Brock Leach always assumed his corporate career would be short-lived. “I just thought, ‘When I’m fired, I’m going to go to the seminary,’” he says. Instead, over 24 years, he became CEO of Frito-Lay and Tropicana (which brought him to Southwest Florida) and then chief innovation officer for PepsiCo. Now retired, he’s pursuing his lifelong dream of dedicating himself to community service as a Unitarian Universalist minister. Rather than renouncing his corporate career, Leach, 61, leverages his organizational leadership expertise to benefit the church and the community.
As a teenager in Colorado, Leach volunteered at drug treatment centers and helped build a Healthy Start center that served the migrant population. “It was a revelation for me that I could make a difference for someone else,” he says.
But because “nobody was hiring anybody to do social enterprise stuff,” he says, he decided to go to business school. There, he discovered his religious calling through the Unitarian Universalist Church, a non-creedal Christian denomination centered on the inherent worth and dignity of every person. After Leach was hired by Frito-Lay straight out of school, he joined a congregation in Dallas and remained an active member throughout his career. Upon retirement, he attended seminary and graduated in 2011. He’s now the church’s national executive consultant for Emerging Ministries, supporting young seminarians who have different ideas about how religious communities should work.
Leach’s vast social justice contributions include work related to minorities, immigration and access to health care, but he’s perhaps most passionate about providing opportunities for disadvantaged families. “If you had to pick one thing to make a difference to the future, pick early childhood education,” he says. In 2004, he began working with Sarasota’s Children First, a Head Start “Program of Excellence,” and from there made connections to other local organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition.
Based on the demonstrable effectiveness of the Head Start model, which serves families with kids ages 6 weeks through 5 years, Leach is now researching ways to extend that support for low-income families through elementary school and beyond.
“I’d like to see us experiment with that here in Sarasota,” he says, “because all arrows point that it could be a real game-changer.”