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2023 Star Women in Grocery Award Winner Leslee Wills (Q&A)

Senior-Level Star
Leslee Wills
Leslee Wills

Leslee Wills

VP, People and Corporate Affairs
Bimbo Canada

How and why did you get into the CPG business?

I fell in love with CPG in the mid-90s when I joined Coca-Cola Bottling. In my eight years at Coca-Cola, I learned so much about the business, the importance of how consumers connect with brands, and the value of great people in generating results and being ambassadors of the company’s products. After a brief career stop outside of the grocery industry, I was thrilled to return 15 years ago to Bimbo Canada (then known as Canada Bread Company). What I initially loved about the industry has remained virtually unchanged and my passion for it has been amplified by the importance of doing purpose-driven work that has a significant environmental and social sustainability impact. Without a doubt, the CPG space is sexy, no matter what you manufacture and sell. 

What are some career achievements? 

Without question, my greatest achievement has been influencing the development of many talented young professionals.. There is no bigger satisfaction than seeing someone achieve success they never thought possible, and it creates a virtuous circle that inspires me to keep supporting these efforts. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of large-scale, complex initiatives with lots at stake... the kind that others like to take a pass on. In this regard, one of the many blessings of being a labour relations professional in the CPG space is having had the privilege to negotiate hundreds of collective agreements with trade unions, including resolving “first of its kind” labour issues that have generated positive business outcomes. More recently, I’ve derived the greatest personal and professional satisfaction in leading the turnaround of our safety culture, which has had a tangible impact on the livelihood and well-being of our associates and their families. 

How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

Can a philosophy be just four words? If so, “Work hard. Play harder.” I’ve lived by this philosophy for more than 25 years and it’s never steered me or my teams wrong. Realizing I’ve got less career ahead of me than behind me, I’m starting to evolve my philosophy to something like, “Life is short. Find joy.”

What is your secret to connecting with people at work? 

A great mentor of mine taught me at 18 years of age to get to know everyone I work with on a first-name basis and to learn at least one thing about them. That has stayed with me throughout my career, and while I’ve not always mastered the task, I do genuinely try to establish a personal relationship with colleagues. I would define my authentic self as someone who is generous with praise and appreciation, remembers birthdays and special occasions, takes an interest in families, treasures the responsibility of being a trusted advisor and keeps it real in every communication – these things seem to really connect with people at work. Plus, finding something to laugh about and putting a smile on someone’s face doesn’t hurt either. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

My husband and I are beach and water people. We love to travel to sun destinations and if it involves boating that’s a bonus! We also enjoy spending time at our family cottage on the lake—the more friends, family and dogs there are, the better the weekend generally is. There’s also nothing more heartwarming than a family pizza and hockey game night on our enormous couch that can comfortably accommodate a half-dozen adults and three large dogs!

What are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of my two amazing nieces, Emalee and Madelyn, both of whom share my passion for self-development through education and sports. We’ve always been close, and that they consider me a role model is a responsibility I cherish every day. I love these girls like they were my own kids, and it delights me to no end to see them become successful, fearless, career-driven women. 

Click here for the full list of 2023 Star Women in Grocery award winners.

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