Leslie is a mother, professional triathlete, respected veterinarian, and senior research fellow at The Smucker Company — working in all facets of product development, global pet food policy, and animal health. Her relaxed approach to balancing numerous responsibilities and interests is bolstered by her natural discipline.
SO, HOW'D YOU GET STARTED?
Like every other 13-year-old girl, I wanted to become a veterinarian. My mother knew that being a veterinarian isn’t just loving puppies and kittens. It’s dealing with medicine and understanding that you’re serving people through animal health. So she stuck me in a clinic to volunteer and they showed me some of the most disgusting things ever. And I didn’t shy away from it, I wanted to get my hands in there and fix the problem. That’s when I realized that I was going to go down this path.
ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m a single mom, I’m a professional, and I’m an athlete. My biggest accomplishment is being able to say the number one priority in my life is my child. It's easy to be selfish and put my career and activities first. But every day that I make that choice to make my child my number one priority, I feel like I've won. And seeing her make good choices, tells me that I’ve done something right as a mother. That’s my biggest, greatest accomplishment in life — having passed on positive traits to the next generation.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Every day you need to set yourself three goals and that way, no matter what, you will have had a good day. Your first goal is something that you're going to achieve no matter what. You achieve your second goal when you’re having a good day. Your third goal is your stretch goal. It's not going to happen every day, but when you hit your third goal, that’s the perfect day. And to me, success is when I get two of my three goals and ultra success is when I get that third.
"We do research because we want to figure out where we're wrong. People are afraid to get the wrong answers, but we need the wrong answers."
WHAT ROLE DOES FAILURE PLAY IN BEING SUCCESSFUL?
You don't internalize and learn from when you got things right. You learn when you get things wrong. I definitely remember when I make a wrong conclusion in a scientific hypothesis. We do research because we want to figure out where we're wrong. We don't want to just continually pat ourselves on the back, and set ourselves up for success. The reason we do research is to understand what doors are closed, so we can go to which doors are open. People are afraid to get the wrong answers, but we need the wrong answers.
ROLE MODELS OR MENTORS?
I have a lot of role models and coaches that I draw advice from. My mom has been a huge influence my whole life. She's just the embodiment of the person who doesn't put herself and her needs ahead of others. My mentor and my Yoda is my coach Andrew McNaughton. He was a professional triathlete. He does private mentoring and coaching and his philosophy is that you're not just trying to get somebody ready for a race, you're trying to make that person the most successful that they can be in their life and totality. He likes working with me because I actually listen to him. [Laughs] When you find people that are giving you good advice, take it. It’s not what you know, but how to use other people's knowledge. There's no way you're going to know everything and function at your best without the support of other people around you.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
What inspires me is facilitating other people to be genuinely, genuinely happy. You can fall into the trap of being overconscientious and wanting to please other people too much. So that's the negative side of that. But learning how to temper that and really do positive things for yourself and for others. So if that's making dog food that keeps animals healthy, if it's making dog treats that serve a need, that's what I can do every day at work.
HOW DO YOU REACH YOUR FULL POTENTIAL EVERY DAY?
Some days I just feel like a complete slacker. But what I try to do is define what needs to be done today, and I put my full focus and energy into doing that the best I can. So if it's putting together a research plan, if it's reviewing data, then I need to shut everything out and really dedicate myself to that information. I had a professor once say, you need to make love to your statistics. I put on some soft music, close everything else out, and look at my data and put myself into the scientist mode. And there are some days that are like chopping wood, where you're just going through the motions. You're not running on 5,000 watts every single day. But if you acknowledge the fact that you put in the work, it’s going to pay off even if the yield wasn’t your best. Eventually, it's going to make you better and faster and stronger. Just because you’re not having the best day doesn't mean you shouldn't do it at all. You chopped the wood, you’ll have the fire ready to go next time.
ULTIMATE LIFE HACK?
I moved a half mile between my daughter’s barn — she rides horses — and her school. So that saved me 20 miles a day of running around. Simply putting myself in a physical location where I can get done what I need to get done. As fundamental as that is, it’s freed me up to have more time for everything.
GO-TO PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
I simply block my calendar out and I start working at it when I know I'm most mentally productive, which is usually four in the morning. I also don’t eat after sundown. That way I wake up in the morning and I’m mentally and physically hungry and I’m ready to go. I also go to bed early. You’re not going to get anything mentally productive out of me after seven o'clock at night, so I might as well just go to bed. I can accomplish so much more in the first five to six hours of the day.
"Being a lifelong learner will keep you from becoming stale."
PIECE OF ADVICE?
As a mentor, the people you give advice to are a reflection of you. I would say don't take anybody on unless you're willing to have their success and their failures as your own. When I work with people starting off in the industry, what I really try to do is help them recognize the world is huge. We know a lot, but there's a whole lot more that we have to learn. I help them focus on what they want to learn, where they want to take their careers, and I try to expose them to the most brilliant minds so that there's this never-ending cycle of learning. Always have this curiosity of the world around you. Being a lifelong learner will keep you from becoming stale.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT WORKING?
I spend 20 to 25 hours a week outside of work training. And the question is how do I do that with my daughter? So when she's at track practice, I'm running, when she's at horse practice, I'm riding my bike, and I swim first thing in the morning before anybody else gets up. The other thing I do when I'm not working is maintain my self-sustaining, urban farm. There's nothing better than going and grabbing a fresh egg and making a poached egg from your backyard.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
I really want to focus on my daughter for the next few years. I feel like I've really been focusing on myself lately and I'm in a good place. So I want to facilitate her in her activities and get her through — she's 13 — her teenage years. My career is on its path, so I’ll keep pedaling along there and keep myself active in my own routine. But out of necessity, I've got a teenager, so I've got to reel that in and keep her under control.