versatility. The gift to talk to clients coming from different backgrounds, to switch effortlessly from the world of real estate to the community of arts and creation, from a cultural event amidst journalists, agents and artists to a more conventional business lunch where confidentiality is a cardinal virtue, with attendees from the realm of new technologies or financial engineering, or run from one fashion show to a fundraising gala… In short: it requires to be a master at multitasking, with the flexibility of a snake charmer, the intimate knowledge of every client’s language and culture, a brilliant approach and encyclopaedic knowledge of a large variety of domains ranging from politics to music to bioscience to hedge funds to fashion… sustained by impeccable credentials, a never-failing taste and a real knack for uncovering new trends and designers.
« I am a Magician – the Fairy of Networking !».
« I am a Magician», smiles Diana with her irresistible sense of humour. «The Fairy of Networking! I weave links, cast spells to conjure the right settings and decors, lend a helping hand to ensure dreams and wishes come true, ensure the best conditions for a successful deal, connect and help building alliances and networks!”. A fleeting image suddenly comes to mind – of an incongruously blond Hindu goddess, elegantly dressed in a pale powder blue suit by one of the trendiest fashion designers of the day, her multiple arms glittering with diamonds and weaving, twinning, spinning, binding, connecting… Couldn’t it be that she is indeed the reincarnation of one or the other of the “Grandes Dames” who reigned unchallenged over Europe in the 18th century? The soul and spirit of the famous literary salons, clubs and other circles which exerted an unparalleled influence on the Age of Enlightenment, from Paris to Saint Petersburg to London? When socialites and entrepreneurs, artists and sponsors, politicians and explorers gathered at their much sought-after dinners, mixing sparkling conversations, the finest food and wines, exquisite music in hand -picked company with peer meeting, confidential negotiations and important political or business decisions. A descendant and the spiritual heiress of the Marquise du Sablé or Madame du Deffand, reincarnate as a successful businesswoman and creative entrepreneur of the 21st century: meet Diana Arama, the Lady of Mayfair.
Diana Arama – The Interview.
A casual conversation rather, over a cup of Darjeeling and a plate piled high with scones, strawberry preserves and clotted cream, in the plush and very British comfort (upholstered in flower-printed chintz) of one of Diana’s favourite hotels: the Lanesborough, in Knigthsbridge. Yet, an evanescent “je-ne-sais-quoi” seems to be floating under the exquisitely gilded panelling and the sparkling crystal chandeliers: the smoky fragrance of black tea infusing on a samovar, the sweet pastel hues of the palatial facades lined along the banks of the Neva, the light scintillating on the ice in the heart of the Russian winter… but also the Ermitage museum and its fabulous collections, the wildly yet desperately joyful nostalgia of another capital city, and cherished memories bathed in the pale translucent light of the Gulf of Finland… A true encounter, as AILLEURS the Blog understands it: down less trodden paths and with an “extra-ordinary” person and conversation partner, for an informal yet exciting exchange of views. Far removed from the usual “glossy magazine” style. No waffle: you are by AILLEURS and nowhere else! Because passion and talent always come together and never settle for just the ordinary.
In a few words: who are you, Diana Arama?
I am a business matchmaker, a fairy of networking
What childhood memories define best the woman and the entrepreneur you have become?
I grew up in what was still the USSR. Like all the children then, I was part of the Young Pioneers – the State youth organization… we used to march through the city, a lot… with red kerchiefs and white ribbons She smiles with an impish, startling twinkle in her eyes.Fashion already! It really was very pretty: a little black skirt, with an apron… Cheerful laugh over a cup of tea.
What were your dreams made of at the time – in a country that was about to open?
When I was about 15 to 16 years old, USSR no longer existed. Neither did the Pioneers… And my dream was to see the world, to travel, to discover the universe of fashion industry also. Fashion, still and always! It fascinated… and fascinates me. The very first foreign country I went to was Finland. Because it was close by: just 3 hours away by road from home. I went to a drugstore there…and it was just … waow… the feeling of abundance was just amazing. The variety of available goods... I just loved the cosmetics department! All those make-up products and brands. It was really “love at first sight”! She burst into an irresistible laughter, takes a sip of fragrant black tea and resumes our conversation, down memory lane. I was already fluent in English, as I had been learning it since I was five. Thanks to my Mum. She loved that language. I owe my very unusual name to her. Diana is very un-Russian, and I had to be given a second name, a very orthodox one, in order for the pope to agree and proceed with a christening. But frankly, it really was a most interesting and very happy time for me: things were opening up, there was a lot of hope, many foreigners were coming to Russia, they were fascinated by it and keen to discover it.
Where and what did you study?
I went to University at Saint Petersburg. I studied Art. Saint Petersburg is ideal for it: just think about the treasures of the Hermitage Museum! The setting and history of the place are unique. To this day, I retain a passion for Flemish painting, especially still lives, for example. The Hermitage collection is exceptional. And portraits: particularly Gainsborough.
What brought you from the collections of the Hermitage to the banks of the Thames?
After graduating, I chose not to stay in a purely academic environment, and I gave up the idea to become a museum curator: while working in the Archives, I had realized that, even if I really loved that atmosphere, I was more attracted with working with people, nurturing social contacts, exchanging views. It was clear that I would never be happy while working in the sole company of papers and documents! She bursts out laughing once more, and her sunny cheerfulness is contagious: I can see the head waiter, in the background, divesting himself from his trademark starched impassibility, flash a brief smile and discreetly gesture to the waiter in attendance that she should bring another plate of cucumber sandwiches to our table.
And thus ?
Then I worked for some time as a guide in the Ethnography Museum and I loved that: working with people, speaking in English, working in settings suffused with art, culture and history. I absolutely loved that job. That was for me! The contacts with people from different cultures, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds, this is what I loved most. It soon became evident that this was what I wanted to do. It was me!
I was then invited to work for a local radio station as a speaker: I was reading news, doing the job of a journalist, conveying information. A I was speaking and reading English, I spoke about news from the UK. It was once again a different world for me, and I felt comfortable in it. More than comfortable: I loved it. But I finally realised my urge to create my own business and be the entrepreneur I was at heart: I established my own company, a travel agency. It already was tailor-made, and very exclusive. I provided my clients with genuine bespoke VIP services. I already had my own car; I was driving them around and they appreciated it. I organised tours of Saint Petersburg just for them, with their own program, exactly fitted to their wishes and tastes, I was their personal guide: museums, opera, boutiques, concerts, top restaurants. It was also at this time that I began working with specialists in luxury real estate: I connected them with the clients who wanted to buy or rent a flat or any kind of exclusive private real property. That quickly generated very positive word of mouth and my company soon was a success.
Why London, then?
As chance would have it, I met someone… fell in love, got married… my husband was living in London, I therefore moved to London. I spoke the language, so this was not such a drastic expatriation. But I didn’t know anyone there. I also had just given birth to my first child… So, I created my own business again, to be able to work from home. It was in the beauty segment, another passion of mine. I was one of the first people in Europe to work with Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, which was totally unknown at the time. But I soon felt the need to be better and fully integrated in my new London life, to meet people. I first joined Berkeley Group, a British property developer. I was responsible for all Russian clients, in the international desk. This proved to be an excellent training, really. I discovered that I had a real passion for the world of real estate and executive property development. That’s where I learned my job. They were the ones who taught me to sell. I graduated in their renown Sales Academy. I learned by doing as well, in close relationship with my clients: the importance of listening to them, really listen. To understand their needs and their wishes. This is really where I developed my understanding of real estate, and how to apprehend that particular market. Where I honed my style and the way I work. My style of approach and customer care: my approach to sale is much more comprehensive and global. Holistic.
Then I moved on the buy-side. As head of the Eastern European department for Triangle, one of the main real estate groups in the UK, specialized in premier properties. From there, the transition towards establishing my own company was a smooth one. And an evidence. The timing was right. This is how I started and how Mayfair Networking Events began.
Just a few words to describe your job?
It’s essentially business matchmaking, you know. The art of making the right persons meet their ideal business partners and facilitate the best possible agreement for my clients. The Art of Deal. Of Facilitation. The art to find the best business conditions and the best business partners to achieve the best possible deal. Exactly like the match makers of yore! Yes, if I had to describe my job, that would be that. Absolutely.
Do you focus on one particular asset class or specific business area?
I had decided from the outset that I didn’t want to concentrate on one class of assets only but to take a real multi-assets approach. A true all-assets class perspective: real estate but also art, goods, takeovers, etc.
What can you provide to your clients that a wealth manager or any other “classical” financial institution or merchant bank cannot?
My clients are all over the world. They also travel all over the world. I connect them. What they want is a secure and stable environment that is in the same time safe and comfortable. It’s a matter of trust. And this is the reason why all MNE’s clients must beforehand fill a very detailed application form. Our offices are located at the heart of Mayfair – one of the better and most pleasant neighbourhood in London, opposite the renown Claridge’s, one of their favourite hotels in London, where they have their habits and like to stay. This is also one of the hotels we regularly choose to organize business lunches and presentations. Because it’s their home turf, so to speak, and it is definitely ours as well: It makes them feel comfortable, in familiar and agreeable settings. We speak the same language and have the same references. And then, the whole clients’ management is entirely done by me: a full-fledged, tailor-made management. Personalized and evolutive.
Why did you choose London? Why not Paris, or Brussels – or even New York or Singapore?
Because London is and remains THE ultimate international city. Still and always. The central point where my clients from the US as well as those from Australia converge, where the wealthy families from Europe as well as Americas or Middle East have based their family offices. It remains the place where most investment banks and financial institutions have their headquarters. But it is also a city of art, of culture, a city where many clients hold properties. The security level is high, it can be reached easily from almost any place in the world. London is definitely the ideal meeting point where the whole world will always come together. And return to.
What is the profile of your target clients? How do they actually decide to work with you?
We work with many family offices. Some are single family offices, managing just one family’s wealth, other are multi-family offices. For them, discretion and confidentiality are paramount. So, indeed we do not have impressive offices conspicuously placed in highly visible business areas, nor do we advertise or display prominent logos or billboards, the way financial institutions would: word of mouth and personal recommendations are essential factors in our realm. And so are discretion and trust. It is “haute couture” in style and spirit, really. Quite often, people who have already heard about us will consult our website – our virtual business card on-line. Otherwise, they just found us while doing researches on the Net. More often than not, they contact us simply because they liked our website, because they liked our clients and the brands we work with. They feel comfortable about us and then contact us. It’s like shopping online you know: you have a look at a site, surf on it, read the information it provides, see what they offer, like what you see and then… you decide to buy. We charge up-front fees and provide a real “turnkey” approach, with a choice of formulas and formats, clear prices and, above all, genuine tailor-made services. Mostly – but not exclusively – based on networking, hand-crafted from our very big database to support our clients’ objectives and wishes.
Our customers’ base can be divided into two main categories, I would say: the first would be the family offices and the hedge funds. The second, the leading brands as well as exclusive fashion and luxury designers.
Do you expect any major developments or changes in the coming 3 to 5 years? Will the Brexit impact MNE?
No, not really. As a matter of fact, I am really optimistic: what I believe will happen is not so much a question of changes than the opportunity to open new perspectives and explore new markets, with other clients. I recently opened a new office in Luxembourg and am now spending almost 50% or my working time there. And I must say that my vision of things, and the way I understand them, has changed quite a lot since I partly shifted base there. I have found new perspectives, new opportunities as well, that I would not have met in London. This is particularly true for the hedge funds: Luxemburg is an ideal operating basis for them. They are nearly all there today, literally at my doorstep.
Is there a different, purely “Luxembourg-style” approach to work and doing business, in comparison with London?
Oh, yes! There’s nothing like that permanent frenzy, this never-ending feeling of mad rush and overwhelming sense of urgency. People here seem less stressed; they are less under pressure. Or at least they will give themselves more time to do things their way. They want to know you before discussing business with you. You need to have first been properly introduced. If possible, through mutual acquaintances. They don’t like to precipitate things. To come back to my matrimonial metaphor, I would say that things will take longer to be done – and sometimes a very long time… - but that it guarantees much more solid and stable unions.
Do you plan on opening other offices in Europe?
I don’t need to. London and Luxembourg complement each other. It’s ideal and there’s no need for any additional location, really. I genuinely believe that with that twofold base, I am exactly at the right place.
What about the East? Asia?
Why not. I already work on several mandates there, mainly in China. This is certainly something I will give more thoughts about in the future.
A particular wish for the immediate future?
To continue working with my clients and partners and keep developing MNE. I love my job: it’s a constant challenge, a permanent and imperative need to push my limits. But it remains a constant pleasure as well: to work with different clients every day, and to ensure that the are supported to the best in meeting their objectives – individuals or investment banks, funds or luxury brands I have always loved, like Chanel or Dom Pérignon for example… but also young and incredibly talented designers like Luna Mae or Karen Suen ... Expectations are numerous and varied but are always highly specific. The challenge is on par with the demands. I design and perfect each mandate to ensure that the services provided will fit the client perfectly, like a haute couture dress made to measure. For their success is mine as well: every time, it is an intense and deeply satisfying moment for me. Just to be able to say to myself: I contributed to that success. To know that I have been one of the key factors and determining elements of an event. Or of a future and promising business development. And, also, having the opportunity to use my own distinctive style, shape my own trademark at their service: to turn an event into a rare and unique moment for example, which will impress the attendees and make a lasting, unforgettable impression. And strengthen in the same time the identity and the impact factor of a brand or a sponsor. To find THE novelty, or bring THE fresh and new element, the one-off “colour” of the event that will make a difference. To blend arts and business for example – as I did recently for a private concert given by a famous violinist at a special evening event. She never gives any private concert as a rule … and yet she did it for the first and only time. On this occasion precisely. For me and for my client. It’s really satisfying as well to be able to privatize rare or unlikely places. And making sure everything fits perfectly. More than perfectly: “extra-ordinarily”. Out of the ordinary. Always.
Our warmest thanks to the Lanesborough for allowing us to organize Diana’s interview and photo session in their handsome and so comfortable lounge! And our thanks for the delightful extra plate of cucumber sandwiches…