Labor of Love
What started as a final project has turned Michelle Leo Cousins into an international force in the wedding industry
by Michelle Barber Lyhnakis (MPC ’06)
“People say to me, ‘Your job must be so much fun.’ It is. It’s also one of the top-five most stressful jobs according to Forbes magazine,” says Michelle Leo Cousins (’02, MPC ’12) about her career as an event planner. She started Michelle Leo Events in 2010 as a student in Westminster’s Master of Professional Communication (MPC) program.
“I decided to write a business plan for my MPC field project. I thought, ‘This will
get me through my field project, and then I’ll find a job. It’s not going to amount
to anything,’” Michelle says, remembering the beginning of her business. “As an undergrad,
I would have laughed if you told me I would own my own business as a wedding planner.
I was going to climb the corporate ladder and be a marketing director for some company.”
Michelle grew up in Price, Utah, and was determined to attend Westminster. “I went to an open house with my parents, and on the way home my dad said he didn’t know if we could afford it. I was so confident that Westminster was for me, I told him I would get a scholarship,” she says.
A week after the open house, Michelle’s drama and debate teacher approached her about entering the Sterling Scholar competition. “I won my region and then the state competition,” she says. “I told my dad: ‘You don’t have to worry about paying for Westminster because—as the State Sterling Scholar in drama and speech—I got a full scholarship.’”
Michelle graduated from Westminster with a BA in communication in 2002. “It was just eight months after the September 11 attacks, and the economy was falling apart,” Michelle says. “It took me six months to find a job: companies were laying people off.” She eventually took a position as a marketing coordinator for Easton Technical Products and then with KCPW.
“Between graduation and starting my own business, I worked for six companies and lost my job four times. I learned that in tough times the marketing department was the first to see cuts,” she says.
Her husband suggested that she start her own business. That’s when Michelle decided to write a business plan for her MPC field project. “I finished the plan, and then I launched a website,” she says. “Before I knew it, I had a business license, and it was really happening.” Her initial intent wasn’t to be a wedding planner. “I thought I’d do more corporate events, but corporate wasn’t holding events, and I was booking a lot of bridal.”
Michelle’s business started booming. In 2011, she planned 25 weddings; in 2014, it was 40. As her business grew, so did her reputation. Publications and blogs around the world started featuring the weddings she worked on.
“We’ve been featured in Norway, Latin America, the UK, China, and India,” Michelle says, recalling the international recognition. The UK version of Brides magazine featured Michelle Leo Events as one of the premiere wedding planners in the Rocky Mountain region. Martha Stewart featured two weddings that Michelle worked on and named Michelle Leo Events to her list of top wedding planners. “Martha Stewart only selects 62 planners in the country, and we were the only one from Utah,” Michelle says.
Michelle Leo Events has won the Best of State Award for event planning for five consecutive years. In 2015, Michelle was named one of “30 Women to Watch” by Utah Business magazine, and in February 2016, Vogue named the business to the “Master List of Ultimate Wedding Planners.”
Michelle says she pinches herself over the accolades and the opportunities to be creative in everything she does. Learn more at michelleleoevents.com.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.