From Capital Project Owner to Consultant: A Q&A with Liezl Diaz, EMBA/MS ’21

Career Corner: Architect Liezl Diaz pivoted from managing capital projects for a healthcare provider to consulting for healthcare capital projects.

By: Janice Endresen
A woman in a hard hast standing at a long white counter and gesturing to the large room with her left arm outstretched.

Liezl Diaz, EMBA/MS ’21, advisory services associate at Arup, at one of the firm’s health facility construction projects in Peru

Liezl Diaz, EMBA/MS ’21, is a graduate of the Cornell Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program offered by the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. She made a successful career pivot with the help and guidance of the Career Management Center at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

headshot of Liezl Diaz.
Liezl Diaz

A registered architect, Diaz is an advisory services associate at Arup, a consultancy dedicated to sustainable development. Diaz specializes in healthcare project management, design and construction, and transition planning and change management. “I work at an innovative global consulting firm that provides technical and advisory expertise in the built environment,” Diaz says. “My expertise is to ensure that our clients’ operational needs are considered, understood, prioritized, efficiently aligned, and effectively implemented on capital projects in healthcare throughout the project lifecycle.”

Diaz was formerly a senior manager at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she worked in project and change management for large-scale healthcare capital projects as the owner in design and construction and, later, in health administration. So she has a rich depth and breadth of experience to draw on in advising clients at Arup.

What inspired you to switch to a new career track?

Diaz: Bringing large-scale capital projects to a successful completion is challenging, whether you are on the owner or consulting side. Both sides strive to balance and align an owner’s range of perspectives and priorities and to control their impacts within the project lifecycle. So I considered: How optimal would the solution and end-product be if I championed the owner from the consulting side? What project efficiencies could be realized if the consultant truly understood the owner’s drivers and could better address the owner’s needs?

Two women and four men wearing hardhats posing for a selfie photo in a partially completed room.
Liezl Diaz visiting a Peru Reconstruction with Changes Programme health facility construction project in the Piura region in Peru. She is with her Arup teammates from around the world and on-site Peruvian contractors.

In what ways did the SC Johnson College of Business Career Development staff help to guide you in your career pivot? What strategies did they recommended that were particularly effective?

Diaz: My career coach, Liz Colodny [senior associate director of Executive MBA and Alumni Career Development], provided me with clear direction and support that helped me better define the value I could offer. She encouraged me to not overthink things and to leverage my network. And she worked with me on a regular basis to:

  1. Reflect on: What do I want to do? What are my transferable skills?
  2. Create an effective pitch and compelling narrative about how my experience led me to this transition.
  3. Keep the momentum going through a clear, reasonable action plan.

Did you select course work or extracurricular activities to prepare yourself or gain relevant experience for your career pivot?

Diaz: I attended the EMBA/MS program in Healthcare Leadership to improve my understanding of the owner’s hidden drivers in both healthcare and business and ultimately foster further inter-collaboration across the project teams. But both the marketing course work and global healthcare perspectives class best challenged me to consider scale in a different light. While healthcare is a global industry, local drivers and needs play out differently; similarly, approaches to client problems should be repeatable and scalable, yet bespoke to client needs.

Did you build a new network of contacts that has been important to your career pivot? If so, what role did the SC Johnson College play in helping to build that network?

Diaz: My expanded network of healthcare and business leaders—contacts I have made as an EMBA/MS student—has been important to this career pivot: It provided me with a more well-rounded understanding of the New York healthcare market.  

What advice do you have for other students or alumni of the SC Johnson College who are interested in making a career pivot?

Diaz: Liz Colodny’s advice was spot-on if you are interested in making a career pivot:  Reflect on what you want to do, what skills do you have now, and understand the gap. Then address the gap and build a compelling narrative while also leveraging your network.