Lasenta Lewis-Ellis is the President and CEO of LLE Construction Group, LLC. LLE is a woman and minority-owned general contracting, construction, real estate investment and development firm based in Columbia.
Lasenta is also a course facilitator for The Business Contract Professional (BCP) class which is a six-week, instructor led course that focuses on processes, research, and marketing strategies.
I met Lasenta in 2019 when she was the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Richland Library. Her energy and enthusiasm for her job was infectious. People came to seek her counsel as part of the library’s small business coaching program, and she delivered the best advice and strategies to them. I remember her telling me one day that she has been up since 4 a.m., and I admired that she was so energetic and still full of life at 9 p.m.
Lasenta has not only broken glass ceilings in her career, she is also a loving and supportive mother and grandmother.
Recently, Lasenta’s teen daughter Damia and her three friends were approached by a Caucasian woman who thought they were trespassing near a neighborhood pool. The woman told the group that they did not belong there. One of Damia’s friends lived in that subdivision so they had every right to be where they were.
Lasenta stood up for her daughter by finding out who the lady was and having a face-to-face conversation with her. I am so impressed she handled the situation with grace, spoke openly and truthfully about the situation, and gave tactful advice on how to talk to young adults in a respectful way. (You can watch and listen to Lasenta’s account of this whole incident at Facebook Live.)
Here is our interview with this absolutely amazing mom and career woman:
Q. Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up?
Thank you for the opportunity! I appreciate being featured to share my story. I grew up in Columbia, SC. My mom is from Detroit, Michigan and her passion for life and her love for her children and family transferred to me. I grew in the 29203 area, which today is considered the lowest economic area in Richland County. My mom was a single parent who had to work at least two jobs to keep a roof over our head and the lights on. As the oldest of my mom’s three children, a lot of the “taking care of home” fell on me which taught me the importance of taking care of family. I have great memories of my childhood and my experience contributed to where I am today.
Q. What inspired you to be a small business owner, and how did LLE Construction Group come into existence?
I knew after working my first job that I was different and possessed energy that was not meant to build someone else’s business. I did not know how to exert this energy for myself, but I knew I had to do more. For years, I kept wondering why I was so hungry…always looking to learn and grow and always looking to do and be a better me. When I worked state jobs, I was always bored and surrounded by people who did JUST enough to get by. It was not enough for me. I wanted more.
I continued to go to school and get the education and apply for jobs where I thought I wanted to go. In January 2011, I was fired from my job as a construction manager and I did not really know why. Upset but thankful, I decided I did not want to keep making money for other people and building their businesses. So, on February 1, 2011, I officially opened LLE Construction Group, LLC focusing on work that I done for years for others. It worked. Within three years, our annual revenue exceeded $1.1 million. I was in a good space and I loved the work we were doing.
Q. How many children and grandchildren do you have? How would you describe yourself as a mother?
I birthed four children: David 29, Diara 26, Damia 14, and Anthony Jr., 12. I have two stepchildren, Rheivyn 26 and Zoe 14. My son gave me a new grandson, Dontrell on May 1, 2020. I am so blessed, and I thank God for my grandson.
As a mother, I describe myself as present and involved in my children’s lives. I love them to life, and they have been my inspiration and motivation for being a better me and a building a better life for us. I encourage my children to find their passions for life and explore what they enjoy and create a career and/or business around what they enjoy, they will enjoy what they do.
Yes, of course I have faced systemic bias as a women and minority in the construction industry and in business. When projects are published for bids, sometimes they are meant for larger, more established companies, not necessarily for small businesses.
As a woman and minority in construction and business, we must work twice or three times as hard and do not dare make a mistake. This could determine if you have another opportunity where our counterparts may mess up and be mentored on how to not make mistake and keep progressing.
To deal with biases, I do the right things and work to build my business based on our reputation of doing great work, leaving a great impression, showing up, following up, speaking up, and doing a great job. I make sure I subcontract to other small, women, and minority businesses as well. There are times I mentor them to do a better job.
Q. Small business owners have been adversely affected by this pandemic. Any words of advice for folks who are struggling?
COVID-19 has impacted small business owners in a mighty way, and it’s caused us to pivot or change directions, add new services to include online services, and rethink our clients and how we serve them.
For small business owners struggling to look past the impact, I suggest you pray and identify what problem you are solving in your business and for who. Who are you marketing to? Go back to the basics and write down why you exist and your impact. Once you have determined what problem you are solving, make sure you are still pricing it accordingly to your target audience. Seek advice or small business coaching from LLE Consulting ,the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, or the Women’s Business Center.
Q. In an article you wrote for F Suite, you write, “In order to take a seat at the table of opportunity, women must be present to intentionally and strategically listen, teach, create, and do. Women also need to seize the moment, invite conversations, lift each woman and other leaders up along the journey” What practical advice can you give to women, so they feel inspired to speak up?
Surround yourself by other women who encourage and motivate you. Do the same for them. Depending on what I am speaking up about, I always make sure I know what I am talking about or have a clear idea before speaking up. I ask questions. I do research. I consider others. So, I advise others to do the same.
Speak up for others who are unable to or do not have the courage to speak up for themselves. If you see something wrong being done to others, speak up. What inspires me to speak up? I want to see what is best for all people. If I see an injustice, I speak up. If I see someone not treated fairly, I treat them fairly and speak up. I treat others as I want to be treated. This is what I encourage others to do as well.
Q. How do you balance work and motherhood?
Balance. Oh my! What is balance? First of all, I am a praying woman. I pray about my life and the direction. A friend, Tameika Isaac Devine, discusses “integrating” our family and work lives.
Being a wife, mother, business owner, and other titles are quite challenging. I make sure I keep my priorities in order and sometimes I have to reevaluate my priorities and get back on track. Family first then business. I schedule my work around my children’s schedules and activities so that I make sure to be a present and involved parent (and wife).
I look at what I want to accomplish in a week and what I need to do to make it happen. Each day, every week, every month, and every year, I work to stay focused on my goals which includes taking care of my family and building a business that helps me take care of my family.
With this we concluded our interview. I was inspired and amazed by Lasenta’s story, and I hope you were too.
Moms to See in the 803 is a series highlighting local moms who are making a difference in our community or in business. Want to tell us about an inspiring mom who is doing something great? Tag us on social media @ColumbiaMom with the hashtag #Momstoseeinthe803 or send us an email!