Learning What's Needed to Navigate

Marjorie A. Perry

Marjorie Perry is president and CEO of MZM Construction and Management, an enterprise whose projects include schools, residencies and entertainment venues.

Very diverse experiences have contributed to Perry’s achieving this position – experiences that include selling sandpaper, a conversation with clothing designer Ralph Lauren, and completing her EMBA at NJIT in 2005.

But there’s a common thread of purpose in all that Perry has done. Communicating irrepressible energy and enthusiasm, she says, “I always focus on learning whatever is needed to navigate in any waters where I might find myself.”

During Perry’s tenure at MZM, she has learned what it takes to navigate toward success in full-service construction management, and to branch out into areas such as bio-solid waste transportation, as described at www.mzmcc.com. The course she followed to arrive at this executive destination began in 1974 with a degree in education from Kean College and a teaching job with the Newark public school system. Upon losing that job in a round of layoffs, she had to ask herself: “What can I do next?”

The answer was to move on to sales and marketing, a good match for her personality. This led to joining 3M, and later Johnson & Johnson and United Airlines. It was when Perry was with 3M that she sold sandpaper to clients in the Midwest. “Working for each of these world-class companies was like being in a mini-MBA program,” Perry says of how they helped to hone her business acumen.

Bringing her skills to United Airlines when the airline industry was deregulated in the 1980s, she enjoyed first-class global travel. On flights to Hong Kong, Tokyo and other distant cities, conversations with businessmen – and Perry emphasizes that they were virtually all men in those days – caused her to think seriously about her own entrepreneurial inclinations.

Perry cites one conversation in particular – with Ralph Lauren. He spoke about the exciting challenges of starting a business and the positive difference that individuals willing to take the chance can make in the world. “I can do that,” she decided.

In 1986, Perry launched a consulting company focused on helping nascent entrepreneurs, including women and minorities, succeed in the marketplace. Two clients, young engineers, asked her to get their construction company off the ground. She subsequently became a partner in the firm. The company was MZM. In 1994, she became the sole principal.

Perry says that she had a lot to learn, and and did so by taking courses at Rutgers, Stevens, NYU and NJIT. She augmented her already considerable background in business with new knowledge of engineering theory, project management, and hands-on basics like learning how to read a blueprint. Eventually, feeling the the need to gain the benefits of an MBA, she applied to schools that included Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard, and was accepted by all of them. However, given the unique technological context of NJIT’s program, Perry concluded that her future – and that of MZM – would best be served by studying for the degree at the School of Management in Newark. "It was definitely the place I wanted to be," she says.

Perry also manages to find the time to share her experiences and insights with women’s groups, civic organizations and on television. Additionally, she returned to the classroom at NJIT last spring as an instructor, teaching Principles of Management. Whether speaking at the Governor’s Conference for Women, on the TV show NJ Caucus or to NJIT students, her optimism about personal and entrepreneurial possibility conveys a consistent message: "You, too, can do it."