Rachel Leslie is glad to see Terre Haute recognize the young leaders within its ranks, for the long-term benefit of the community.
“I think identifying the pipeline of your future leaders is really a means of attraction and retention for young professionals,” Leslie, chief external relations officer at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, told the Tribune-Star recently, “and it all feeds into the foundation of economic development and our future business community.”
The local business sector has been crucial to her professional career — from her current responsibilities building partnerships for major college projects, to her previous role in the administration of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. For Leslie, becoming part of the inaugural “12 Under 40” class means other Valley stakeholders realize the value of her attributes.
It means more to her than when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named her one of the “Top 40 Under 40” Chamber executives.
“So if I were to weigh the two awards, although one has national exposure, [12 Under 40] has more sentimentality because it’s where I’m raising my family, and it’s where I choose to be,” said Leslie, 33.
A Terre Haute native, Leslie credited a close relationship with her mother, Patricia Cox, and “old-fashioned” values from her grandparents for helping inspire her ambition for community service. Her three years working at Boston Connection in high school were also a major influence; she was working nearly full time at the age of 15.
Leslie said the hotel’s owners demonstrated how hard work is necessary to reach goals. Her choir teacher from Terre Haute South Vigo High School, Kathy Elliott, was a life coach, always encouraging her to stick to her goals, and she also counts Marla Flowers of Hulman & Co. as a mentor. Flowers served on a business after-hours committee through the Chamber.
Leslie joined the Chamber as director of marketing and eventually became executive vice president. She helped promote Terre Haute’s position as 2010 Community of the Year, as designated by the Indiana Chamber. The honor, she said, served as an eye-opener for the Hoosier business community. It “helped elevate” Terre Haute among the business community and the state, overall, she said. The designation afforded Terre Haute the opportunity to prove leaders were in place to pursue innovation.
Leslie also helped launch Terre Haute Young Leaders, an arm of the Chamber devoted to retaining and attracting young talent and providing professional development and networking opportunities for young professionals.
“I think Young Leaders has created a rich source of young talent that, if utilized in the right way, is our true pipeline for the future of our community,” she said.
Rick Burger, who was a Chamber board chair during Leslie’s tenure, said she never says “no” and is constantly involved in the community.
“Rachel has proven herself and has continued to prove herself in the skills that she has,” Burger, district manager at Duke Energy and president of the Vigo County Council, told the Tribune-Star. “She has great leadership skills, her organizational skills are just off the chart, I feel like.”
After joining SMWC, Leslie co-created the Wabash Valley Leadership Institute, a twice-annual, weeklong program designed for area residents to build stronger leadership skills. The program is a partnership between the college and the Chamber.
Leslie co-founded the institute with Susan Turner, who nominated her for the 12 Under 40 recognition. Turner, the institute’s program coordinator, is herself a 12 Under 40 honoree.
“Rachel is very impressive on paper,” Turner, who also serves as SWMC’s director of advancement and alumni relations, stated in the nomination letter. “But, she is even more impressive in person. Rachel’s spirit and passion for life make her a joy to be around. She is truly dedicated to making Terre Haute a better place to live, work and play.”
Leslie also helped launch the $11 million campaign to build the Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center and she touts the Pomeroy Wellness Program as the college’s first financial support for wellness programs.
She’s currently working with the Oakley Foundation and other community partners on a facelift of the area around the Lake LeFer Bridge, located just inside the campus’ main entrance. The project involves creating a walkway or fitness trail around the water, fixing the dam, and renovating the bridge.
Campus officials hope the area will eventually become part of the community trail system that will connect the river, SMWC and Indiana State University.
Leslie balances her job responsibilities and community involvement with her family, which includes husband Broc and young sons Beau and Luke.
Finding that balance between parenting and work is something of which she’s proud. She said it can be easy for people to feel guilty for not putting enough focus on their job or spending enough time with their families.
“And somewhere along the way, I’ve been blessed with a gift that I think I probably prayed for, for some time,” she said, “that it’s okay — it’s okay to do it all. I gave myself permission.”