- The co-founder of Alicia J Diamonds talks about growing her new brand from the dining room table
- How she’s built her job to a $45million business in 15 years
- Why she places importance on employing people to the do jobs you can’t
Alison Cooper is the co-founder of Alicia J Diamonds, handmade bespoke jewellery. She talks to 35 Thousand about starting from zero in 2002, her passion for fine jewellery and shares her tips on entrepreneurship.
Describe yourself in 3 words…
Determined, empathetic, resilient.
Tell us about your work
Alicia J Diamonds is a truly personal bespoke diamond and gemstone jewellery service. We also have a new ready-to-wear collection. Our USP is our expert knowledge, and our friendly personal service. Every customer can design and purchase luxury ethical gemstone jewellery from us with confidence. I set up the company partly because I could see that people – particularly young men who wanted to buy an engagement ring – didn’t know where to start, and were getting the wrong advice. We can really help people choose the right diamond (there’s more to it than carats) and design a wonderful ring for the one they love, that will be treasured forever. Helping with the design makes it even more special.
Do you work in a spare room, skyscraper, or other?
I joined the Home Grown Club in London, so that’s a lovely place to work when I’m in town. Otherwise, at home in Berkshire, Dorset or Dubai, usually from the dining table. I’m lucky to have more than one place, and I like to move around.
What parts of your work give you energy?
I have great energy when I’m selling to people, and also when I’m creating a new collection. Doing the photography for Alicia J Diamonds and picking out the images is the sort of thing that gives me energy – the creative and selling parts of my job.
What parts of your work drain you?
In this role, there’s not much that does drain me. But in my last role, as CEO of an airline onboard service business, it was the tenders. I’m not a fan of the day-to-day operational things when they get repetitive and laborious. But I make sure I have people in the team who excel at them.
Most pivotal point of your career so far?
I’d say it was starting off with zero in 2002 when I came back to the UK from Germany with a young son and newly single. I started a company in the aviation catering industry and built it to a £45-million-pound business in 15 years.
Best piece of advice you received that you now pass on to others?
When you sell a company, sell it not at the top of the curve. You’ve got to leave some value on the table for the person that buys it. So it’s knowing when, as an entrepreneur, is the right time for you to leave. Stay strong, because people will try to persuade you to stay. But, being at the helm, you should know when it’s right. Do what’s right for you.
What event or situation is funny now but wasn’t at the time.
When I was married, we went to Dubai with our son Robert, who was then about two. I said a few times to my husband, who was German, ‘Do you need a visa to get into Dubai?’ We landed, and they wouldn’t let him in because he did need a visa but hadn’t got one. I was pretty angry, but I ended up phoning everyone I knew – I had some contacts in Dubai and managed to get him in. I wouldn’t say it’s funny now, but I’m not angry about it anymore! I feel quite impressed that at that age, I was able to fix the situation.
Pets, hobbies, external commitments?
I don’t have a pet – I walk my neighbour’s dog. I like cooking and I love sleeping! I do quite a bit of charity work, mentoring and other work with Women Supporting Women for The Prince’s Trust. I also help my friends in various ways. I seem to be the person they come to for career advice. I have a grown-up son, who I see a lot, and I also help my parents out.
Describe your pre-pandemic day-to-day:
Before the pandemic, because I’d exited my company and had more free time, I used to go to a lot of events, either as a speaker or as part of a panel discussion, talking about my experiences scaling and selling my company.
How has your daily life changed, what’s your new normal?
When the pandemic hit, and all of the networking events I’d been busy going to stopped, I suddenly realised how much time was taken up with it all – travelling, flying here there and everywhere to talk. It made me realise that I needed to spend this newfound time to focus on my next move more. I had started to put together Alicia J Diamonds but wasn’t dedicating enough time to it. The pandemic gave me that time to analyse how we were going to progress the company.
Has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally? How?
To be totally honest, it hasn’t impacted me professionally. It actually enabled me to focus on getting my business started without too many distractions. It also made me more aware of enjoying life, as I was less busy. With the extra time I did take in more of nature and what’s around me, and I think that was good for my soul. Of course, I know people who have lost loved ones, but thankfully, I haven’t.
What, if anything, keeps you up at night?
I don’t suffer from insomnia. But sometimes I have a lot of creative thoughts at night. I keep a pad by the bed to empty my thoughts into, then I go back to sleep.
What have been your best coping strategies over the past year? Do you have any objects, routines or tools that you found particularly uplifting? Gin or Gym?
I’ve definitely done more sports. Before lockdown I really couldn’t run, but I did the couch to 5k and I’m now on the couch to 10k, so now I can run for an hour without stopping. That definitely helps the stress hormones and is uplifting. I also walk more. I used to always jump in a taxi for short trips in London, but now I’ll walk and clock up steps on my Fitbit. I also do yoga now. And I take my next-door neighbour’s dog for a walk. My neighbour has dementia, so it helps her and gets me out into nature. I didn’t use to socialise with her but we got talking during lockdown, so I started taking Bella for a walk. It’s a good way to end the working day.
Did 2020 change your outlook on life in any way?
I did become calmer, I think. Maybe it was the running and yoga. I just slowed down a bit, which made me appreciate my surroundings more. I love being in Dorset by the sea. The sea is an essential part of my life. I find it energising. When I’m in Berkshire I’m surrounded by countryside, which I came to appreciate more, too. Before I was always so busy I was a bit blinkered to nature.
Are you travel ready? Where do you want to go, with who or would you rather stay home?
I’ve already been! I went to Ibiza for my son’s 30th birthday, and I’ve been to Dubai three times. As soon as there was an aircraft to go, I went. I don’t live in fear of the virus. I take the necessary precautions, of course, but I get on with my life. I’m not going to let it ruin things.
Finish this sentence “If you look in my handbag at any time you will ALWAYS find….”
Lip balm, Chanel Chance perfume, phone and my Airpods.
What are your work from home saviours?
I can work happily from most places. I don’t have set routines or anything.
Describe your style?
I’d say my style is luxury: elegant and quite sophisticated. I follow fashion and I’m interested in clothes. Of course, I love diamonds and gemstones, too. My passion for jewellery is the starting point for Alicia J Diamonds. I like to wear gemstones that complement what I’m wearing.
Name your 5 essential items of clothing?
A very nice handbag, an Alicia J gemstone Bold Ring or a piece of diamond jewellery, a great pair of trainers or some wonderful high heels, depending on the occasion and a coat – I’ve got a bit of an obsession with tailored winter coats.
How do you see your business or career in two years from now?
I’d say that we’re definitely a start-up at the moment. But I’d like to think that we’ve fully established our internet shop and our personalised diamond consultations.
What’s something you haven’t conquered yet but really want to?
I’ve always wanted to float a company on the stock exchange.
What could you say to your 20 year old self that would help her the most?
Maybe to listen more. When I was younger, I was very determined and a bit impatient and didn’t always listen. Over the years, I’ve learned that when you have meetings with people you can glean a lot of useful information if you sit and listen.
Do you have a life motto or mantra that really resonates with you?
Nothing is impossible.
Take a look at Alison’s website here.
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