With more than 30 years of experience in law, business, education, and advocacy, Ellie Shefi has dedicated her life to creating an impact through the empowerment of others. A multifaceted expert, Ellie Shefi is a uniquely qualified consultant and advisor to organizations, governments, NGOs, and individuals—a true unicorn in the industry. Let’s get to know Ellie Shefi, one of CIO Women Magazine’s “Most Influential Women Leaders To Watch In 2023.”
1. You are an expert in numerous fields—law, advocacy, education, and business. What inspired your journey into these fields?
From the time I was three years old, I wanted to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had not become a Supreme Court Justice yet, but I wanted to be her because she was a trailblazing female attorney using her voice as an instrument for change. Listening to her was powerful, profound, and resonant. She was one of the first women attorneys to successfully fight against injustice.
Unfortunately, back then, women—especially from ethnic minority backgrounds—did not have a platform or many opportunities to be heard. So Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, to me, even as a young child, a shining example of standing up and speaking up when you see something that is not right.
In elementary school, my nickname was “Defender”—because when I saw something happening that was not okay, I always said something. When I saw someone being bullied, I stepped in and spoke up. When I saw someone being treated differently, I stepped in and spoke up. When the boys wouldn’t let the girls play, I stepped in and spoke up!
I knew that I could use my voice to call out injustice. My voice gave me my power. Becoming a lawyer and advocate was a natural fit and a way that I could align my career with my values.
However, getting my college and law degrees didn’t come easy! Becoming an entrepreneur was born of necessity so that I could pay for my education. Growing up, my family didn’t have money for extras, so I launched my earliest entrepreneurial endeavors—tutoring, proofreading, and editing, and teaching art and dance—to pay for clothes, shoes, movies, concerts, and other activities.
By 19 years old, I was working in management training. I followed a potential job opportunity in the field that took me from California to Texas. I arrived there with no home, no connections, and, ultimately, no actual job. But I had skills; I knew how to talk to people, how to motivate them, and how to hustle! So, with what little cash I had, I rented office space to open my own management training center. I would recruit, teach, and train people to manage and motivate themselves and whatever sales teams they would oversee.
Once fully trained by me, my management trainees were ready to get to work at whatever company needed them! A business that I started out of nothing pretty quickly allowed me to get an apartment, build a community, and paid for my college education. That was really when I began to level up my entrepreneurial skills. And the daily need to figure things out not only for myself but for my clients and my trainees as well, was the genesis of being a true strategist. Time and time again, I’ve relied on being a master problem solver who could quickly and adeptly navigate the twists and turns of life … and business.
Through my management training company, I helped to launch the careers of hundreds of individuals, which felt wonderful. But for me, it was a successful venture that served a personal purpose: funding my college and law school education. Becoming an attorney so that I could advocate for human rights, civil rights, and constitutional rights was (and still is!) my passion.
After law school, I spent two decades as a staff attorney for a federal judge writing opinions on civil rights cases, constitutional rights cases, discrimination in employment cases, and prisoner conditions of confinement actions—causes that I have long been passionate about. I also advised universities regarding their disability services and non-profits regarding their operations and their advocacy. I then was appointed both Dean of the School of Law and Dean of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at California Southern University.
2. Amazing! In your early career, you went from living in your car to managing a small, but thriving personal business, to rights-based judicial work, to university deanships! And now, you’re a best-selling author, speaker, advisor to NGOs and governments, publisher, and consultant to individual entrepreneurs and global organizations. How did you get from there to here?
It’s a lot, right?! During all those years as a staff attorney and advisor for academia, I was happy being a force for good “behind the scenes.” But a 2019 cancer diagnosis spurred an even stronger desire to be a visible force for good.
I decided to come out from behind the scenes. I said to myself, “No more playing small. I am going to step out from the shadows, use my voice, and step into the full embodiment of who I am meant to be.” I began writing books, speaking on stages, and being more of a media presence. I stepped up my individual advising and consulting. Wanting to further integrate my legal and advocacy roles, I began globally advising governments and NGOs on criminal justice reform, civil rights, and human rights issues.
And once I became a trusted advisor to NGOs and governments, I brought my education, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and legal expertise to HR departments and C-suite executives. Through my consulting company, MTC Consulting, I help companies to create a more inclusive, diverse, participatory organizational culture that sees each of their employees as a whole person, giving them a voice and a platform.
I guide corporate management, as well as governments and NGOs, to optimize their operations, mitigate their risk, modernize their organizational culture, and strengthen their bottom line by truly developing their people to build world-class teams. I offer assessments, audits, and strategic plans, plus full implementation assistance that includes workshops and training for HR and executives, as well as ongoing quarterly assessments and refinements.
For individuals, I develop, deliver, and lead international courses, training, workshops, retreats, and masterminds like Monetize Your Expertise, Best-Selling Book Bootcamp, Monetize Your Message, and Master the Media. Through these, I offer platforms where everyday people and six-, seven-, and eight-figure entrepreneurs have an opportunity to find their voice, tell their stories, and share their message with the world.
I especially love working with high-achieving women who are tired of the rat race and doing, being, and acting as others expect. In addition to advising them, I also lead retreats where they can exchange ideas and insights, as well as decompress and recharge with an aligned group of high-achievers. The Sedona Sisterhood Retreat is a safe space for women leaders to gather with peers and just BE…a place where they needn’t lead or have all the answers.
3. You speak of optimizing operations and modernizing organizational culture. Why is that necessary, and why would an organization look to you to help it reach those goals?
The pandemic and its weight on the workforce made it undeniably clear that organizations have to change. The way the majority of organizations are run leaves no room—no alternative—for people who have to completely upend and rearrange their lives. The en masse loss of the workforce revealed that, to their roots, traditional organizations were not truly built to value and celebrate their people.
This turnover has finally hurt their bottom line, as they have open positions that they are not able to fill, resulting in organizational gaps that hamper production, innovation, and results, and necessitating ongoing expenditure on recruitment and training. Furthermore, if they do not have an enticing company culture, people who have options often leave as fast as new employees are hired. Business simply cannot continue as it has in the past. We are at the intersection of a changing workforce, a changing workplace, and a changing world.
Moreover, the rising workforce consists predominantly of Millennials and GenZers. The Great Resignation, Great Reset, and Quiet Quitting phenomena represent their change in corporate philosophy—a philosophy that is very different from that of the Baby Boomers. It is a shift in priorities and values solidified by the disproportionate burden they carried due to the pandemic.
Now, this rising workforce has a need to align with their organization’s mission and values, and a need to feel that their role makes a real, impactful difference before they’re fully invested. They need to feel seen, heard, and valued, and they are demanding that their organization exhibits some type of social responsibility. If it does, they become much more engaged and involved.
Because of my expertise and experience in education, business, law, and advocacy, I am uniquely qualified to advise organizations from a legal, HR, employment, business, resilience, and social perspective so they can optimize their operations and their impact.
I offer corporate HR departments and C-suite executives, as well as governments, universities, and NGOs, my expertise to holistically modernize company culture, mitigate risk, optimize operations, and strengthen their bottom line by truly developing their people. This not only facilitates innovation and economic opportunity, but fosters the development of human potential as well.
It’s a role that I really love because it allows me to bring all my expertise together.
4. Your clients are very committed to you. Why do you think that is?
Clients come to me because, as an optimization expert and strategist, Ellie Shefi offers practical, easy-to-implement solutions and accountability. They come to me when they’re tired of generalized theories and want customized action plans–no fluff, just results.
Clients stay with me because Ellie Shefi walks the walk. I’ve been in the trenches—I have the real-world experience, the passion, and the drive. Because I’ve walked in their shoes, I understand my clients in a way that someone who hasn’t experienced the journey simply cannot. Organizations trust me because they know that Ellie Shefi understands the various roles in the workforce. This authenticity and integrity permeates all of my services. My clients know and respect that I am dedicated to empowering them to live as a force for good, and they want the same aspirations deeply integrated into their businesses.
5. On your journey, you must have faced roadblocks. What advice would you offer about conquering challenges?
I’ve had many, many roadblocks—personally, professionally, and financially—from domestic violence to my cancer diagnosis. Here’s a story about one of my earliest business challenges and how Ellie Shefi overcame them. I mentioned how I launched my management training company—my first full-scale business—shortly after Ellie Shefi graduated from high school.
My plan was to find potential salespeople, managers, and receptionists for other businesses, train them in the skills required, send them to the businesses that were hiring, and collect referral fees. But, along with having no job, I had very little money, and was even living out of my car! Ellie Shefi had a major obstacle: where and how would I do the training?
You see, even though Ellie Shefi had a plan, I ran into roadblocks. But I allowed the obstacle to inspire me to come up with creative ways to get past that barrier. And Ellie Shefi kept moving forward. I started looking for an inexpensive space and found a building that offered a very small (120 square feet), very cheap office with a desk, a chair, and a telephone. It had a low-security deposit and two months of free rent; it included electricity, heat, air conditioning, and its own phone line.
Two months was enough time for me to start generating revenue, so Ellie Shefi signed the lease for the location that would become my management training center. Bonus: Ellie Shefi even moved out of my car and slept on a mat under the desk! Within a few months, I generated enough money to move from my tiny one-room office into a bigger one. Soon, my management training company became a healthy, growing business.
Ellie Shefi believe that challenges make you stronger…especially if you approach them as opportunities just waiting to be revealed! I’ve found that rather than focusing on an obstacle, it’s much more empowering to focus on finding the solution. Ask yourself, “How can I get around this to achieve my goals?” I believe that bigger opportunities lie on the other side of big obstacles. With this perspective, you’ll smash through whatever is in the way.
6. That is some grit! Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Be patient…everything that’s happening to you is going to become your superpower and you’re going to use your superpowers to be a force for good in the world and impact millions of lives.
7. How have your personal life experiences influenced your entrepreneurial life?
Because Ellie Shefi lives one aligned, unified life, it’s impossible for my personal life to not influence my entrepreneurial life. My life experiences certainly have refined my perspective, focused my vision, and enhanced my ability to relate to others. Ellie Shefi lives an authentic, abundant life of service—a life of impact that Ellie Shefi designed with clarity and intention, where I live in alignment with my full power and purpose. And this imbues every facet of my life and every role that I play.
8. What advice has most profoundly impacted your leadership?
Be the leader you would want to follow.
Also, treat your business as a living, breathing entity and provide a safe space where all are seen, heard, valued, and respected. Don’t micromanage; rather, acknowledge your team members as the professionals and experts they are. Give space for each member to operate in their zone of genius, and, thus, each member will shine! Overall, lead with authenticity, integrity, empathy, compassion, vision, and dedication.
9. If your life story was a book, what would it be called, and why?
Limitless … because I am!