Meet Leslie Zahler

Location: Denver, CO
Age: 56
Marital Status: Single
Education: B.A. in Art from SUNY Old Westbury

Leslie Zahler is the queen of reinvention. “I’ve lived in a couple different places and I had a couple different careers,” says Leslie.

That’s an understatement. Leslie has bounced from coast to coast and transitioned from a career in art to one in finance (having never taken an economics or accounting course). So when the stock market plummeted in 2008 and she lost her job at, Lehman Brothers, she was surprised but not perturbed. She took a trip to Argentina to rethink her game plan and came back to two job offers at top-notch hedge funds. Her secret to staying grounded despite multiple life shake ups? It’s not about where your two feet are grounded, it’s about what’s in your head. “I have always stayed confident in my intelligence,” says Leslie.

Where are you from?

New York. I grew up on the Upper East Side and Long Island but I’ve lived in Denver, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, among other places.

Tell me about your first career.

I started out as a textile designer in New York, and then I became an artist’s rep. That position was very difficult for me. I do not consider myself a salesperson. I’m not a backslapper, and I’m kind of quiet. I want to be an expert at what I’m doing; I want to be very knowledgeable; I want to understand. In 1985, I left that job and New York for Los Angeles.

Why did you move?

My ex-husband and I were both sick of New York. I think we were just ready to do something else. I had no financial background, but I got a job at Merrill Lynch and worked as a stockbroker for a couple of years. I hadn’t even taken economics or accounting courses. This was totally new verbiage for me.

What was your husband doing at the time?

He was a comic book artist and a writer. He worked on some television shows, but we divorced very soon after we moved to Los Angeles.

Did you remarry?

No. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a serious relationship. I was involved with somebody a while ago but unfortunately he was crazy. He was kind, generous and worshipped the ground I walked on, but he had a substance problem and tax liens. The breakup with him was more devastating than the one with my husband.

Do you have children?

No. I didn’t have a strong maternal drive, and my ex-husband thought he was too selfish to have children. Many people sort of recoil in horror when I say that.

When did you move to Denver?

2001, when Lehman relocated us here to their corporate headquarters. It’s the longest that I’ve lived anywhere since New York, but it still doesn’t feel like home.

Are you working now?

Yes. I am working for a hedge fund. I worked for Lehman until my division—the mortgage division—closed down. I took a tremendous hit. I thought I’d work there for the rest of my life and then retire. So when the company went out of business, it was like ‘Oh my God.’ took some time off to decide what I wanted to do. I went to Argentina.

How did you decide on the hedge fund?

I went to a convention to see friends and to see what was going on in the industry. I was offered two positions while I was there, but I took this one because it seemed most different from what I had been doing.

It’s a major change to go from art to finance. Do you enjoy finance now?

I will say that what’s most attractive about the financial world is that it afforded me a really nice lifestyle. And it’s fairly satisfying work as well. But, I really feel that my strength would be to meld the business with the creative. That’s really where my soul is.

Do you have sisters and brothers?

I have one of each, both younger. Both are in the New York area.

Are you close with them?

My family is fairly close. It’s very small. We have our differences, but I think to the outside world we’re pretty tight.

Is there a passion project you are working on?

I am working on a web-based travel business. There’s a real hole in the industry in terms of travel. If you’re going some place and want to know what there is to do, there are little bits and pieces in different places on the web, and we want to pull that together.

How do you define your personal style?

I am a slut for fashion. I would say that probably my style is classic with an edge.

Which designers do you like?

I wear three designers almost exclusively; Albert Elbaz for Lanvin, Jill Sander and Dries Van Noten. All women of all ages look prettier in Lanvin. It’s sexy without being slutty. Jil Sander is very simple and Dries is the opposite but I have always loved his prints and fabrics. Some women would look at an item from Dries and go ‘I can’t believe any human being would spend that much for clothing!” I totally understand, but I do have a weakness for the better things in life.

Where do you shop?

At Barney’s in LA I work with a salesperson, Tony, who has an incredible eye.

How has your style changed over the years?

I actually think my style might be a little younger now. I was always very serious and classic as a younger woman.

Who influenced your style most?

The women in my family; my mother and my grandmother.

How did they dress?

My mother was very classic. And her mother had incredible style. Now that I’m talking about it, I have the feeling they got their style from my grandfather. He was kind of a dandy. He didn’t dress foppishly, but he had silver-headed walking sticks, an opera cape, a beaver top hat and a silk collapsible top hat.

What’s your beauty routine?

That’s one place that I am not faithful. My grandmother told me that with beauty, you should never do what you’re supposed to do. I’m good about cleansing, I don’t use soap. I use a cleanser and it’s whatever cleanser I have at the time. I put moisturizer on in the morning. I really like the Shu Uemura make up remover, which is like an oil.

Do you have a favorite artist?

I have a tiny little photography collection by Josef Sudek. I react physically to artwork. My intellectualism goes away. I love photography that’s almost abstract. I like things that are geometric shapes. My taste both in art and photography runs to mid century. That being said, I love the abstract expressionists like Rothko.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Gary Danko in San Francisco. It’s new American. Philosophically, how they arrange the menu is wonderful. They list their dishes by categories: meat, fish, vegetables, sweets, cheeses. They’ll do a three-course or a five-course dinner for you and they will make the portions appropriate. The service is spectacular.

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