Retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia had an interesting take on the journey to becoming a leader.
“When one sits down at the decision-maker’s desk, there are only a few strides to walk from the front of the desk to behind the desk and being the leader of an organization,” she said.
But LaVecchia, now a partner at McCarter & English, said the road isn’t easy. Leadership, she said, isn’t taught — it has to be experienced.
LaVecchia was one of the three female leaders who helped kick off the 2022 Women Business Leaders Forum put on by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association in Atlantic City — as she was joined by Ruthi Zinn Byrne, founder, Zinn Graves & Field Inc., and Marjorie Perry, CEO and president of MZM Construction & Management Co.
Each told the audience to the audience to be cohesive, own their own power, stay relevant, overcome their mistakes and watch others.
LaVecchia said she got an “a-ha” moment while serving as an assistant counsel for Gov. Tom Kean — watching him change the attitude in a room of other counsels from one of discouragement to encouragement.
“In one small gesture, the governor gave us cohesiveness because we stopped focusing on our individual failures,” she said. “He fostered resiliency by focusing on the one good thing that happened that day.”
Perry, too, offered the audience of mostly businesswomen words of empowerment: Dream big, call on your network and do not give up.
Perry said that, when she started her construction company, her vision was bigger than her journey. She didn’t have much experience in the field.
Lack of experience, coupled with the amount of sexism and racism in the industry, did not deter the entrepreneur who came from Newark to give up.
“You must think big and think about scale,” she said. “Ninety percent of U.S. businesses stay at the boutique level. Why? They get in their own way. You have to break up your psychology and mindset as to why you are doing what you continue to do.”
Perry’s fledgling business lost $1 million on its first contract, which she said took her about five years to work back.
“This was dumb and painful, but life-changing at the same time,” she said.
But mistakes didn’t stop her.
Perry called on her relationships she made along the way, and really made others believe in her. She made promises and learned to think faster than those around her.
“Hardships are going to happen in entrepreneurships, and you need to learn to dance, skip and hop all the time,” she said.
Perry went back to school after she was accepted into Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Executive Program. While there, she said she first felt that she didn’t belong among others in the program who had companies with revenues of $500 million.
One of her professors told her it was all about how she was thinking. She had every reason to be there, too.
“Have a $500 million mindset,” the professor told her. “I learned that my power is just as equal to your power, I don’t care how much money you have.”
Her final words for her audience were to have your mindset match the goals and strategies of your organization.
“If you could marry all of that with the highest level of integrity, peace, love, joy, family and values, then you will have a successful business,” she said.