Note: Leslie Westbrook attended Ole Miss from 1964 to 1968, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Education. She would go on to work for prestigious fortune 500 companies, such as Procter & Gamble, as a Consumer Market Research Specialist.
As the saying goes, go where life takes you. Few have taken this to heart as fully as the hardworking and diligent Leslie Westbrook has. The former Miss Ole Miss graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Education. She was set to marry her college sweetheart and become a high school English teacher at Oxford High School when she noticed that something was telling her that it didn’t seem right.
“Young southern ladies in my era were scripted to be wives, mothers, and if you wanted to get some kind of career, you would pick something you could fall back on if something happened to your husband, ” Westbrook said, “Four weeks before the wedding, I had this little voice in my ear, which I’ve come to recognize is that very wise inner-voice that we all have. We don’t always pay attention – but it said that this is not really for you, and I got the impression that this was a script written by somebody for someone else, not for me. Three weeks before the wedding, I called it off and I left Mississippi.”
Leaving behind the place she had called home and her ex-fiance who would come back to attend law school at Ole Miss, Westbrook was still unsure of her future. She recalls calling up one of her sorority sisters that asked her what she was planning to do now, answering with the resounding “I don’t know.” What she didn’t realize at the time, is that the response she received would change her course of fate all together.
“Well, what do you think about going to work for Procter & Gamble? I work for Procter & Gamble in Market Research,” Westbrook said, “At the time I was very naive and I said ‘well, what’s Procter & Gamble’?”
Her sorority sister had instructed her to look in her bathroom, her laundry room, and her kitchen at the labels on various products, where she noticed the name. Her sorority sister set up the interview for her, where she came to discover that she had an aptitude for consumer research.
Procter & Gamble would send her through a five-week training course, where she became educated in consumer research. She ended up traveling the continental U.S., monitoring test markets and doing experimental research on new brands and new categories, like what became known as the disposable diaper category. Pampers was the first disposable diaper on the market and was introduced by Procter & Gamble in the late 1960’s. Westbrook would later become one of the top three consumer market specialists of all of the fortune 500 companies.
What she has found to be particularly interesting is the relatively new curriculum in the Journalism School, known as Integrated Marketing Communications.
“In the real world, let me tell you, market research, strategy, marketing, package design, branding, PR, advertising, writing, all those things may be separated when you’re in school,” Westbrook said, “When you get in the real world, they all work together, you work on teams.”
Westbrook originally found out about the program in 2012, when she was invited to come back to Ole Miss to speak on a panel with Harold Burson and Mickey Brazeal. Her first thought: “That is so brilliant!”
Westbrook has gone on to work in consumer research for around five decades and says that she has had relatively few obstacles in her line of work, which is surprisingly unexpected as a woman coming into the business world in the late 1960’s. She attributes most of her success to her southern upbringing and her affinity for respect with both clients and employees.
“I loved my upbringing in the south, which taught me to be a lady, to be respectful,” Westbrook said, “I did better as a woman in business and breaking into business by not trying to be a man, but being myself.”
Westbrook says of the campus and the rising of academic programs offered by Ole Miss that the students are fortunate and should not take it for granted. Her lasting comments to students was, “Stay open, trust yourself, keep building up your own self-esteem, and never forget to have fun.”
Westbrook and her husband will be in Oxford throughout the rest of this week and are opening their schedules to meet with interested students and faculty. Westbrook has presented to several different classes and has been participating as a guest lecturer throughout her visit in Oxford. To watch some of the sit-down interview that I had with Leslie Westbrook, check out the video.
Samantha Mitchell is a staff writer for Hottytoddy.com and can be reached at email@example.com.