A born leader

Melvin Petty (’84) wins prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award

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Melvin Petty portrait
Photos by Jimell Greene

SUMMARY: Melvin Petty’s (’84) dream of being a business owner led him to launch an award-winning government consulting firm.

By Amy Crockett (’10)

Raised on a tobacco farm near Danville, Virginia, Melvin Petty (’84) always knew he wanted to be a business owner, but he had no idea exactly what that business would end up being. An accounting major, Petty left JMU prepared for a career in that field, which also ultimately opened the door to opportunities in entrepreneurship.

“JMU’s integrated campus life provided me with exposure to extraordinarily successful families and professionals, which allowed me to envision my future,” Petty said.

After a successful career as a government consulting executive, Petty launched ERP International in 2006 alongside his wife, Sandra, from their dining table with a year of savings. It grew into a government-consulting firm that provides information technology, cybersecurity, big data and other strategic sourcing solutions for the Department of Defense, military-health care organizations and federal agencies in more than 40 states. With headquarters in Maryland, ERP employs approximately 700 people across the nation. 

In August 2021, Petty received the Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Mid-Atlantic Award from the accounting firm Ernst & Young. The prestigious award recognizes bold visionaries who lead and sustain dynamic, successful businesses around the world.

Petty considers the honor to be a team award. “I couldn’t wait to share this achievement with them as a symbol that all our hard work has been recognized,” he said. “And even today, I am still in awe.”

For the past two years, The Washington Post has named ERP as a Top Workplace in the Washington, D.C., area. Like most company leaders, Petty said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its remote-work business model. “The leap was not so great for us, since we had already partially implemented virtual work and created a performance-based work culture,” he said.

Friend and former Dukes teammate Charles May (’83) attributes Petty’s success, in part, to his competitive drive. Their paths first crossed in 1980, when Petty arrived at JMU as a student-athlete, having transferred from Norfolk State University. May and Petty spent a lot of time together on the football field playing the same position and discovered that they brought out the best in one another.

May calls Petty the best competitor he knows. “He plays to win but does it honestly, in focused fashion, and uses setbacks as fuel for greater victories,” May said.

Melvin Petty in chair
Petty is a mentor, philanthropist, JMU alumnus and business owner.

Petty values hard work, commitment and dedication, which carry over into his steadfast relationships with family, friends and business.

“Most importantly, Melvin can be counted on for whatever is needed, required or desired,” May said. “He comes with a plan and determination to make things better.”

Petty uses his professional success to uplift others and position them for success, working to bridge the gap in minority wealth. He mentors Black and minority-owned businesses and launched that into a joint ventures network with a revenue stream of approximately $50 million going back into Black and minority communities.

“Witnessing these things over 40-plus years makes Melvin one of the brightest lights I’ve ever known,” May said.

In the 2021 Madison Vision Series panel, “Sharing Stories of Success and Triumph: Black Alumni Through the Decades,” Petty shared how creating a holistic and diverse environment can pave the road to success in today’s business world. For companies or leaders who want everyone in the workplace to contribute and have a fair shot, Petty advises making diversity, equity and inclusion a part of their core values and including a strong diversity statement on all internal and external communications.

“I would suggest integrating the DEI objectives into all leadership-performance assessment and incentive plans,” Petty said.

Purple and gold run through the Petty family veins, trickling down through the generations. Daughter Erika Johnson (’13) majored in media arts and design and is vice president of business development at ERP. In addition, Petty’s niece and nephew, Nicole Richmond and Daegal “Deek” Richmond, respectively, became Dukes, and his great-niece, Arianna Petty, is a first-year JMU student.

Since graduating from JMU, Petty has remained active in the Madison community, offering his time and talent to many groups. He currently volunteers as a member of the Executive Advisory Board for the Department of Computer Information Systems and Business Analytics.

Petty also supports JMU via the Ole School Alumni Group, a group of Dukes dedicated to the diversity and enrichment of the JMU student body. The group nominated Petty for the 2021 Ronald E. Carrier Alumni Achievement Award.

“He is genuinely a good man,” May said. 


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Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2024

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