Google Leslie Wilk Braksick’s name and you’ll have to decide among thousands of results from Amazon, Bloomburg Business News, Small Business Advocate.com, Barnes and Noble, hundreds of references to her long-time business, Continuous Learning Group, Inc., and just as many more from her new corporation, My Next Season.
After obtaining her doctorate in psychology at WMU in 1990, thus becoming the youngest person at the time to ever receive a PhD at Western, Leslie Wilk Braksick went on to establish corporate consulting business, Continuous Learning Group, Inc. in 1993. Under her leadership, CLG became the world’s largest behaviorally based management consultancy within ten years. Her first book, “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits: Developing Leadership Behavior That Drives Profitability in your Organization” was published in 2000 and updated by popular demand in a second edition in 2007. It ranked No. 6 among business books published in 2007 and hit the Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller list.
As a WMU Distinguished Alumni Award recipient in 2010, Dr. Braksick last visited campus in September 2010 to kick off Haworth College of Business Distinguished Speaker Series with a talk on “Leadership in a Changing World.” In an interview with Dr. Braksick, she spoke fondly of Western Michigan University and the faculty with whom she worked in the Industrial and Organizational Psychology program for her master’s and doctoral degrees. Though she considered both Rutgers and Purdue, and they both offered her funding, she chose WMU because after much research she determined that WMU had the best program in Industrial and Organization Psychology and offered the most opportunity to move forward in her field.
She had an assistantship on campus, but within a few months, she noticed that employee morale in her division was low, and absenteeism was high. In an effort to address these issues, she read ahead in her textbooks and developed a program for supervisors to set goals and provide feedback for their employees. When it was implemented, productivity increased and absenteeism decreased, so much so that she was offered a full-time position as a Training and Development Specialist at WMU while still a graduate student. As a result, her 40 hour a week job competed with her educational endeavors and she had little time for anything else. She lived off campus and spent her minimal free time enjoying the outdoor environment around Kalamazoo, living an active lifestyle that included cross-country skiing and biking as well as attending festivals in the area.
Her decision to come to Western was influenced most by the presence of Dr. Dale Brethower, whom she characterizes as “a genius who redefined the field” of I/O Psychology. In his Psych 644 class focusing on training and development, she learned concepts she still uses to this day. She appreciated the way faculty and mentors, such as Bill Redmond, Stan Henderson, and Pam Liberacki gave her the space to try new things. She characterizes herself as very young and very new to the program when she began developing her program to transform the work environment in her graduate assistantship placement. They could have said no, but they took coaching from her and put the program in place. As an executive coach now, she says young people have to earn the right to be taken seriously, but if they do, they should be given “stretch” assignments and good mentoring. In her experience, these help high-potential people move up much faster. She spent her career counseling CEOs to watch for those who are “leaning in” because this indicates a high probability that they will be successful.
When she first began to present her findings at conferences around the country, other universities, including University of Michigan, took notice and requested that she replicate her experiment at their campuses. She quickly responded by developing a consulting firm, which really took off when she met Dr. Julie Smith from West Virginia University at a conference where they happened to room together. The two joined together in a non-profit agency and in two years brought in 80% of the revenue, threatening the non-profit status of the firm. They decided to leave and form CGL to teach corporate leaders how to use behavioral learning strategies to improve management and bring up employee productivity. Soon CLG was serving Fortune 500 companies and grew at a phenomenal pace. Within ten years it became the world’s largest behaviorally based management consultancy firm and Leslie Braksick was regularly called upon by corporate boards and CEOs to consult on such issues as CEO transition and succession and the challenges of cultural and performance transformation within a corporation. In 2002 she was named one of Pennsylvania’s top 50 women business leaders.
Now Dr. Braksick has left GLG to establish herself in a new venture, My Next Season. She is still consulting, but this time helping executives transition from career to their retirement phase of life. She found that many CEOs and high level executives had their whole identities tied up in their professional lives, and making the change to retirement often brought a crisis relating to that new identity. By providing a bridge from productivity to a purposeful lifestyle, she helps executives find new outlets for their expertise outside their work life. She coaches them on finding interesting, fulfilling and socially responsible work they can do while still enjoying more time with family and attaining long deferred goals. Such work often takes the form of teaching, sitting on Boards of Trustees, working with non-profit organizations, or volunteering.
Leslie herself is moving into a new phase with My Next Season in terms of balancing work and family. Her children are now in college and high school. Her husband of 24 years, Larry, whom she met at Western where he was a graduate student in the English department, stopped teaching to stay home with the children. She considers this a real gift that established a great deal of stability in her home life which allowed her to succeed in the corporate world. She now wants to spend more time with her children as they are growing up, and she intends to become more involved with the field of public health.
When asked how she participates as an alumna of WMU, Dr. Braksick explained that she provides mentorship to students in the I/O Psychology graduate program, helps place interns and provides internships with her company, and has steadily recruited WMU graduates to her company for over 20 years. Congratulations to Dr. Leslie Wilk Braksick for a long and successful career.