Meet Lori Luis: Wall Street is not the place for the timid. Lori Luis, a seasoned Project Management and Human Resources professional with over 20 years of experience at a major Wall Street firm, knows this well. A former First Vice President, Lori also knows how to chart her own course, define and live out her own dreams. LoriLu Consulting is her brain-child, based on the realization that organizational skills inherent in project management are not well known or available within our communities. Meet this recipient of the YMCA of Greater New York Black Achievers in Industry Award winner.
MN: How many years did you work at Merrill Lynch and what key functions did you fulfill at the firm?
LL: I worked at Merrill Lynch for 29 years. After graduating from college, I participated in a management training program, learning the ins and outs of financial services and how to manage others. I always wanted to get into Human Resources (HR), and one of my managers moved to HR and needed someone who was organized and knew how to work a computer. I worked in HR as Manager of Incentive Compensation Administration, managing the systems and processes for the annual cash and stock bonus programs. I also worked on the HR Process Redesign team as the Integration Manager, Manager of HR Data and Reporting for the Global Asset Management business and Head of firm-wide HR Data and Reporting. I ended my career at Merrill Lynch as the Head of Global HR Project Management and Reporting.
MN: Had the concept for LoriLu Consulting already formed in your mind by the time you left Merrill Lynch?
LL: Actually, no. I was laid off from Merrill Lynch/Bank of America in 2009 and had no idea what I wanted to do. I took that first year to relax and do some of the things I didn’t have time for when I was working on Wall Street. I spent time working with my church (St. Philip’s Episcopal Church) on their Strategic Plan, and with a non-profit community organization which I have followed for years (Clothed With Love). I now had time to “give back”, and did so by providing my project management expertise to help these groups achieve their goals. It clicked – this is what I really liked to do, so I decided to obtain my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and explore ways to bring this skill set to my community. Most of these local groups cannot afford to hire professional project managers, so I revised and simplified the Project Management methodology to reduce cost by decreasing the number of hours a project management consultant would work.
MN: What role does LoriLu Consulting fill for business leaders, and do you offer services for start-up firms?
LL: LoriLu Consulting provides guidance, tools and techniques for achieving goals on time and within budget. I primarily work with non-profits, community organizations and small business start-ups. This entrepreneurial niche market immediately grasps the benefits of employing the project management methodology to meet their goals. I meet with the business or organization leaders to document their goals and objectives, plan a strategy for action and create key metrics for measuring progress. This methodology includes identifying their partners and sponsors, assigning accountability within their teams, and managing actions to due dates. The result is always to achieve their objectives on time and within budget, which equates to success.
MN: Why did you decide to focus primarily on marketing, communications and project management at LoriLu Consulting?
LL: I have found that in many cases, small businesses, community organizations and non-profits lack the technology and resources to compete in this uncertain economic climate. Many groups need to gain exposure and access to a generation which has grown up with technology, specifically the Internet. I offer simple and inexpensive websites, social networking strategies and print media to broaden their modes of communication to their target audience. The project management component helps to organize all aspects of the plan for executing on specific goals or starting a new venture. The marketing and communications is really a subset of all the issues we address. As part of the project management process, my clients receive documentation (project charter, project plan, marketing plan, status reports on key metrics, etc.) and training in how to operate as a successful team. One of the inherent benefits of project management is team building.
MN: Lenders often won’t approve business loans without a business plan. Yet, many entrepreneurs start companies without taking the time to create business plans. How do you educate your clients on the importance of not only having detailed business plans but on taking steps to bring those plans to fruition?
LL: The business plan is key for funding, but it is also necessary as a roadmap for the management of the business. I use a very simple template which I ask the team to complete prior to our first meeting. It gives me a sense of how each member of the team sees the business operating, how they identify their target audiences, who they think their partners and sponsors are, and what they hope to achieve. When we first start out, everyone may have different ideas of how they see the business – then we work towards consensus to develop a business plan that everyone buys into and will support. I always stress that a business plan is iterative – it will change over time based on any number of internal or external conditions. Being flexible, creative and open-minded is one of the team attributes we build to adapt and make adjustments to the business plan when necessary. I developed a seminar called “Creative Business Planning” which highlights the key elements of a good business plan with tips on being imaginative and trying new techniques.
MN: If an African American woman new to the business arena contacted you and asked for support building a strategic plan, what specific types of services would you offer her?
LL: I would take her through my strategic planning or business planning sessions, which usually consists of two to three informal meetings. The first meeting is with the business owner to get a sense of the type of business, the market and to identify her “team”. I use the term “team” loosely, because it may not be an organized group of people reporting to her. It could be her family, friends, supporters or those who she looks to for advice and guidance. I then do some market research to investigate the competition, the physical location, the target audience and potential partners. Partners serve as contacts to help promote a business or a cause and should be identified early on to help test the market. I’m a big proponent of “partnerships” and working as a team to everyone’s advantage. The next two meetings may include some of these resources, and we address specific items in the business plan – open and honest conversation, challenging questions, identifying risks, dependencies and how to measure success. All information is documented and the business owner receives a written plan as a result. If the business owner requires further assistance I provide marketing and guidance throughout the start-up process.
MN: In less than two years you’ve worked with organizations like the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, NYC Imaginary Library, The Hope Program and Clothed With Love, to name a few. Did you network to gain these clients or did these clients approach you mainly due to your marketing efforts?
LL: All of these clients were gained through networking. I identified a target audience here in Brooklyn, NY which would benefit from the project management methodology and I attended networking events, programs and seminars which would give me access to the people who make decisions. Networking is extremely important. Do your homework – research the clients you are after and learn about their management structure – know who the “key players” are – don’t be afraid to approach the senior people. Pitch your ideas, then follow-up with an email and a phone call. Attend events where you know you can meet people who are influential – spend a little money to do so, if you can make the right contacts. Use your own network – Linked in and Facebook are powerful if used correctly. You can build a substantial network from your connections and their connections.
MN: How important has maintaining previous business relationships you developed throughout your career been to the success of LoriLu Consulting? Also, would you recommend that women sever previous business relationships and start fresh when launching their own businesses? Why?
LL: Maintaining previous business relationships is essential – as they say, don’t burn your bridges. These contacts can always provide references or act as a sounding board for your new ideas. You may be surprised how their network can help in your new venture. When I started my business, I spoke with several of my former managers and colleagues. They helped to confirm what my strengths and weaknesses were and led me to the decision to start my own consulting company. I continue to maintain relationships with them, discussing new ideas and keeping them abreast of my accomplishments and challenges. A few of them have started their own businesses and have asked for my help as they make the transition to entrepreneurship.
MN: For women who are presently going through a career shift, what advice would you give them in regards to continuing to move forward when they may not be able to see what’s ahead of them?
LL: My best advice would be to take some time to get to know yourself. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and validate them with people who know you well and whose advice you value. Then decide what you like to do, what you are good at, what you need to achieve (financially) and what you are willing to give up (emotionally). For me it was my passion for organization and technology, working with concerned people to achieve results and being able to manage my own time. I knew I never wanted to work 10 – 12 hour days again, so that was a primary factor in entering the consulting game.
MN: In what ways have you surprised yourself since you made the switch from employee to employer?
LL: I think the biggest surprise has been how receptive organizations and businesses have been to adopting the project management methodology. The challenges that small businesses and community organizations face due to a strained economy, limited budgets, advances in technology, unavailable skill sets, and variation in demographics of their local target audience all require a fresh look at the business or organization. Strategic Planning has helped many existing groups to revisit their plans and redesign their approach. Startups realize that they need to do some groundwork and develop a plan before funders will even entertain their ideas. As an employer, I work with other consultants, freelance graphics artists, web designers and print companies. I’m amazed at the number of talented individuals who have launched their own enterprises and we work well together and share business. This is why I have become such a big fan of partnerships within communities, working together to achieve success for all.
MN: What’s on the horizon for Lori Luis? Where do you envision yourself at this time next year?
LL: I would like to see LoriLu Consulting employ two to three junior project managers. I also want to continue to mentor young people who are starting careers in Project Management and in Human Resources. Those studying for their CAPM (Certified Associate Project Manager) or PMP (Project Management Professional) would assist me with client meetings, market research, planning and documentation. Working with me they could gain “real world” project experience and log the required number of project hours for achieving certification. Afterward, I can connect them with my network of business professionals to move on as project managers in a corporate environment.
Rhonda Campbell, an East Coast journalist, is the owner of Off The Shelf radio and publisher of Long Walk Up and the forthcoming Love Pour Over Me.
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