Minot native Amy Leonard recalls now that she was a little intimidated when she began work on her master of business administration at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., in the late 1980s.
Leonard, a 1982 graduate of Bishop Ryan High School and a 1986 graduate of Minot State University, had wondered if she'd be able to compete against classmates who had graduated from far more prestigious school. She was pleasantly surprised when she was able to more than hold her own and learned that Minot State had prepared her well.
Now Leonard is the senior vice president of product development and sourcing at Levi Strauss & Company for Levi's Global Men's. In this role she leads a team of 150 men and women based in San Francisco, Hong Kong, Bangalore and Brussels. She represents the company in public and educational forums speaking on sustainability and has spoken on Capitol Hill to representatives on the impact of climate change on their supply chain. She serves on the board of directors for the Levi Strauss Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the company and in June 2011 was voted one of the top 150 Most Influential Women in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • Amy Leonard was the keynote speaker for the Minot State University graduation.
She recently received an executive certificate in sustainable leadership from the Presidio Graduate School where she focused her studies on the social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability impacts that the oil and gas boom has on communities in western North Dakota.
"Be curious," was the advice Leonard had for graduates at Minot State University when she gave the keynote address during the MSU graduation on Friday, and that is advice she passes on to her own children and to her employees.
"I didn't know what I was going to be do when I left Minot State," said Leonard, but she wondered if there was more out there and was curious enough to go looking for it.
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She responded to an ad in a college newspaper and took a job as a nanny for a family in Connecticut following her graduation from MSU. After her year at Sacred Heart University, she went to work at Revlon, Inc. in Manhattan as a marketing services manager. After three years in the east she drove cross country with a friend in November 1989 and landed in San Francisco, which had just had an earthquake. She began working at Gap, Inc. in production, which set her on the path for a supply chain career. She spent 14 years at the Gap, Inc. in different positions, working her way up to eventually become vice president of sourcing.
At one point she took a position leading the sourcing and production organization at J. Jill in Boston, only to return to San Francisco two years later. Leonard said she and her kids enjoyed the four seasons in Boston, but her San Francisco-born husband missed home.
During her varied career, Leonard said she's learned the importance of having an open mind and not being afraid of making the wrong decision.
"I look at everything I've done as a learning experience," said Leonard, who said she has few regrets.
In her position, she works with people from varied cultures, who speak different languages. Leonard said a smile translates across cultures, though, and she has learned how to work with people from all over the world. Today's graduates will also have to learn how to work with people from all over the world and to learn how to operate outside their comfort zones, she said.
Leonard said she also takes a pro-active approach in her life. One oft-repeated saying is "What did I do to earn my seat today?" She has little patience with complaints unless her employees also present a possible solution to whatever the problem is. That's a message she tries to pass along to her three teenagers, she said, along with the need to be curious and to find something in life they are passionate about doing.
Leonard said she's fortunate that her husband, Michael, is able to be home on a regular basis with their three young teenagers since her own job requires frequent travel. Leonard also tries to get home to Minot a few times a year and has been struck by how much the oil boom and the flood have changed her hometown.
One message she'd like Minot State graduates to take away is that there is nothing they cannot do if they set their minds to it. They can go as far as their curiosity and their passions take them.