Mainsheet: You started as Membership Director at the Club three months ago. Welcome aboard!
Leslie Blakely: Thanks! It’s nice to be back.
MS: Let’s start at the very beginning. Where are you from?
Leslie: I was born in Texas and moved a bit growing up, first to Washington state and then to Fresno, CA, where I attended junior high, high school and college. I fell in love with the area, especially the rivers. I swam competitively, worked as a lifeguard, and was a river guide in college for four summers on King’s River, a Class 3 and 4 river. That’s where I fell in love with event planning.
MS: How did you make the connection between rafting and events?
Leslie: I’ve always loved planning, starting back in high school when I planned a number of pep rallies and student dances. River rafting was, in a way, a big event. It was two days of food, beverage and entertainment. For all of those, I loved planning the event and then seeing the reactions of the people who attended. My sophomore year in college, I attended a wedding on a yacht and had another epiphany—I love the water, and I love event-planning. I’m going to be an event planner on the water!
MS: Sounds like a perfect fit. What was your first job?
Leslie: After graduating with a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies from Fresno State, I worked at Adventures at Sea in Newport Beach, CA for six years, working my way up from intern to Event Coordinator to Sr. Sales Manager. Sometimes I even crewed on the yachts, and got to try my hand at throwing and tying dock lines.
MS: How did you make your way to San Francisco?
Leslie: I moved here to work for Signature Hospitality, a yacht charter company with a catering divison. After they dissolved in 2009, I applied for the Director of Catering position at StFYC under then-AGM, Lindsay Galloway Pizarro. I spent three years as the Director of Catering here, overseeing all private and Club events.
I really enjoyed it, but after the America’s Cup World Series in 2013, I decided I wanted to try my hand at hotels. I quickly learned that continental breakfasts and conventions aren’t as rewarding as clubs, which require so much more creativity, so when the City Club called with an opening, I was excited to take it. I was there for two years.
Mainsheet: How did you transition into membership?
Leslie: I loved my years in events, but I was ready for a new challenge. I always knew I wanted to come back to the St. Francis, but I wasn’t sure in which capacity. When I heard StFYC was looking for a membership director, I jumped at the opportunity. I still love events, and membership at StFYC is an event that lasts a lifetime.
MS: How does the St. Francis differ from the other places you have worked?
Leslie: There’s a sense of pride here, and a sense of loyalty among both the staff and the members. Coming back felt like walking through my front door—it was that warm and welcoming. This place is particularly member-focused, with a sense of family. It’s a lifestyle. Members enjoy coming here, so they come here frequently. The staff get to know the members well, and that sense of family just builds.
MS: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Leslie: I love the prospective member receptions because I get to interact with new members who are so excited about joining. I love explaining the culture of the Club to them, and helping them find where they fit in.
MS: And where do you want the membership department to go from here?
Leslie: I want to make the whole process more personal and more streamlined at the same time. I want to get the application online, and to work with the Membership Committee to reestablish a new-member orientation so we can warmly welcome new members into the community.
MS: What do you do when you’re not at the Club?
Leslie: I like to try new restaurants in the City and I also really enjoy wine tasting. I try to join wine clubs that aren’t nearby so I have a reason to travel. I belong to Silvestri Winery in Carmel, and Banshee and Williamson winery in Healdsburg. I also love to work out at Orange Theory—it's a great outlet.