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"Personal Branding & Beyond: Mark D. Leslie's Journey from Iowa to the C-Suite”

Updated: Apr 4

At INNOVATION Insights…We challenge you to be moved, to explore, reimagine, and innovate within your spheres of influence. Let's be the catalysts of change and the harbingers of progress.

In Season 1 of the INNOVATION Insights Podcast, I had the privilege of being joined by Mark D. Leslie, a true innovator in the retail business industry with an extensive background in the fashion industry, having served in leadership roles across four Fortune 500 companies. Mark is not just an experienced leader; he has played an integral part in billion-dollar businesses, excelling in merchandising planning, strategy development, and financial analysis. His strategic initiatives have propelled omnichannel growth and profitability at renowned companies like Mercantile Stores Incorporated, Macy's, and Kohl's.

Introduction to a Visionary: Mark D. Leslie's Impact Beyond Business

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Mark's dedication to giving back through teaching, guest lecturing, mentoring, and serving as a board member is truly inspiring. Our paths crossed in 2013, in New York City at the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) Gala. Since then, we've collaborated through various organizations and departments. He has been an invaluable support and leader to students, fostering and enriching our eleven-year friendship. The friendship has allowed me to spend time with his lovely family numerous times. I often jokingly tell him that he has to be careful who he introduces himself to because they may call on you for years to come to help with projects.

Mark D. Leslie attending the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) LIVE Gala in New York City with mentees Abigail Ashbacher, Emily Becker, and Katherine Haidvogel from Iowa State University. Emily Becker was named one of the top four finalists in 2022 under Mark and James Ryan's mentorship.

The Journey from Iowa to Industry Leader

In our conversation, Mark recounted his journey in the retail industry, beginning at Iowa State University and culminating in significant roles in major retail companies. He attributes his success to seizing opportunities and continuous learning. He's always asking questions and understanding the "why" behind decisions, which has been instrumental in formulating effective strategies.

Mark D. Leslie was the inaugural Executive-In-Residence for the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design Executive Advisory Council (AMDEAC).

The Power of Personal Branding and Advisory Boards

Mark highlighted the critical role of personal branding and the need to appoint your own “Board of Directors” — a concept you will hear again in Season 2 of our podcast. Mark explains that a personal Board of Directors is a select, trusted group providing honest feedback and advice. For him, this board has been indispensable for navigating life and career challenges, offering diverse perspectives for well-rounded guidance. I truly appreciate that his wife Traci is the CEO of the Board of Directors, which illustrates the importance of family as the foundation of his career.


Mark D. Leslie kicking off the 2022 Fashion Scholarship Fund case-study at Iowa State University.

Forecasting the Future: ESG and AI in Fashion

Throughout our discussion, Mark reflected on how personal branding and a robust support network have been pivotal in his career. He believes building a personal brand is essential for anyone looking to stand out in today's competitive landscape. Mark shares that your brand begins to form with every online profile or public mention and is crucial in how you present yourself and the impact you leave. He stressed the importance of integrating personal life with professional branding and the role of family in decision-making processes.


Looking forward, Mark identified critical trends for professionals entering the fashion industry, emphasizing the importance of understanding environmental and social governance (ESG) and the transformative role of artificial intelligence (AI) in revolutionizing the shopping experience. I agree with Mark's assessment of ESG and AI as critical aspects of the fashion industry going forward.


I appreciate that Mark passionately urged listeners to build and refine their brand. He encourages everyone to be genuine, focused, and innovative. Graciously, Mark is readily available through LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter) for those seeking guidance or mentorship and eager to share his extensive knowledge and experience.


I look forward to continuing to partner with Mark, as I have ideas for several future projects for us to work on!

Keep innovating, keep dreaming, and keep making a difference!

To view my entire interview with Mark, click here.


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