Leslie Hale – Catalyst Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am currently the Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President and Treasurer of RLJ Lodging Trust. I took my first finance class at Howard University and I fell in love with the idea of turning one dollar into two dollars. With respect to real estate, I had various rotations at GE and it was the real estate assignments that I attached to. I found real estate to be the most tangible and I liked it. In 2005, I had the opportunity to join RLJ in a finance capacity. The opportunity was the perfect combination of both finance and real estate for me.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
The first is over all people management. My job is to get people to perform at the highest level possible; sometimes it's higher than what they believe they can achieve. While it can be challenging, it is rewarding. The second is to be aware of everything that's happening within the business at all times. Not only do I have to be aware of what is happening, I have to understand the ramifications and risks of actions being taken and their impact on the balance sheets and financial statements. Keeping up with everything can be challenging.

What is your proudest achievement?
Growing up in South Central, Los Angeles at the height of gang violence and drugs, I had every opportunity and reason to become a statistic – but I chose not to. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and that influenced the members of my family. It was a turning point for us and it influenced my younger siblings to attend college as well. So my proudest achievement is succeeding in spite of the environment I came from.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
The people I admire the most are my parents. Neither have a college degree yet my parents taught me business acumen and work ethic long before people were writing about it as a popular topic. For example, my mom was a small business owner. At age seven I asked her how she works  so hard? She looked at me and said, “it’s not work because I love what I do.” Then in high school, I asked my dad about his career in the  life insurance industry. He told me hard work alone won't make you successful, you must network and know people as well. My parents led by example, not a book. They were doers and I admire them for that.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years I see myself teaching college students about topics such as power and influence.  I will be paying forward my lessons and helping them to benefit from the wisdom I will have gained.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
My advice to young people is to take risks  early when  they don't have anything to lose. Go down an unbeaten path and do things that make you happy. When you do these two things you will ultimately make an impact.
Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
Yes, I have mentors. However, while having mentors are important having sponsors are essential. Sponsors not only open doors but they also orchestrate outcomes. My sponsors have propelled my career to levels and provided opportunities I could not have achieved by myself. In turn, I mentor others and pay it forward.