Courtney LeMarco, CEO and Founder of LeMarco Brands: “The most challenging part of being a leader is time management”

In the tenth grade, due to difficult family circumstances, Courtney LeMarco dropped out of high school. His father had never been part of his life, and due to his mother’s mental illness, he left his family. When LeMarco packed his bags, he knew he had two decisions: starve or get a job. So, he walked out of her history class for the last time and found himself a gig as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Eventually—partly due to luck and because he was the only English-speaker in the back kitchen—he was asked to fill in for one of the line chefs. 

Then, he moved to another restaurant where the head chef was also a caterer. He asked him to create menus and to build a website. He didn’t know how, but he taught himself in one weekend. And as the saying goes: the rest is history. The referrals came in, and suddenly he was making brochures, business cards and other collateral for small businesses. 

Then, fate happened: he was hired by an Amazon executive for photography and video services at an event where Jeff Bezos was speaking. He considered this the kickstart to his career since that’s when he began creating more high-end corporate content for mega-brands like Nordstrom, Conde Nast, the Department of Defense, and others. Today, he’s the founder of LeMarco Brands, with an impressive roster of current and past projects. 

As a Black leader within the space, LeMarco has candid, brilliant advice for professionals who want to grow their reach and take big risks. Here, he took time to speak with The Ladders:

What are the trends you see within your industry currently?

My industry is constantly in flux. Audiences are very specific about what and when they like to watch. At the same time, they’re being bombarded with a wide selection of new content on a daily basis. We’ve gone from a state where the networks and studios push the narrative to the point where the consumer is driving the conversation. As a result, a lot of the larger companies are playing catch-up in regards to pivoting their content to what the consumers are asking for. This creates an enormous amount of opportunity for smaller content creators who can react and deliver content without a lot of the bureaucracy you’d encounter and a larger corporation.

How would you describe your company culture?

We have a very fun and flexible company culture. We purposely maintain a small team and allow all our members to have creative input on our projects. This creates an environment where the best ideas are the ones that succeed, regardless of who they came from. We’re more of a family than coworkers, and if the job isn’t fun, then it isn’t worth it. Our company is also focused on employing minorities and women in positions at every level in our productions to ensure that we’re amplifying a range of voices and stories. 

What can a job applicant do to catch your attention? What stands out the most to you?

I’m a high school dropout, but I’ve lectured at colleges. So educational credentials aren’t nearly as important to me as someone’s spirit. I’ve always had the ability to sense whether a person’s energy was in line with my own, so that is usually what catches my attention the most. As long as that is in order and individuals are willing to learn and go outside their comfort zone, I’m willing to give them the opportunity. 

What’s the most challenging part of being a leader/manager? What’s the best part?

For me, the most challenging part of being a leader is time management. People are constantly engaging with me to discuss new ideas or projects that we’re collectively working on. A lot of the work we’re doing is very exciting, so I can understand the need to want to interact and share that feeling of success on a daily basis. Staying focused and on task is an issue that I am always working to improve.

At the same time, all the excitement is inspiring and helps to keep everyone consistently motivated to do more, so it’s a double-edged sword that I’m always wielding, carefully.

What’s your advice for tackling big projects at a company-wide level?

We have multiple projects that we’re working on on a company-wide level. In order to maintain maximum efficiency, we utilize project management software, particularly Asana, that holds everyone accountable for their portion of the project. We also keep our meetings limited in time and rarely go over 20 to 30 minutes. I’ve sat in many meetings where a majority of the issues discussed could have been clarified in an email. That’s part of the typical corporate culture that we like to avoid.

How do you keep your staff motivated? How do you motivate yourself?

My staff stays motivated because we’re constantly working on projects that are amazing, with people who do amazing things. We strive to create an environment where we’re always inspiring one another to do something great. That energy compounds and helps to keep our motivation levels high all around. We also take care in keeping our environment clean and healthy. That includes the meals we bring into the office and the environment we work in. I’m a strong believer in the “garbage in garbage out” theory. Meaning, if our environment is unhealthy and we’re putting unhealthy things in our bodies, then our energy will decrease and the quality of our work will follow suit. That’s not how you run a business.

I keep myself motivated constantly reading books or watching content from people who are successful and inspiring. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson are two of my most favorite individuals when it comes to inspiration and motivation. And they’re also very involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. How can you not be motivated by that mindset?

How do you find a balance between work and life demands?

I used to be horrible at this, but I’ve recently learned to take some time off to let my brain recharge. The current COVID-19 pandemic has helped me realize that things are going to be fine no matter what happens, and it’s alright to take time off. In fact, it’s beneficial to the overall outcome of your work to take time off.

I also do things that I find therapeutic to help reset my mind. I was a chef for 12 years before I went into media full time, so I love to take time to learn and try new recipes. I also make music and like to sit down at the piano for an hour or so.

My latest endeavor has been in the fitness field. I’m working to get into the best shape of my life, so I’m constantly working out and pushing myself to achieve more outside of the office.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a POC in this industry?

I’ve been marginalized, passed on for promotions, lost contracts to other providers who were less qualified, and have seen very few people who look like me at the executive or C Suite level of some of the companies I deal with. Fortunately, I’ve never been discouraged by any of that. I realize that no matter what is thrown at me at the end of the day, what matters most is how I take it and what I do with it. In fact, these experiences have made me work harder to achieve success in order to be an example for others like myself.

Today, it seems that there is a major shift taking place, and I’m now being approached with all kinds of new opportunities that I couldn’t have ever imagined a year ago. I appreciate the shift, but by no means would I consider the challenges of being a POC in my industry to be over. We all have so much more work to do and I’m excited to play my part. 

How do you feel about the current climate in America right now in regards to race? Is it changing your work culture?

America is dealing with the culmination of a lot of treachery that it has perpetuated for centuries. I believe what is happening now is long overdue, and I’m embracing the possibilities of what can come of it. However, it’s had very little impact on our internal work culture. As a Black-owned company, we’ve always been diverse, accepting, and open to working with anyone regardless of their race, nationality, sex, or gender orientation. If anything, I would say that we’re looking to become even more diverse as more individuals find their voice and are willing to come out and be who they truly are.