Lena Graham-Morris knows the highs and lows of entrepreneurship because she has lived them as a fourth generation entrepreneur and woman business owner—and despite the challenges this year has presented, she’s back on top and holding on.
Lena started her career in marketing and fundraising for public broadcast and radio networks out of Central Florida. When she was laid off in her 20s, she faced a decision. “I grew up in an entrepreneurial household,” she says. “My family was in the construction business, so when I was young, I helped my grandmother out around the office. I just thought of it as playing.”
Having received a small severance package, Lena decided to invest it in something she always loved so she could eventually go into business for herself. She enrolled in beauty school. “I immediately knew it wasn’t for me, but I stuck with it,” she shares. “I leaned into the portions I loved most and after school, opened a studio with a focus on make-up, image consulting and styling. I also opened a bridal boutique at some point.”
This new path led to celebrity clientele and a TV show. She was featured on channels like BET, VH1, Oxygen and Nickelodeon. “I was extremely blessed during this time, but the road was still bumpy for years.” In fact, Lena was even homeless at one point when she had to choose between paying rent for herself or her new studio lease when she moved from a salon into her own space.
“I actually lived in my studio for several weeks while I tried to figure things out,” she says. “That’s how I really came to understand the grit of it.”
This was followed by more challenges—this time, personal. Lena faced a health crisis for nearly six months, ultimately spending more than 45 days in the hospital. “On the day I was going into my biggest surgery, I got a message that my show was being cancelled,” she says. “My then-fiancé and I had depleted all our funds by putting money into getting a bigger space for my business. It was a tough time.”
But Lena had grit and was determined to make good things happen. Once she recovered, she went to work consulting for the African American Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, she reached out to her uncle who was running the family business and said, “You really should have taught me the business instead of assuming my brothers would take it over”—to which he said, “Let’s chat.”
Lena also began talking to her mentor about how she didn’t want her legacy to be hair and makeup. This mentor encouraged her to be creative and dig deep. That’s when “The Entreprenista” was born. “I came up with this business coaching personality and trademarked it,” she tells.
Today, Lena serves as vice president of HORUS Construction and is her uncle’s successor. In the last five years, they have secured a strategic partnership that strengthened the business and have brought in over $500 million in total project revenue. They also recently launched another business in safety and sanitation, AMJR Services.
At the same time, Lena runs Entreprenista Enterprises LLC, where she does coaching and consulting as well as advocating for women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. She specifically focuses on helping VIP clients, who are solopreneurs who have been in business for at least two years and are ready to create infrastructure and increase their bottom line by at least 50 to 100 percent. Additionally, she has a podcast and often speaks.
“This is what I believe,” she shares. “I have an executive coach—Demetria Sloan of Vantage Point Coaching—who is a member of our NAWBO chapter. One thing she says that always rings in my ears is, ‘You can have it all, not do it all.’ As women, we love to put on that cape and say, ‘Yes, I’m going to do this and that,’ but being in a leadership role in a larger business, you just can’t.”
That’s why Lena uses all the resources around her. Even in her first business, she hired independent contractors and had an assistant so she could delegate. She is also very process-oriented and always looking for ways to automate and streamline. “I’m not afraid to collaborate and use all of the resources around me,” she says. “I understand my bandwidth.”
Lena also credits her husband, Jared Morris, for his role in her ability to accomplish so much. “He sacrifices so much so that I can serve,” she says.
NAWBO is one of the organizations that benefits from Lena’s service. She is the 2020-2021 president elect of NAWBO-Orlando, and is proud to be the first woman of color in this role. “I have a lot on my shoulders, but I’m already preparing for that,” says Lena. “I have shifted all the boards I am on, transferred knowledge and communicated my availability. That’s how you can try to achieve what you want.” She’s also working closely with Cassie Willard, the current chapter president in her second term, and together they are supporting their members through COVID-19 and getting ready to celebrate the chapter’s 25th anniversary.
Meanwhile, like all her NAWBO sisters, Lena has been dealing with the impacts of COVID-19. With construction essential, they’ve had to provide additional manpower to meet job demands for which they hadn’t planned. With her consulting business’s VIP clients, she’s had to pause and regroup—having honest conversations with them about how they’ve been affected and what this means for the relationship. In some cases, she’s elongated contracts to make it more feasible to work together.
Also, she’s faced employee morale issues in recent months. HORUS Construction has a team of 50, and Lena has stepped up to rally them. “As women, we are more natural nurturers and we know the impacts a delivery has on what people will give us,” she shares. “It’s just touching base, saying, ‘Go team, go!” and asking where people are at. We have to give ourselves grace and be realistic right now.”
Lena has certainly seen a lot during her two decades as an entrepreneur, and she’s preparing to share all the highs and lows, and everything in between, in her first book in what will ultimately become a series called Memoirs of The Entreprenista. “Being an entrepreneur and raised by entrepreneurs is just a different vibe,” she says. “I’m blessed to have seen what I’ve seen and the biggest thing I can do is be open about all of it.”
Lena’s Best Advice Right Now For Other WBOs
“It’s okay to not have all the answers,” she says. “You can just be there for people in the moment and be supportive. That’s key right now, because we don’t have all the answers.”