Atlanta Journal-Constitution article
Posted on Nov 15th, 2005

INSIDE METRO BUSINESS: UP CLOSE: DIONNE MAHAFFEY-MUHAMMAD: Celebrities can call on agency for many tasks
Margaret Newkirk - Staff

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Dionne Mahaffey-Muhammad was a software engineer who liked to do volunteer work when she saw the problem that launched her on an entrepreneurial career.

Through volunteering, she came into contact with a series of celebrities --- musicians, sports figures --- and their entourages.

Those entourages, she said, "weren't what I would have expected" for people of high income and high visibility.

It was Muhammad's "eureka" moment. Celebrities needed some kind of professionally run human resources organization to screen and then refer high-quality staff.

Muhammad is the founder of Celebrity Personal Assistants, which began as a first-of-its-kind staffing agency for high-profile stars and athletes and now also includes a concierge service to deliver what stars need on a request-by-request basis.

The staffing agency provides qualified job candidates for stars looking for help managing their busy lives.

The concierge service steps in when --- for instance --- a rock star's tour bus rolls into a strange town after dark and no one knows where to buy those sesame breadsticks the star can't live without.

The company's clients include members of the Dave Matthews Band, India.Arie, actors, professional athletes, authors, politicians and Wall Street executives, along with every player in the National Football League.

Q: When did you decide to start your own business?

A: I was born an entrepreneur. My father ran his own business for 25 years, and now he's on business three. I remember when I was 8, I asked the neighbor if I could have some of the pecans lying on the ground. Then I got paper bags, marked 25 cents on them and sold pecans door-to-door.

Q: What does a personal assistant do?

A: A personal assistant is the project manager and lifestyle manger of high-profile individual's business and personal needs. It can be public relations, household management, construction and labor relations, event planning, anything.

It's for busy people that need to have their lifestyle properly managed, whether you're a celebrity athlete, entertainer, politician or minister. [Not having that help] can adversely affect the careers of these kinds of individuals.

Q: Who are your clients?

A: We serve all facets of entertainment and sports, as well as allied industries. Our client list includes actors, Grammy award-winning musicians, public officials, best-selling authors and corporations. We have also staffed music tours, private homes, film or TV production sets and businesses.

Q: Who's your biggest client?

A: We are the official concierge for the NFL. We are a small company, and we now have a multimillion-dollar contract to assist every active NFL player with requests ranging from the eccentric to the basic. This is an incredible feat for us. We're a young company, a minority-owned company, a female-owned company. We provide virtual personal assistance to 1,800 [NFL union] members and 5,000 retired members. It's an audience of about 10,000, managed from Atlanta.

We're on call 24 hours per day for their players. They'll get anything from travel arrangements to moving the interior of their home.

Q: What have been the strangest client requests?

A: [The Seattle Seahawks'] Jerry Rice, he's known as the Goat --- the greatest of all time. We had a player, before he was traded, that said, 'I want to present a goat to Jerry Rice on his birthday.' He called at 3 p.m., and he wanted the goat hand-delivered by noon the next day. One of our concierges found the goat.

There's nothing strange to us. We understand the audience we work with. We're always poised to deliver white glove service to them, no matter how eccentric. You have to be resourceful. If someone says, 'I want a feather on an apple, and I want it to have diamond studs on it,' our reaction is 'What time do you want it?'

Q: Do you have competition?

A: There have been a few companies that have attempted to pop up and do this after us. I don't know if they have the reach we have, because we've been operating in Los Angeles and New York for a long time. We became public about what we were doing in 2001, but we operated quietly starting about 1999.

Q: How do you find clients?

A: One thing about entertainment epicenters like Los Angeles and New York: The typical marketing strategy doesn't work. It's about relationships. I can't take out a billboard and get Shaq [O'Neal] to call. He'll call if someone we worked with refers us. We spent our early years networking, to meet the right people in order to get those opportunities.

Q: How big is your staff?

A: There's a staff of six in Atlanta. I have two business development officers working between New York and L.A., and a team of marketing consultants who are not staff but consultants.

Q: Where do you see the company going?

A: I'm on my way to pitch to the LPGA [Ladies Professional Golf Association], and I want to pitch Major League Baseball. We presented to the NBA [National Basketball Association]. Our goal is to dominate this niche market. It was unbelievable to me that it was underserved in this way.

We have a lot of room to develop ancillary services that can benefit this market --- like workshops and seminars for those wanting to get into this. I've written a book about it: It's really a simple book about adaptability. And we have tools. It was really our [computer data] tool that sold us to the NFL --- our tools and the types of data that we have, because of my background in engineering.

> Age: "I recently celebrated the 16th anniversary of my 18th birthday." (34)
> Hometown: Birmingham
> Residence: Ellenwood
> Education: Auburn University, undergraduate. Graduate studies at Brenau Women's College.
> Professional background: Previously directed the quality engineering department of Nelvendor Systems.
> Hobbies: Free-lance writing, reading, public speaking, volunteering, time with family.
> Favorite movies: "The Color Purple," "The Bridges of Madison County"
> Favorite books: "The Art of War," Sun Tzu; "The Four Agreements," Don Miguel Ruiz; "Message to the Blackman," Elijah Muhammad; "The Good Earth," Pearl Buck
> Most admired person: "My mother, of course. Anyone striving to be righteous, those who use their lives to improve the lives of others."
> Favorite quote: "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome." --- Booker T. Washington
> Favorite cartoon character: Anjelica Pickels of Rugrats. "Her personality seamlessly intertwines brains and sass, but underneath it all, she is a real softy."
> Fact that would surprise people: "I am an excellent cook."
> Friends describe as: A velvet tiger
> Words I can't stand: Can't and no.
> Driving principle: Innate desire to control my own destiny.

Questions or Comments?