Marjorie Perry is not your typical entrepreneur. The president and CEO of MZM Construction and Management Co., Inc. transitioned from being a Newark, N.J., educator to working in corporate sales for companies including United Airlines. She found the prime opportunity to combine her love of education and her desire for life wealth while working as an independent consultant, ultimately becoming partner at one of her client’s companies, MZM. She then became sole principal of the multimillion-dollar company that now boasts a client list including Marriott Hotels and New Jersey Transit.
One doesn’t get to that level of success without making a series of boss moves that will position them to attain ultimate success—especially in an industry dominated by men. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Perry on how women can position themselves in their own entrepreneurial and career advancement pursuits. — Janell Hazelwood
Change your mindset from “manager thinker” to “leadership shaper.”
“Most of us are trained, especially women of color, on how to be great managers. We can manage from sun up to sun down, but no one teaches us how to lead,” Perry says. “Leadership is not about getting 10,000 tasks done, but seeing to the next day that nobody else can see and staying in that visionary place.” Don’t get too stuck in the business of everyday tasks that you’re not focused on the big picture and planning for big-picture wins. “It is so key, because you end up having your business as your job if you don’t, and that’s when the burn-out comes and the failure comes,” Perry adds.
A great career or business coach can help with this. “[Getting coaching] was the biggest thing for me because what you think is who you are,” Perry says. “My thinking and behavior patterns had to completely shift.”
Seek a healthy balance in your focus on service efforts— tasks done for free or exposure — and your focus on wealth building.
“I was caught in that vortex for a while, where I was speaking at everyone’s conferences for free, and my time wasn’t focused on building the wealth,” Perry says.
Discern investment vs. return, and know clearly how to maximize acceptance of opportunities to sit on boards, speak at events and be part of committees. “I’ve been really laser focused because I can have the best of both worlds: I can be a better service leader to my community and I can also make sure that I take care of myself,” Perry says.
Watch how the wealthy and successful move, and adjust.
“I went back and earned my MBA,” Perry says. “I could see that we are coming out of the industrial age to the economic age. … If I wanted to penetrate that [wealthy] 1% [of the U.S population] , then I had to start paying attention to how that 1% got to be that 1%. I slowly started emulating little things, such as putting away $3,000 a month, but keeping my overhead very low and tight, so I could keep my personal money flowing. Took a hit [during the recession], but its come back three-fold now because I’ve now been able to expand into the global market with what I’m doing now.”
Approach your path to success in your industry in a three-dimensional way, not a linear one.
“Everyone sees the brick and mortar of construction, but it is a business first,” Perry says. “What [many women] see is the physical. I see it as a business, and I happen to do physical work.” There are many facets of a business, so no one path is not the end all, be all. Think of your skills and how you can diversify what you offer to the market beyond the job titles within the job titles that exist — or even further — creating those that don’t. There can exist a traditional infrastructure there that you can uniquely contribute to.
Minimize time “distractions.”
“As a leader, I need to stay clear and free to grow the business,” Perry says. Handle the bigger picture things and delegate the smaller tasks that contribute to the ultimate goal. “Distraction is what pulls leaders off point. There’s a hundred things to do everyday— not to mention about adding your family to the pot. And that’s why sometimes men are a little more successful than women because, from sun up to sun down, they’re growing the business. Women are trying to do 900,000 things and grow a business.”
Build a confidence level for handling the changes that success brings, and embrace the fact that you may oftentimes stand alone.
[In becoming successful] I had to slowly understand that I’d be alone more than being in a group,” Perry says. “And at the top, it gets real thin up here.” Sometimes growth can lead to changes in your circle or the things you’re interested in, which can lead to the guilt of getting “too big” or distance between old circles, friends and family. To progress, one must accept that reality and keep it moving.
“I’m forced to play at the next level, whether I want to or not,” Perry says. “For a while I thought that if you weren’t making a lot of money, you can’t be in the circle of wealthy leaders. Well, I want to be in the room when they’re talking, and they don’t do small chatter. … If it’s not part of your success, why are we talking about it?”