Kristina Murphy Leslie '86 (economics) didn't set out to be CFO of a high-profile company such as DreamWorks. And the thought of working in the entertainment business never crossed her mind.
Leslie grew up in Short Hills, N.J., a short drive from New York City, where her father was a partner in the private banking firm Brown Brothers Harriman. Undecided in her career direction, she pursued economics at Bucknell because it would give her fundamental business training while allowing her to take courses in other areas of interest. Ultimately, she followed her father to Wall Street, working as a financial analyst for Shearson Lehman Brothers. After earning a master's from Columbia University, she married another New Jersey-born Bucknell economics major, Reid Leslie '86, and began looking for treasury jobs in New York.
She found one at Paramount Communications, the parent company of Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, Madison Square Garden and other sports and entertainment properties.
"I never ever thought about working in entertainment because I grew up on the East Coast, and I don't think you think of that generally," Leslie says. "But when I got there, it dawned on me that a treasury job is a treasury job. Wouldn't it be more interesting doing it in an entertainment company?"
Within a few years, her former boss at Paramount, Ronald Nelson, was pushing for her to join DreamWorks, which was then in its infancy. After politely rebuffing a few offers, Kris and Reid relented. They uprooted their young family — their sons were 3 and 1 at the time; a third son would be born two years later — and left New York City for the unknown environs of the West Coast.
Starting as head of corporate finance and strategic planning, Leslie became CFO in 2003 and oversaw the reorganization of the company and the $840 million initial public offering of its biggest piece, DreamWorks Animation (DWA). As CFO of DWA she negotiated the sale of DreamWorks Studios to Viacom and helped steer the company through a series of very public lawsuits and an SEC inquiry, all of which were resolved in DWA's favor. She retired in 2007.
"It was the most amazing period in my life," she says. "The opportunities, what I learned, the people I met, the incredible challenges, those were experiences I'll never forget. There were great high points and terrible low points, but I felt good when I left.
"I never regretted making the move for that job."
— Patrick S. Broadwater
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