Alumni Spotlight: Leslie A. Yerkes, MSOD '89
Businesses today are judged on numbers – revenue, profit and value. But, it's the people behind those numbers that make it all happen. Understanding the connection between people and profits, the intricacies of how they interact, and what affect that has on a company’s bottom line drives Leslie A. Yerkes, ’89 MSOD and president and CEO of Catalyst Consulting Group.
After working as a teacher and spending more than 5 years in public education, Yerkes decided she wanted to use her skills as an educator in a different industry.
So, she left education, and began planning marketing strategies as a business consultant. During this time, she discovered that she needed to augment her skills in order to help her clients more profoundly. That's when she made the connection between growth and Organizational Development (OD).
“In 1987, after hearing me speak about my work, someone told me to check-out the Case program that ‘talks like you talk,'" says Yerkes. She soon discovered Weatherhead’s Master of Science in Organizational Development program (MSOD), recently renamed MS in Positive Organization Development and Change. "It was a perfect fit."
“I was relatively new to the Cleveland area, entering a new field and opening a new business. So, deciding to go back to school was a tough decision,” she explains. “But I just knew it was the right thing to do, and look -- here I am in the field of organization behavior 20 years later.”
As a consultant, Yerkes has worked with local and international clients – including ISG Group (formerly LTV Steel and now Mittal Steel).
Bringing the relatively new concept of OD to one of the largest and oldest steel companies in the country was quite a challenge. Yerkes worked with 1,500 employees who needed to redefine a traditional company and their place in it.
“For many of these employees, steel is a generational job – something you do your entire life. Now they had to produce more than ever before and they had to re-establish themselves while becoming a 21st century company,” she says.
Her success, which has netted her two Weatherhead 100 awards in 1999 and just recently in 2005, is a testament to how OD has evolved into a valuable business tool. She credits Weatherhead for ‘fanning the fires’ of awareness and acceptance. In fact, Yerkes continues to work and teach in both the Weatherhead and Mandel School communities. She even hosted the 10-year reunion of her MSOD class.
“I've enjoyed staying connected to Weatherhead. Working with Ron Fry and being part of the changes in education has been very rewarding -- the field has come a long way,” she adds.
Yerkes is also the author of multiple books on the subject of managing growth and development -- Fun Works: Creating Places Where People Love to Work and They just don’t get it! Changing resistance into understanding. She is quick to point out both books have been discounted for the holiday season and are available on Amazon.com.
Her next book will revisit the 11 companies she used as case studies in her first book. She will revisit a casino chain with a site in Biloxi, Mississippi where she hopes to observe whether the company was able to continue a positive work environment in the face of a natural disaster.
Yerkes admits that total success in her field would mean working herself out of a job. She believes in what she does and the role that her expertise will continue to play in her client’s success.
“The workforce today has much higher expectations than it used to,” she said, explaining the growing need for organization development concepts in business education. “Organization development is what ‘quality’ was to business in the 1980s. Before, OD was the responsibility of one person, with that job title; now it is part of everyone’s job.”
In Fall 2005, Leslie Yerkes taught Managing for Motivation and Creating, Building and Repairing Teams in Weatherhead Executive Education. If you're interested in learning about classes she'll teach next year, email firstname.lastname@example.org.