In true Rebel style, University of Mississippi alumna Leslie Westbrook bucked the confines of her generation and became one of the nation’s most successful consumer market specialists with Fortune 500 clients.
“Like all good Southern ladies in that era, I planned to marry my college sweetheart and teach school,” said Westbrook, a Jackson native who was named Miss Ole Miss in 1968. “I was to start the family and add to it the station wagon and dogs. Well, I cancelled the Big Fat Southern Wedding.”
Instead, she landed a job in Procter & Gamble’s Market Research Department and left Mississippi for Cincinnati, Ohio. The bachelor’s degree in education that Westbrook earned from Ole Miss in 1968 would have served her well for teaching, but she required weeks of on-the-job training for her newly chosen career as a consumer research specialist and marketing strategist.
“There is a great need to offer extensive consumer research training to students who are majoring in integrated marketing communications (IMC) through the Meek School of Journalism and New Media,” Westbrook said.
Determined to see students adequately prepared to enter her profession, Westbrook recently pledged $500,000 to the university. The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment will ultimately support the construction of a new state-of-the-art consumer research laboratory bearing Westbrook’s name.
“Leslie is very generously giving for an area to which she devoted her entire professional life. She’s basically saying how thankful she has been for her Ole Miss education and that she wants first-class opportunities that will enable students to prepare for a similar career,” said Will Norton, dean of the Meek School. “This is the first major gift for the new building, and it means a great deal to have such a significant kick off.”
Westbrook said she has discussed the school’s needs with Norton and Meek School namesake Ed Meek over the past couple of years. In addition to providing financial support, she participates in faculty support, teaching a Global Brands course during May intersession and co-teaching, guest lecturing and meeting with students several other times a year. She also serves on the board of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss.
“We found the perfect fit,” she said. “Everything that I learned and put into practice in my career is taught in IMC over the course of the four-year program. I can speak from actual experience, from the business world, about how IMC can be utilized in a career and with a wider variety of choices — consumer research, marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, writing and more.”
In class, Westbrook often shares case studies from her work with such brands as Pringles, Pampers, Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee and the Dairy Queen Blizzard.
“I love my time back at Ole Miss, passing it forward, interacting with students,” she said. “If I can impact even one student, I am fulfilled.”
Meek said Westbrook’s gift will benefit the university community and beyond.
“Leslie’s gift will represent the beginning of a major campaign to build a new building and dramatically expand the reach of the Meek School. Her focus is a unique laboratory that will create tremendous instructional, research and service opportunities for students and faculty,” Meek said, adding that Westbrook enjoyed an extraordinary career in corporate practice nationwide.
After Procter & Gamble, Westbrook joined New Product Insights, a nationally revered new product consulting firm in Kansas City, Missouri, where she practiced qualitative research as a marketing strategist for seven years before starting her own company in Easton, Maryland. During her career, she met with many Fortune 500 companies which later became clients of Leslie M. Westbrook & Associates, Inc.
For the past 20 years, she has lived on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C., with her husband Paolo Frigerio of Milan, Italy.
“The loyalty, support and dedication of our alumni like Leslie is a key element to the university’s continued excellence,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “Her gift will have a transformative effect on the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as we build for the future.”
The Leslie M. Westbrook Journalism Quasi Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., University, Miss. 38655; or visit www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.
By Bill Dabney