Driving Disruption: Melva LaJoy Of LaJoy Plans On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Leveraging legacy — Often I am thinking about what I want to leave behind or better said, have I done something today that supports my industry’s long term future. If I haven’t, then tomorrow I better get to it because disruption, I think, is to benefit all of us.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Melva LaJoy.

As a C-Suite business leader, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Melva LaJoy Legrand has been committed to using her over 20 years of experience in education and production, to help individuals, and companies elevate their missions rooted in social justice, educational access, climate change, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Additionally, she has worked closely with executive leaders to create organizational cultures that support overall wellness, encourages feedback, values empathy, and authenticity within their leadership teams.

Recognized nationally for her thought leadership, Melva is a 6x award-winning CEO that has used her social impact to grace the stages of IMEX Frankfurt (2024) andIMEX America (2023), the One Women’s Summit (2022), IBTM Americas (2022), four cities for BizBash’s Connect Conference (2022), and the Tide Risers Summit (2021). She has been featured in Forbes, Authority Magazine, Washingtonian, The Black Wall Street Times, HQ The Association, and more, speaking to the issues surrounding the gender pay gap, redefining what success looks like for mature women, navigating career changes, being an ally for Black women in the workplace, and building a legacy business through impact. Having relaunched her business in 2019 only to lose 98% of it during the COVID pandemic, Melva embraced the pivot and re-established her business offerings to build her company to where it currently stands: achieving footprints in 38 states, working with budgets in excess of $1.5 Million.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to be interviewed again. I am proud to say that I was forged by a love in my view from Melvin and Joyce who were joined together as life partners for 54 years until my father passed on May 7, 2021. As a child, I was extremely shy and struggled with significant self-esteem issues related to being brown skinned and not the standard of beauty that I saw being glorified around me. However, I was always a dreamer, writer, curious, geeky (the braces era was pretty bad) and observant only child who used my imagination as a passport to a world beyond my home.

I am lucky because I always knew that I was loved and wanted. My mother and father would never not let me believe that I did not belong and they continuously planted the seed in my head/spirit that I was meant to do big things in life.

It is important to highlight that my business LaJoy Plans is directly connected to my parents’ love, my ancestors’ prayers, and my journey of overcoming self-hate. My middle name means love and joy, and so, when I decided to pursue this career full time, I knew this business would be the love and joy of my professional life.

Every business decision, career step, team member, and client I like to say represents the love and joy of it — that is the essence of LaJoy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are so many things I am proud of at LaJoy but right now there are three things I think that stand out:

  1. First, 90% of our clients are in a minimum of two year agreements.
  2. Second, we are a comprehensive events management company who can do event planning but now we have become known as exceptional writers/directors producing a documentary later in 2024.
  3. Last, despite the boutique nature of our company we recently were awarded the EventEx International Agency of the Year silver accommodation from 1200 applicants across multiple continents.

Many days I cry happy tears for what my childhood dream has become and I am so thankful.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I have been asked this a few times and right now here is what is real for me.

  1. Lead with love — And I mean this sincerely, but I think part of the reason I am successful is because I strive to lead with a human-first approach. I know my team, I value my team, I make time for them even when the work would suggest otherwise, because I know that there is no leadership without connecting with your employees as full, interesting, diverse, and complex human beings. There are no results when you rush to assign the next task and I believe there is no endurance in the work when you have no empathy. It has taken some time to get to this point but I am convinced that empathetic leadership is the way forward.
  2. Willing to take responsibility — Here’s the thing, if you are not willing to take risk, own mistakes, share credit, celebrate others and essentially be the grown up in the room, you are not ready to lead. If you take feedback personally or stay in small-minded ego focused conversations, you are not ready to lead and if you are waiting for others to jump in before you, you are not ready to lead. At the end of the day, leadership means that you own the project, the vision, the manifestation of wherever the organization is going and as a result, you own all of it. You can’t avoid responsibility and leaders understand the weight of responsibility and rise to the occasion.
  3. Active listener — I have come to realize that some of my greatest leadership moments happen when I listen, which is one more than just one thing. As a leader, you have to be able to listen to what is being said, what is not being said, and reconcile the two. The ability to have emotional intelligence is critical because it aids you with your employees but also in the boardroom. Some people love to hear themselves talk but leaders, real leaders, I think love to learn and you cannot learn if you are always talking. Listening is key.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership

Over the years I have had to make the hard decision to manage someone out of a role or let them go all together. It is hard because if I interviewed and hired someone it means that at some point I genuinely believed in their ability to contribute and grow. Yet, I have also realized that sometimes we can want for people before they are ready or the even harder part is when you want for someone who does not see themselves as worthy, which leadership cannot fix. When these things occur, I end up in uncomfortable conversations and become the bad guy because for the person on the receiving end, I am telling them they are not ready or the right fit and I have to take and deal with whatever their emotions are about this decision. I have been yelled at in these conversations or completely cut off and yet, part of leading with love is knowing that sometimes the greatest thing you can do is let someone go for their temporary discomfort but long term growth. With the exception of one person, everyone I have had to lead with love out of a role, years later told me it was hard and yet, it was the best decision because what is real is that leaders have difficult conversations and will be the villain in someone’s professional story. But here’s the other thing, leaders also understand it is never personal.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

I think to disrupt is to break out of the norm. I think disruption is about innovation, creativity and existing without limits. I think disruption is a gateway to professional freedom.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

For me, I think the biggest lesson of being disruptive or what some may call different, maybe even demanding for people who are uncomfortable with strong-willed women, is that you have to be relentless in pursuit of what you know to be true for you, your path, your purpose and simply, your project. See the reality is that I know what I know, I know who I am, I know my strengths and weaknesses and I really work at it so when I try to push a boundary, when I try to push beyond what is comfortable on a project it is coming from an experienced eye and an eye for excellence which means I am not being disruptive for disruptive sake. When you know this, it allows you to manage difficult conversations more easily, it allows you to brush off feedback that may be mean spirited because the room is uncomfortable with change and most importantly, it allows you to keep going and being unwavering in disruption because when Melva LaJoy disrupts it is for growth, it is for good and so I can’t apologize for being that way, if anything I have to lean more into that even if that means I am sometimes the only one.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

I think my business origin story is a disruptive case study. Look, I had no business plan, restarted over again with no funding, no website and next to no contacts. Also, if you look, while I have won awards, been featured in magazines like yours, I am not trending on social media. For some, the recognition of my business does not make sense but here’s the thing about being disruptive: I did not have to follow the tried and true method to building my business, rather I built it my way, my time, my hard fought lessons because what I believe to be true is that at the end of disruption, should you choose to just be, your destiny awaits.

However, I think it is critical to be equal parts disruptive but intentional. I think when you disrupt for disorder there is no gain but if you are intentional things happen and naturally fall into place. Because of my approach to business, I think LaJoy Plans has hit a new stride in who the business attracts. And yet, what is also real is that when you do not follow the status quo, sometimes that means you are not invited to all the things (this is definitely real for me), sometimes people are nice nasty because they are wondering why your way, your disruptive distinctive way works and begin to get jealous/envious, and sometimes it takes longer to achieve what you after and yet, in my view this approach is better because my business is built on a real, living human being and people can invest in that.

I think the LaJoy of it, how I find myself here is why the business exists in the first place.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Say the thing — I think one of the greatest ways to disrupt antiquated ways of thinking,is to ask the question that everyone is likely thinking but afraid to just say. I ask the question “why” in every creative meeting possible because I do think if people do not have a strong and compelling why it is an indicator that we have gotten comfortable and rallying cry to be innovative.

2 . Leveraging legacy — Often I am thinking about what I want to leave behind or better said, have I done something today that supports my industry’s long term future. If I haven’t, then tomorrow I better get to it because disruption, I think, is to benefit all of us.

3 . Technology — I have to admit that I am behind in this but I am most certainly intrigued in how technology can help us remain more efficient so that we can become more relational.

4 . Creative War Room — I think one of the things every single event leader or perhaps leader in general needs to do once a year is to have a creative war room where they invite their immediate team, partners, etc. and ask the question of what aren’t we doing? What can we be doing better? And then develop a plan, ideally a collaborative plan to deliver on that promise.

5 . Get Outside of your industry — I have to be honest that some of the best leadership lessons I have learned are not in my immediate industry. I understand it is hard to make time for other training and most certainly it is hard to get the money but I think you can’t disrupt anything if you live in your professional and cultural bubble where everyone thinks similarly. Sometimes the best thing we can do is put ourselves in the room where we are the only creative, feel the discomfort and be open to learning from a place that is new. I do think every now and again we need to return to being a beginner to keep us humble, honest, and inspired.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

There are so many moments that have redefined my path but probably the most recent one was losing my father weeks after I was married, actually I was on my honeymoon. For me, outside of having the gift of my father Melvin’s name, in many ways my father was an informal business advisor and he was who I would bounce ideas off of. Therefore, the reality is that without him for a moment I lost myself to grief and I became kind of robotic in my approach, work temporarily mattered very little to me. Sure, I was doing things, but I was not approaching them with the same eye because my spirit…my soul was consumed with tears, grief and loss. What surprised me the most is who I have become within my grief journey as a leader because I really asked myself: Do I want to do this? Do I want to create? Do I want to go into rooms and shake things up? when I could go and pursue a career that did not require so much of me and yet, in this moment, I feel reignited to disrupt, to challenge, to create, to grow and I think a big part of it is as that I answered the question: Am I prepared to disrupt? without my safety net which was my father and with the consequences that come from pushing boundaries. The answer is yes because while my father is not living, his lessons are in everything I do and Melvin Jones with my mother Joyce raised a creator — a disruptor and so there is no other way for me to be. I rediscovered that disruption is a part of my destiny story.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

You know one of the most disruptive things I did was at the end of last year where I ended a long-term professional relationship because it became toxic and abusive. I have to be honest that there was a part of me that worried about the brand damage and yet, that single decision cleared the path for more opportunities and also made me laser-focused on being treated as the expert that I have worked over 20 years ago to create. I can’t fully explain it but recovering from their abuse, helped me rediscover myself.

I will never talk to this organization and I don’t need to say their name but in some way I need to thank them for reminding me who I am, what I have to contribute professionally, and that I do not need to fall victim to people pleasing to keep work. What I know to be true is that there are ways to deliver distinctive work and be respected at the same time and somehow I forgot that but now that I have it, the work feels more enjoyable.

This year, I feel like I am working in direct alignment with my revitalized view of myself and my business.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

I do not have much that keeps me up at night because for the most part in business I end the day with deep introspection but there is one thing that I consider often and that is the reality of time. Occasionally, I look at my list of what I want to do, lessons I want to share with my team, milestones I want this business to achieve and then I am confronted with the question of time. You know what I mean? Will I have enough time? When I get like that I end up settling on this thought since time is unpredictable, since some of us will live until we are 60 and others to 90, I might as well maximize the minutes in every day and so I really try to do that and because of that as a leader I am highly protective of my time, my intellectual property, who I mentor and more because I cannot, nor should I lead everyone but I need to lead some and if I do that, if my time runs out tomorrow, in this moment, I am good with me, I have forgiven me (and others) but yes, selfishly, I want time to do it all.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I was asked this question not too long ago and listed all of the societal ills we all know about (war, hate, political divisiveness, etc.).

But as I am reflecting today, here is what is real for me. What if we had an opportunity to have cross sector meetings or educational forums around issues that are painful and maybe for some taboo. As an example, what if caretakers, veteran spouses, addicts, infertile women, or children who have survived abuse across countries met for community and collective healing.

There is a part of me that feels strongly that in this moment we need to come together more now than ever because I think that right now our movements are too siloed, we are too divided and if we don’t find a way to come together around pain or purpose, we will be divided in a way where the world is not for all of us but for a select privileged few.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you. Please be in community and fellowship with me here:

Melva LaJoy Legrand and LaJoy Plans — LinkedIn

@belajoyful — Instagram

LaJoy Plans — YouTube

And please check out my new speaking and storytelling website at melvalajoylegrand.com

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.