Cultivating Opportunity

2021 HCCL's Women in Business
Teresalawrence Cherylgerber

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Delta Personnel owner and CEO Teresa Lawrence on staying the course and helping others achieve their goals.

Some people find change daunting. Others thrive under pressure. For Teresa Lawrence, the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities has been a hallmark of her success.

Of course, that success didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work, overcoming a learning curve and extensive networking to turn Delta Personnel into the multi-million dollar enterprise it is now.

“I took each challenge one by one and worked diligently to grow Delta over the years,” Lawrence says.

Now, Delta Personnel is a thriving staffing company in New Orleans, helping others turn their setbacks into success. Even still, Lawrence says she never anticipated becoming an entrepreneur until 1988, when she and her husband quit their jobs to take over her ailing father-in-law’s business.

“The idea of owning and managing a business never entered my mind!” she says. “When I took over the company, it was struggling. We had no formal training, and spent years trying to get out of debt and just survive.”

The unexpected situation still presented an opportunity for growth, however, and Lawrence began refining her abilities. Along the way, she discovered a natural talent, one that would eventually prove handy in forging her own entrepreneurial path.

“This dramatic event sharpened my sales skills, and closing deals became my specialty,” Lawrence says.

In 2000, she became the sole owner of Delta Personnel, but not long after, another setback tested Lawrence’s resilience.

“Just when I felt we had really turned things around, our community was devastated by Hurricane Katrina,” Lawrence recalls. “It brought immeasurable changes not just to my business, but to an entire community.”

Lawrence is no stranger to uncertainty. Born in Cuba, she migrated to the United States with her mother and brother in search of a better life. “My mother and grandmother were a huge inspiration to me,” she says. “They instilled in us the drive to want the best for ourselves and our families.”

With her business struggling after Katrina, Lawrence found strength in her network. Other members from WBENC, NMSDC and WBEC South pointed her towards executive programs. Lawrence graduated from the Tuck School of Business-WBENC Executive Program and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, using tools from those programs to revive her business. “I started to see light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Lawrence was also encouraged by a friend to join the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana, a community resource she says has had an immeasurable impact on her personal and professional growth since she became a member in 2010. While she says networking of any kind is essential to professional development, Lawrence believes finding specific networks that meet the needs of diverse populations is one of the best ways for minority entrepreneurs and business leaders to learn how to effectively harness their skills and knowledge.

“Through HCCL, I have been able to meet key influencers in our local community, as well as outside our Hispanic business community, that have opened many doors for me,” Lawrence says. “Being a woman/minority-owned global provider of HR and staffing solutions, I have appreciated and benefited from the inclusivity and personal support HCCL has provided to me, as well as to many of my constituents. Staying connected to the HCCL and other organizations is essential to the growth of my business and to other minority-owned businesses.”

Today, Delta has been in operation for over 50 years, placing over 40,000 workers in positions across the U.S. And in 2020, Lawrence became the majority owner and CEO of Delta Administrative Services, LLC., a professional employer organization with room for expansion into new industries and lives. Throughout it all, Lawrence has stayed true to her values, and although there were obstacles along the way, she is proud that she was not only able to meet her goals, but to go further than she ever anticipated.

“My primary focus was to build a company I could be proud of,” Lawrence says. “My heart, then and now, is dedicated to helping people find work and put food on the table for their families.”

Lawrence also remains an advocate for diversity. She actively pushes for opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and reminds her professional peers that “there is no equity without diversity.”

“As an immigrant, Latina and business owner, I will not forget where I came from, or take the opportunities I have been given for granted,” Lawrence says. “The biggest lesson I have learned through the years is that everything happens in cycles. The best thing you can do is to expect change and stay focused.”