20 //< F I RS T MONDAY

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20 //< F I RS T MONDAY
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novembeR2008 >// 21
//> cover
there’s a lot to discover about Leslie Hielema, given
that she is the new Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce president and has
just settled into the City Beautiful this month. If you haven’t met her yet, here’s the
CliffsNotes version:
A Midwesterner through and through, Hielema grew up with a love for outdoor pur-
suits. As a teen, the native Chicagoan raced sailboats off the shores of Lake Michigan.
She pursued her private pilot’s license while in high school and obtained it at the
Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
Hielema has a soft spot for travel. The 47-year-old single mother of a 10-year-old
daughter has crisscrossed the countrysides of Japan, Thailand and China.
She’s worked for small businesses and large corporations, and she’s launched a
handful of entrepreneurial ventures.
She loves to read about geniuses, scientists in particular. Right now, she’s fipping
the pages of Einstein by Walter Isaacson.
What does all this have to do with her new job? Everything.
Hielema’s wide-ranging interests are windows into her ambitious nature and inde-
pendent ways, which have everything to do with her upbringing and will no doubt
come in handy as she takes her spot as a Central Florida business leader.
The daughter of a self-made father who built his real estate business from scratch
and mother who owned a consumer travel company, it’s no surprise that her entre-
preneurial roots quickly fourished.
By 13, Hielema had her own baby-sitting business. By high school, she was a regular
fxture on the Chicago sailboating scene — racing her father’s teak-hulled Rhodes
Swiftsure after school and early Saturday mornings — while simultaneously captaining
a sailboat-cleaning business.
Beyond the rolling waves, she shared a keen interest in aeronautics and aviation
with her father and grandfather, which eventually propelled her more than 1,000
miles from the Windy City suburbs to Melbourne. Enrolled at the Florida Institute of
Technology, she stumbled on another love: mathematics. Yet, she was not equipped
with the prerequisite skills to succeed. No worry. She bought a textbook and taught
herself trigonometry and the beginning concepts of calculus.
Leslie Hielema offcially becomes Orlando Regional Chamber president Nov. 3.
Jacob Stuart, the previous president, now leads the Central Florida Partnership. The
Chamber is one of four lines of business guided by the Partnership.
22 //< F I RS T MONDAY
//> cover
22 //< F I RS T MONDAY
PalPable energy
Hielema’s nose-to-the-grindstone atti-
tude served her well and AT&T Bell Labo-
ratories took notice. Soon after graduating
from FIT in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree
in electrical engineering, she was back in
Illinois working as an AT&T research and
development engineer while also toiling
away at her master’s degree in electrical
She climbed the ranks quickly, and
by 1993 was asked to lead the company’s
frst European product development
team for Europe, the Middle East
and Africa.
Hielema was atwitter. The position
was stationed in Brussels, Belgium, a
city known for its mélange of cultures,
and she’d have the chance to work on
her master’s degree in management.
After backpacking through Europe dur-
ing college, she had been determined
to return someday and completely
immerse herself in the culture. Here
was her opportunity to do so.
“I wanted to experience it from a
local standpoint,” Hielema recalls. “I
worked hard to fnd opportunities that
would lead me to Europe. I held onto
that dream.”
Years later, Hielema branched out
on her own, launching an international
consulting practice. The globetrotting
continued clear across Germany, France
and Italy. “Leslie is a risk taker,” says
Kathy DeGuilio-Fox, business develop-
ment manager for the Purdue Tech-
nology Center of Northwest Indiana, a
business incubator, where Hielema was a
client. “Although her risk is calculated.
I don’t believe she jumps into anything
without frst thinking it through and
weighing the pros and cons.”

under the tuscan sun
While adjusting yet again to unfamil-
iar surroundings, a new partnership
idea surfaced, inspired by the Italian
Artisan Association. The goal: part-
ner with U.S. universities and expose
students to Italian art, music and
culinary programs. This was right up
Hielema’s alley.
Better yet, the association had a
12-bedroom villa just outside the
postcard-like town of Sienna, a well-
preserved medieval setting brimming
with culture and history. The view was
resplendent — grassy hillsides and a
bird’s-eye view of piazzas, cathedrals
and museums. The programs she cre-
ated were comprehensive — vineyard
visits, Gregorian music demos, culinary
lessons taught by Italian chefs, Renais-
sance art instruction and studies of
Etruscan history. “It was just a wonder-
ful, amazing experience that I will always
value,” she says. It may also explain her
current love for all things gastronomic.
“It opened my eyes to the artistic
world,” says Hielema. “It was in Italy
that I became inspired. I love the qual-
ity of life. Your senses are so heightened
because of the natural beauty, the smells
of the food, the time they take to talk
with one another, the time they take for
their meals. You feel very much alive.”
The ever-gregarious Hielema ft
right in.
Still today, colleagues say she con-
tinually has an extremely personable
approach. “I’ve never seen her in a situ-
ation when she was not able to strike up
a conversation with the person standing
next to her,” comments DeGuilio-Fox.
“Leslie is very easygoing, calm even
in the most stressful situations, and
always ready to listen and put someone
at ease.”
Even during a holiday dinner snafu
she was even keeled. “When I frst
moved to Italy, I wanted to have a big
Thanksgiving dinner for my friends,”
she recalls. “I went to order a turkey
from the butcher shop. I said it was for
16 people, but he must have thought I
leslie is an inclusive leader. she’s thoughtful enough to include others
in the process and persistent enough to make it happen.
John Keller, St. Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, Ind.

Leslie Hielema: “I’ll focus on creating a platform to enhance the ability of companies to start, grow
and succeed in Central Florida.” Bottom left: shown with Nancy Graham, Chamber community
information specialist, and Jacob Stuart, president of the Central Florida Partnership. Bottom right:
shown with Jim Lewis, founding board member of the Central Florida Partnership. At top: shown with
Alex Martins, 2010 chair of the Central Florida Partnership; Pat Engfer, 2009 chair of the Chamber;
Des Cummings Jr., 2008 chair of the Chamber; and Lewis. With the Chamber under the Partnership’s
wing, each of those leaders will play a role in Hielema’s work.
24 //< F I RS T MONDAY
said a 16-kilo turkey. When he brought
it out it was the size of a large dog. The
whole time I was in Italy they called me
‘Turkey Lady.’”
Even when Hielema was trapped on
Phi Phi Island in Phuket, Thailand,
during an impending hurricane, she
wasn’t fazed. She simply called her boss
to say she wouldn’t be in for work Mon-
day and hunkered down.
stateside again
With two master’s degrees complete,
newfound inspiration in check and a
passport cluttered with stamps, Hiele-
ma’s next stop was Indiana. In 2002,
//> cover
24 //< F I RS T MONDAY
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she was hired at the Center for Indiana
Partnerships. As director, she reached
out to the community, alumni and
industry leaders to build a mentoring
network for students. The program was
a hit and still exists today in part because
of her “inclusive” leadership. “She’s
thoughtful enough to include others
in the process and persistent enough to
make it happen,” says John Keller, dean
of students at St. Joseph’s College in
Rensselaer, Ind.
While in Indiana, she also became
involved in several community board
groups, like the Engineering Advisory
Council and the Computer Informa-
tion Technology Council, to help keep
children interested in science and
train students to be able to go into the
marketplace with the skills needed by
local industry.
Notably, she also served her local
Chamber and promoted businesses to
both the community and visitors.
forWard thinKing
As the frst new president of the
Orlando Regional Chamber since
Jacob Stuart took the job 24 years ago
(he now leads the Central Florida Part-
nership), Hielema has big shoes to fll.
This will hardly be her frst challenge,
though. With her two master’s degrees,
a string of successful businesses and
global trekking under her belt, she has
already created a reputation that spans
17 countries and fve continents and
that now includes Central Florida.
Plus, her history of pushing boundar-
ies, coupled with her savvy entrepre-
neur-minded ideals, will doubtless give
her an edge. And having the fortitude
to raise a young daughter mostly alone
certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
“You can tell when you talk to her
that she has a depth of experience,”
says Keith Kirkpatrick, executive direc-
tor of Leadership Northwest Indiana,
a community nurturing program in
which Hielema participated. “She has
a reference point for nearly every topic
or issue.”
Having worked in so many different
cultures, she says, opened her eyes to “all
the solutions and ways of doing things
that are all [equally] correct and valid.
With such a wide range of cultures, you
novembeR2008 >// 25
really had to be observant and take a step
back to understand each culture’s way of
doing business.”
Add to this a constant self-motiva-
tion to learn more, and nothing really
seems daunting to Hielema. In fact,
she warmly welcomes change. When it
comes to bringing a fresh perspective to
the Chamber, she says, her frst 90 days
at the helm will include a “structured
learning approach” to understand
what the members are taking from the
Chamber. “I want to dive in,” she says,
“and understand what the community
thinks the direction is.
“There will be a major effort to expand
in the areas of entrepreneurship. I’ll
focus on creating a platform to enhance
the ability of companies to start, grow
and succeed in Central Florida.”
There is clear evidence that Hielema
takes control — on land, while battering
the open seas or gliding high above the
clouds. Now, when it comes to charting
a new course for the Chamber, she will
likely do the same.
editor’s note: For more information
about Leslie Hielena, see Page 36.
Here is what friends and
formers colleagues have to
say about Hielema’s profes-
sional performance:
“a frst glance allows people to see
an outgoing, friendly individual who
is always considerate of others. But,
it doesn’t take long to also realize
she is intelligent, savvy and very in
tune with what is going on around
her. leslie has strong core values
and a substantive work ethic.”
Kathy deguilio-fox,
Purdue technology center
of northwest indiana
“she’s very passionate about the
whole idea of entrepreneurship
and empowering people to change
their lives through being an
John Keller,
st. Joseph’s college
“leslie is our top choice from an
outstanding candidate pool of 110
applicants for a reason. she will take
the chamber to the next level and
will do so with an incredible portfo-
lio of talent, expertise and business
Kelley mossburg, schenck co.
and chair of the chamber search
“she is exactly what this rapidly
growing region needs to help plan
and implement our future. i look
forward to working with leslie in my
role with myregion.org, the central
Florida transportation corridors
task Force and the central Florida
anthony catanese, Ph.d.,
florida institute of technology
“leslie rose above numerous tradi-
tional chamber ceos [in the selec-
tion process] with her world-class
management virtuosity, skills, and
a depth of knowledge and experi-
ence in entrepreneurship and small
cari coats, c2 advisors inc. and
member of the search committee
“the executive search commit-
tee was charged with identifying
the right person to lead the new
chamber and strengthen its agenda
as a critical line of business for the
Partnership. they identifed the
right leader who understands what
it takes to interpret our changing
market and represent the complex
interests of businesses across
the region.”
Jacob stuart,
central florida Partnership
Master of Business Administration
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