As a math major at a small liberal arts college in Maine, Leslie Walters struggled to decide what her next step would be after graduation.

"I got a little nervous," Walters says. "Uh, oh, liberal arts school. Maybe I should have gone to engineering school. But because I had a Bachelor of Science degree, a lot of the insurance companies and banks were looking for people with analytic skills."

The Buffalo, N.Y., native set on joining the insurance business where it was relatively easy to find a position, she says. From there, the challenge was choosing what route she wanted to take — the actuarial route or the investment route.

Her decision led her to work on analytics of pension plans for a firm in Westchester, N.Y.

After her husband took a job as an engineer for Boeing on the West Coast, Walters made the move with him. She continued to telecommute before moving to Smith Barney, where she began to work with different branches in the Northwest as an investment specialist.

"I would go from branch to branch and talk [with advisors] about different managers and mutual funds," Walters says. "It was my job to help them select specific investments and scenarios."

Walters says she frequently noted the different cultures in each office. After 10 years, a new opportunity rose.

In January, through a leadership development program at Morgan Stanley, Walters was allowed to take on a position as a manager of a smaller branch without having to bring her own book.

Walters leapt at the opportunity, excited to see how she could help influence the culture of a branch in her new leadership role.

"I looked at the branches and I thought it would be cool to be in a single branch," she says. "When I went from one branch to the next, I saw that there were different cultures in the branches. There were branches that the advisors loved coming to work during the day and it was just the little things that did that."

She joined a small branch in Silverdale, Wash., and hasn't regretted it. "I feel like branch management is something that's really exciting and I'm looking forward to progressing," Walters says.

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