Leslie Bronk brings passion for people as chief operating officer, VP of operations

Liala Helal | April 10, 2015

The executive leader began her new role at Northwestern March 9 and prides herself on transforming processes through focusing on people

Leslie Bronk

Leslie Bronk was thankful to get an early glimpse of the importance of businesses building positive relationships with people, working as a teenager at her family-owned drug store in southwestern Iowa.

“I was responsible for the baby section. I could stack diapers all day…” she said with a laugh. “One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s so important that you are in a good mood when your customers walk in, to build relationships with customers and to give them the best service — our family depended on them.”

Fast forward to today, Bronk is an executive leader who prides herself on connecting effectively with people, learning their passions and strengths and helping them be successful, and in turn, making their organizations and operational processes successful. She leads with a focus on the people who make up an organization.

“People are such interesting, complex, beings,” Bronk said. “Finding what makes people tick and how different we all are is an interesting process, and then helping build them up so they can feel and be successful is very exciting.”

Bronk began March 9 in the newly created role of chief operating officer and vice president of operations for Northwestern Health Sciences University. She spent many years in executive leadership positions in the financial services and banking industries, and spent the past 10 years in higher education, including Capella Education Company, Regency Beauty Institute, and as a consultant for schools like the University of Kansas.

In her past roles at Bank of America, she learned that she really liked leading people. “I have a knack for bringing out the best in people, as far as really seeing what their potential is and helping them utilize that full potential in a positive way.”

At her time at Bank of America, mortgage rates dropped the lowest they had been in 30 years, and the mortgage  center she managed in Minneapolis only had the capacity for about 2,000 loans at any given time. The demand skyrocketed, and she came up with a new process that increased capacity to 10,000 loans without increasing staff.

“That’s when I got excited about making a better process,” she said. “And when I say, ‘better,’ it’s typically not just a little better — it’s really a transformational change. Because you can’t just tweak a process and go from processing 2,000 loans to 10,000 — you just have to do it completely different.”

Bronk’s new position is set to help move Northwestern forward at a time when enrollment growth is of the highest importance. Like many other smaller, specialized higher education institutions, Northwestern is responding to significant changes in both the higher education and healthcare communities, and is in the process of making changes to advance its mission of health and wellness.

Bronk’s experience in developing new processes will help Northwestern update many of its processes that rely on manual activities to complete critical work. Bronk will lead the effort to build new organizational efficiencies to help move the institution forward. She has extensive experience in building or improving processes for higher education institutions. At Capella, she was responsible for standardizing the admissions process for five colleges, each with its own way of operating, but keeping people passionate about what they were doing, and without disrupting student experience. She was also involved in designing a learning platform that could be delivered on a tablet for an educational startup organization in California, and led the University of Kansas special education department in preparation for admitting students into their online programs.

 “I love when I can see that I’ve made a process better, and that the students are happier and the employees are happier,” Bronk said.

Bronk’s experience as a non-traditional student throughout her education gives her a deeper understanding of how to make educational institution more accessible. She received her bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics from the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in 1993 while working. She was also working full-time and attending school for her master’s in business administration from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management’s Executive MBA Program (CEMBA), which she earned in 2009.

“I really have an appreciation for flexibility around education, and supporting students in whichever stage they are in life, I needed that,” Bronk said. She worked with Northwestern Health Sciences University President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Chris Cassirer at Capella University, as the school branded itself as a “quality education attained online”, and at a time when “brick and mortar” schools balked at the idea of an online education.

Bronk is passionate about the programs and services  Northwestern Health Sciences University offers and loves its approach to healthcare and natural health. She enjoys learning about and understanding alternatives to the way she was raised with traditional medicine of taking a pill for almost any health need, she said.

Bronk is looking forward to actually being on campus with students, instead of working in a role outside of student facilities. “It’s going to be exciting to be that close to the students that we serve,” she said. “When I was going through the interview process, I was able to meet with a couple students. Their perspective is so important, and the idea that we have access to that perspective every day will just help make our jobs easier.”

Having just completed a one-year assignment as vice president of admissions for Regency Beauty Institute where she helped lead the curriculum change, and working as a consultant for various higher education organization over the past few years, Bronk looks forward to being a permanent part of an institution. She looks forward to learning about the people who make up the Northwestern community and helping bring forward the value that each individual brings in the university’s success.

Bronk describes her leadership style as kind, collaborative, and results-oriented.

“There’s a way that you can lead people in a kind way that gets things done quickly, and what I find when I worked with groups of people is the first thing that’s really important is getting to know them and building that trust,” Bronk said. “If you listen to people, you can find out pretty quickly where their passions lie and where their strengths lie, and then it’s just about utilizing those passions and strengths to move things forward.”

She looks forward to watching the organization grow in positive ways.

“Northwestern feels like a community that’s rich in tradition,” Bronk said. “A lot of the people have been here a very long time, they are very passionate, and they really care. And I think when you start with that as your base, people who really care about what they’re doing, care about the students, care about the education, then helping them get to a place where they can deliver that in a way that’s more efficient but doesn’t diminish the quality of the experience or the quality of the education, that can be very positive.”

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