Brock and Julie Leach: Dedicated to Promoting the Power of Relationships

May 16, 2024

Brock and Julie Leach together at a restaurant smiling.

Brock and Julie Leach celebrating their anniversary.

Julie and Brock Leach met at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and after graduating and getting married, they began looking for jobs with the idea that they could move wherever. They agreed, though, on some limitations: “We’ll go anywhere except Texas or Florida.”

Then they moved straight to Dallas. Brock had found a position at Frito Lay and Julie’s job with Deloitte could transfer there too. For most of the next 17 years, they lived in Dallas until 2000, when Brock became the president and CEO of Tropicana Beverages. With the new job, Brock, Julie, and their two children moved to… Sarasota.

Of the two states where they planned never to move to, Julie said, “We love them both.” And of the careers that led them there, both credit adults they met in high school as playing a key role, inspiring them to take risks and think big.

In high school, Julie’s French teacher inspired her to explore subjects that extended beyond the romance language. She helped ignite Julie’s lifelong love of literature and opera, and she illuminated a career pathway in international business, even though Julie had always thought about biology.

Her French teacher provided a vital contrast to Julie’s science teacher, who discouraged his female students from pursuing careers in science. The difference in teachers has served as a stark reminder of the power of adults to create an expansive or a confined view of potential in young people. As Julie said, “Adults can build [students’ interests] up or shut that down… so having positive role models is important.”

Like Julie, Brock had important mentors who helped him reach his potential. In high school, he moved with his family from suburban Detroit to a smaller town in Colorado. Instead of attending a school with 1,700 students, he was one of 78 in his graduating class. He formed closer relationships with teachers who opened new possibilities and ideas.

He also met a minister who was active in the community. He took a group of teenagers to glean vegetables with migrant workers and to build a Head Start center in the middle of winter. Through community outreach work, Brock realized, as he said, “I can make a difference in someone’s life, in a very modest way.”

When Brock told this minister that he wanted to join the seminary and follow in the minister’s footsteps, his mentor told him there would be time enough for that later and that he should forge his own path. That path led Brock to his graduate degree and a career in consumer products.

After retiring, Brock pursued his dream of attending seminary and has been involved with ministry work for the Unitarian Universalist denomination ever since. He has served as a chaplain at Tampa General Hospital. Through his philanthropy, he has supported many groups, including sexual abuse survivors in the U.S. armed forces and aspiring entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With their appreciation for the transformative powers of adults in the lives of students, Julie and Brock have worked to foster relationships and create opportunities for young people here in Sarasota, especially those most underserved. In 2010, Julie joined the board of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and now serves as its executive director. Brock and Julie also began supporting kids and families through Children First and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, where Brock serves as the board chair.

Julie and Brock were drawn to the Education Foundation’s work to connect students to adults who help them identify their purpose and their passions and then get ready for life after high school. They believe all students should be known but that too many today miss out on forming important connections with their teachers or counselors or other adults in their lives.

“How great to have a private organization filling the gaps,” Julie said, “so that kids can form relationships with advisors and mentors.”

As Brock said, “Without people suggesting things and opening doors… without those experiences, you never figure it out.”

A former Chief Innovation Officer for PepsiCo, Brock loves figuring things out and understanding how organizations work, and today he is excited about the Education Foundation’s efforts to creatively problem-solve to develop new ways to reach students most underserved and provide free, accessible, individualized support to plan for life.

As Julie and Brock know well after living so many years in Texas and Florida, all plans are subject to change. But without a plan, the possibility of growing, adapting, coming to love unexpected places, and reaching one’s full potential diminishes. This understanding guides their generous support and their work to instill in young people an expansive view of the world, one filled with pathways and possibilities.