Get to know Leslie D Hale, the president and CEO of a leading hotel real estate investment trust (REIT), RLJ Lodging Trust. In 2018 when she was made the chief executive of RLJ Lodging Trust, Hale became the first African-American woman to be chief executive of a publicly traded real estate investment trust.
The Bethesda, Md. hotel company at the time had nearly 30,000 rooms at 153 properties across the United States. Also, it had a market cap of $3.8 billion. Hale joined an exclusive list of nine female CEOs of 166 US publicly listed real estate investment trusts.
Hale has a career spanning almost three decades in finance, real estate, and hospitality. She is credited with playing a significant role in the growth and expansion of RLJ Trust in recent years. She led the company to achieve remarkable financial results in 2022. The company’s revenue increased by over 50 percent to hit $1.19 billion from $785.6 million.
Hale first joined the company as director of real estate and finance in 2005 and became a chief financial officer in 2007, playing a progressive role in the institution. She became executive vice president of real estate and finance and a chief operating officer in 2016 before eventually assuming the role of CEO in 2018.
Hale said she fell in love with real estate finance while in college. According to the granddaughter of a Tennessee sharecropper, the concept of making a profit was amazing to her.
“I fell in love with finance back in college, when I took my first finance class. The concept of being able to take a dollar and turn it into two was amazing. I was a skinny kid from South Central Los Angeles who went to public school, so being able to take one dollar and turn it into two was fascinating to me,” she told REIT.com.
Before joining RLJ, she held senior positions at GE. She worked in GE’s Commercial Finance Mergers & Acquisitions Group and GE’s Real Estate Strategic Capital Group. She also worked as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, advising on mergers, acquisitions, and corporate finance.
The Compton native is a product of Los Angeles public schools and a graduate of an HBCU. She completed Howard University with a degree in finance in 1994 and continued to Harvard Business School for her MBA, where she was a Goldman Sachs and Toigo Fellow.
Besides RLJ, she serves on Macy’s, Inc.’s Board of Directors and is a Howard University Trustee. Hale attributes her success — moving from the streets of Los Angeles to the C-suite — to friends, family, and mentors. The wife and mother, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, said, “I have been very thoughtful throughout my career, to be in a position to be very successful. RLJ looked past race and gender and focused on talent and contribution.”