Mary Beth Leopold: Leader, giver, believer

Mary Beth Leopold spent most of her career learning the ins and outs of running a business. The savvy brand manager successfully turned around several businesses but when it was time to search for a new opportunity her heart told her it was time to use her know-how to impact area nonprofits.


“I made the conscious decision that I really needed to be somewhere I could give back. I needed to use my skill set that I had been using for businesses for the greater good,” says Leopold.


Now, as the executive director of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Foundation, Leopold draws on her business experience to lead the organization into the future.


Early influences

Leopold grew up in Shawano. Her hardworking parents taught her she could do anything she put her mind to. She took their words of wisdom and made the most of every opportunity that came her way.


Leopold grew up in Shawano. Her hardworking parents taught her she could do anything she put her mind to. She took their words of wisdom and made the most of every opportunity that came her way.


As high school graduation approached, a friend encouraged Leopold to check out Patricia Stevens Career College in Milwaukee. She discovered she could earn a public relations diploma in one year — perfect for the eager Leopold. “I started working at age 14 and I wanted to start my career,” she adds.


She accepted her first job at Schneider National in Green Bay but was drawn to sales. At age 20, Leopold looked through the classifieds and noticed Nutrisystem Weight Loss Centers was looking for a sales manager. She applied for the job. “They say I called them 15 times but I know I didn’t call them more than 12,” laughs Leopold.


Her persistence paid off. Because they weren’t convinced she was ready for the sales manager position, they offered Leopold an assistant sales manager job. Three months later, they let the sales manager go and she took over the position. It was at Nutrisystem that Leopold got her first taste of turning an organization into a successful business. She opened several offices on her own. Leopold purchased two Nutrisystem franchises and sold them when they were profitable. This experience influenced her career.


Leopold spent the next 13 years managing sales and marketing and running the operations at various organizations throughout the Fox Valley and in St. Louis. “If you know how to treat people, manage people and run a business you can use that skill set in any type of business. I’ve always been a fast learner,” she adds.


An ambitious leader

Red Lewis, one of her mentors, asked Leopold to join him at the hotel Wingate by Wyndham and work her magic. “I agreed to come in and said I’d stay for one year. We’d get the business turned around and I’d leave,” she says.


Leopold reveals she loved running the Wingate. Its superior customer service made it one of the top hotels in Green Bay. Within a year she became a partner. Leopold managed the hotel for eight years before the group agreed to sell.


“I think the reason I loved it so much was because we really made a difference to our customers. That is where my real strength lies, in customer relations,” she says.


Leopold went to Red & Wine, a struggling wine bar and retail store in Appleton, managing all aspects of the business, including sales and marketing, strategic planning, brand awareness and more. Three years later, the business was turned around and Leopold moved north.

Her husband owned a home around Manitowish Waters for 20 years and he was looking to retire. Leopold felt too young to retire and she wanted to make connections in the community so she became the executive director of the Manitowish Waters Chamber of Commerce.

Leopold explains her husband “flunked” retirement — after a short time he was ready to go back to work. The couple decided to move back to Appleton.


“I made some wonderful friends but I really missed the Fox Cities,” she adds. “I missed the sense of community that is here — it is like nowhere else in the world that I’ve seen.”


Inspired to give back

Now back in her happy place, Leopold considered her options. It seemed like the perfect time to try something new.


“We have had a great life and we are so blessed. I felt like it was the time for me to use my business knowledge for something that would impact the lives of others,” says Leopold.


She spent a year at Rebuilding Together Fox Valley before a recruiter convinced her to accept a position at UW-Fox Valley Foundation. The Foundation was going through strategic planning and was searching for a full-time executive director with a business background that could prepare the organization for the challenges of tomorrow.


“I felt it was the right decision for me,” adds Leopold.


Leading the foundation

The UW-Fox Valley Foundation is responsible for raising funds to support the university. Leopold explains nearly 60 percent of the students require some type of financial aid, and the Foundation gives out over $200,000 in scholarships. She also works to raise money to assist the faculty and staff.


“We help with programs and development to keep the faculty leaders in education,” adds Leopold.


No day is typical. She meets with faculty and staff to understand their needs. She works with students as they write scholarship essays. Much of her time and effort is spent on donor relations and finding new funding sources. As the “face” of the Foundation, Leopold attends numerous fundraising events in search of the community dollars to fund her needs. She attends at least three evening events each week.


“I’m often supporting other friends in their nonprofit ventures and missions because that is important. You can’t always be the asker, you also have to be the giver,” she adds.


Community impact

Leopold is known as a silent auction nut. She has a closet full of potential silent auction items waiting to be donated. “No matter what business or community I’ve lived in, I’ve been very invested in giving back,” she adds.


In addition to her work for the Foundation, Leopold gets involved in other community organizations, including St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Appleton Downtown Rotary.


Leopold is one of the founding members of Women for H.E.A.L.T.H., a giving circle within the Women’s Fund. “When we see things happening in the community that needs money we can direct our funds to it. It is something I’m very proud of,” she adds.


Looking forward

Leopold is very mission-driven and says no matter where life takes her, she will continue to search for ways to make a difference. If asked to look forward 10 years, Leopold imagines a life where she is still giving back, both personally and professionally.


“I hope to make an impact on as many people as possible — I feel fulfilled doing that. I hope to continue using my business background and my connections,” says Leopold. She explains she gets the most satisfaction when she can connect people that can make a difference in each other’s lives as much as her own.


Paul Klister, another one of her mentors, once told Leopold she has the ability to talk to his heart when most people talk to his wallet. By being genuine and honest Leopold explains she’s found her niche.


“I have learned where my talents and strengths are and that they are something I was meant to share,” she adds.


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