On March 5, the Walker School honored Lesley Hoffarth as our 2014 Woman of Influence. A woman who is making a difference forever, Hoffarth is the president and executive director of Forest Park Forever. Prior to this role, she was the project director for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)’s single largest project to-date: the design/build of Interstate 64.
Dr. Beth Stroble, president of Webster University, opened the event by welcoming guests to Webster University. President Stroble shared a story about Webster University’s founding by the Sisters of Loretto nearly 100 years ago. She then went on to say that Webster University has always been a place that welcomes women.
In introducing the guest of honor, Walker School Dean Benjamin Ola. Akande said Hoffarth has proven she has the resilience, motivation and focus to succeed in a predominantly male field. During the reconstruction of I-64, Hoffarth managed a $535 million budget, oversaw the addition of lanes, the reconstruction of 13 interchanges, and the replacement of eight major bridges. “I-64 was lauded as a national model because it was completed ahead of schedule, $11 million under budget and with a 95 percent satisfaction rating,” he said. “These results are unheard of in any industry, not to speak of the highway construction space, and yet Lesley made it happen because she galvanized the support of the community and sufficiently led the team to completion. Thanks to her leadership and the contributions of countless engineers and others, I-64’s footprint of concrete and steel will last for decades to come.”
As president and executive director of Forest Park Forever, Hoffarth is responsible for renewing and revitalizing 1,300-acres in the heart of St. Louis. “Lesley has the presence and character that speaks to the essential ingredient of leadership,” Akande said. “She is committed to making our lives and livelihood a wonderful experience today, tomorrow and forever. In the words of of Thomas McDaniels, she is ensuring that ‘today’s footprint is tomorrow’s legacy.'”
Hoffarth’s lecture, “Rebuilding History: Lessons from I-64 to Forest Park Forever,” offered insights into her leadership journey and included unique stories about several St. Louis landmarks. With regard to her work on I-64, she said the project was an ‘engineer’s dream job.’
“To see the road get rebuilt in my lifetime, to put together the team of the best and brightest people you could think of to go on this journey with you, to have the leadership at your organization clearing obstacles out of your way to give you every chance to be successful, and to involve the entire community in something that started as so divisive but ended in something so powerful is amazing,” Hoffarth said. “It speaks to the collective power of our region and the amazing things that can happen when we work together.”
While Hofarth dedicated 10 years to the I-64 project, she said her transition to Forest Park Forever was more straight-forward than many might think. “I-64 and Forest Park both serve the public and make a difference in people’s lives. Not only are there similarities in the intense feelings the community has for these two places, they both require similar leadership, relationship building and communication skills.”
Hoffarth went on to add that the projects at Forest Park and I-64 have been wildly successful not only because of the good planning, good execution and good communication, but because the community was involved in framing the problem, creating a solution and implementing it. “It seems like such a stretch to people that an engineer with no formal fundraising experience would be leading Forest Park Forever. It’s kind of like the idea of a woman leading MoDOT’s first Design-Build job, first extended highway closure and largest single project at the time. I’ve never shied away from things I haven’t done before. There’s a first time for everything.”
View additional photos from this event. Hoffarth’s lecture will air on HEC-TV on March 25 at 6 p.m. and March 28 at 8 p.m. A video of the presentation will be available on the Walker website in the coming weeks.