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Self-Made Leader

Self-Made LeaderTufts graduate Diane Hessan, who heads one of the Boston area's most rapidly growing Internet companies, helps companies and consumers communicate with one another.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.11.07] As president and CEO of Communispace, a firm that helps companies communicate with and learn from their consumers via the Internet, Diane Hessan expects to record revenue of $22 million this year, up from last year's $12.2 million. But the 1976 Tufts graduate is not resting on those laurels, continuing to seek ways for her company to evolve.

"I don't want to be done," she told the Boston Business Journal.

Hessan came to Communispace, then a start-up, in 1999 after a few stints in consulting and 15 years at a sales training firm, according to the Journal. She helped the firm evolve into a lucrative enterprise that works with major companies such as Hallmark Cards, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive to establish online customer communities which "plumb the minds of consumers on everything from new products to advertising slogans," the Journal reported.

Growing up, Hessan was drawn to opportunities to lead and learn. She immersed herself in extracurricular activities, including serving as class president, learning multiple instruments and playing on the field hockey and lacrosse teams.

"I wasn't an extraordinary athlete but I was a good leader," Hessan told the Journal. "I just liked rallying people."

According to the Journal, she completed her economics degree from Tufts in just three years, enrolling in Harvard Business School immediately afterward. After being turned down by Gillette, she landed at a sales training company, The Forum Corp., where she worked for 15 years, ascending to the role of executive vice president and co-authoring the book Customer Centered Growth.

Shortly after leaving Forum, she joined Communispace. The Watertown, Mass.-based company was then focused on software that helped companies foster collaboration internally.

"Hessan soon discovered the business was flawed because it was hard to get people to use the software, competition was brutal-and when the economy tanked, harnessing an organization's collective wisdom was not exactly a top priority for most companies," the Journal reported.

Reacting to feedback from Communispace client Tom Brailsford of Hallmark that such online communities might benefit customers more than employees, Hessan seized on the idea. She oversaw redevelopment of the product and won the company's approval of a shift in strategy, the Journal reported. Communispace rode out the dot-com bubble burst, secured venture capital funding and is poised for continued success.

A key component of that success, Brailsford told the Journal, is Hessan.

"She's assembled a great team," he said. "She's a very personable, down-to-earth leader."

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