Walt Leger III: Making New Orleans and Louisiana a Better Place to Live, Work and Visit

Top 10 Most Inspiring CEOs to Watch Out For in 2023

Effective leadership is about collaboration. Leadership matters, because how one does things is often just as important or more important that what one does.  Leaders set the tone, are able to bring people together, inspire positive change, and create policies and programs that empower individuals and communities. Leaders must be curious, seek to learn new things, and willing to recognize their own shortcomings, while still having the courage to try new things, and take bold and decisive action when necessary.

A Lifetime of Public Service

Walt Leger III, who currently serves as the President and CEO of New Orleans & Company, is a highly accomplished individual with extensive experience in a variety of fields. With a background as both a civil litigator and criminal prosecutor, as well as a State Legislator and non-profit community member, Walt is recognized for his pragmatic and effective approach to problem-solving and building coalitions. He is an expert in legislative affairs and strategic planning, with strong relationships across the business community, as well as local, State and Federal Government. Leger’s areas of expertise encompass transportation, tourism and hospitality industry, economic development, state fiscal matters, tax and budget policy, healthcare, education, public safety, and the civil and criminal legal systems.

Walt’s passion for public service can be traced back to his upbringing in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, where he was raised alongside his siblings Rhett and Liz by his parents, Walter and Cathy. They instilled in them a strong sense of civic duty, which Walt carried with him throughout his academic career. He excelled academically and graduated with honors from Jesuit High School in New Orleans before going on to Louisiana State University. Walt traces his interest in public service back to the 1st grade, when he volunteered to participate in a mock debate in the role of Presidential candidate Walter Mondale…he lost.

Upon returning to New Orleans, Walt pursued his law degree at Tulane Law School, where he held leadership positions as the business editor of the Tulane Maritime Law Journal and the Editor-in-Chief of the Tulane Environmental Law Newsletter. After law school, he worked as an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, where he specialized in prosecuting violent offenders and narcotics traffickers. This experience along with the devastation of hurricane Katrina, solidified Walt’s views on leadership and further ignited his passion for public service.

In 2007, Walt was elected to the Louisiana Legislature, and his re-election in 2011 and 2015 was uncontested. His colleagues unanimously selected him to serve as the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2012, making him the youngest person to hold this position. He was again unanimously chosen to serve a second term as Speaker Pro Tempore for his final term in 2016. He left the legislature in 2020 due to term limits.

Throughout his time in office, Walt remained dedicated to his vision of making Louisiana a safer, smarter, and more sustainable place to live. His priorities included structural budget reform, early childhood education, criminal justice reform and public safety, coastal preservation and restoration, and economic development and infrastructure. Walt’s pragmatic approach and reliance on data-driven policymaking resulted in several significant legislative accomplishments. Among these were the establishment of the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund, the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund, and the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Program. Walt was and continues to be successful in forging partnerships that were once considered unlikely, in order to provide practical solutions to long-standing issues. He not only brings people together, but also works with anyone who is willing to collaborate.

After his political career, Walt joined New Orleans & Company, the city’s official destination sales and marketing organization, in 2019 as Executive Vice President and General Counsel. He quickly made his mark in the hospitality industry at a local and national level, earning a seat on the Board of Directors of the US Travel Association. Walt helped lead the industry and New Orleans & Company through the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a devastating affect on the global business of travel.

It was no surprise that when New Orleans & Company’s legendary CEO of 20 years Stephen Perry announced his retirement in 2021, Walt was a top contender to replace him. On January 1, 2023, Walt was appointed President and CEO of New Orleans & Company, the organization which has driven the local economy since 1960 and shaped New Orleans into a world-class destination.

At age 44, Walt is the youngest ever President and CEO of New Orleans & Company. He also is one of the few destination marketing organizations in the country with a chief executive who was born and raised in that community.

He also is a devoted husband and father. One of Walt’s motivations for improving the quality of life in Louisiana is his wife Danielle and two young daughters.

Believing in Exemplary Leadership

Walt believes in being the best teammate that he can be. He believes that true leaders lead by example, by being present and visible at the forefront rather than in the background. Good teammates use their skillset to move the team forward and celebrate and encourage the skillsets of their teammates. However, he believes that there are three essential traits that drive success: humility, persistence and determination. Focusing on what he can control and letting persistence and determination take care of the rest has been instrumental in his success. Persistence is the ability to keep going, even when things are tough, while determination is the willingness to push through obstacles and overcome challenges. By embodying these traits, Walt has been able to achieve his goals and lead others to success. He believes that anyone can adopt these traits, regardless of their innate abilities, and achieve great things through sheer force of will and dedication.

Strengthen New Orleans’ Status as a World-class Destination

According to Walt, New Orleans is a city that is uniquely equipped to host major events such as trade shows, conventions, and corporate meetings, as well as global conferences and major sporting events, like Super Bowls. The execution of complex events in our community is something at which the people of New Orleans excel. The authenticity and cultural richness of New Orleans is unmatched, but it is the people of the city that generally help to create the memories that last visitors a lifetime. By focusing on making New Orleans an even better place to live and work, its status as a world class destination business and leisure travel will only be enhanced.

Protecting, preserving, and strengthening core assets such as our vibrant neighborhoods is a crucial priority, as our unique landscape, architecture, and culture are differentiators in this highly competitive environment, and an important part of what makes New Orleans so special. Additionally, supporting community assets like the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is essential, including the $557 million worth of upgrades currently underway, as well as the 39-acre mixed use development adjacent to the Center along the river front, known as the River District.

Walt also notes that the recent $450 million renovation of the Caesars Superdome will build on the iconic building’s previous improvements and lay the foundation for the future. He stresses the importance of keeping up with the modernization and updates to hotel offerings in other cities that are now considered competitors in the tourism industry. Leger believes that New Orleans must be committed to developing the next evolution of infrastructure to support and preserve the visitor economy.

Employ the Most Innovative Sales and Marketing Strategies in the Country  

In 2022, New Orleans & Company made history as the first destination marketing organization to integrate virtual reality (VR) technology into its Plus One advertising campaign. The campaign invites viewers to join the world’s best dinner party, and the use of VR technology has enhanced the experience for users. However, this is just the beginning for the company, as it plans to continue embracing new technologies to create unique experiences for fans of New Orleans and to connect with customers both domestically and globally.  This type of marketing serves as an example of the creativity of the people of New Orleans, while also embracing and celebrating the innovation that comes along with such creativity.

New Orleans & Company will be looking to develop new programs that drive visitation, such as the highly successful NOLAxNOLA event, which is now in its third year of celebrating the city’s music and venues.

Also critical are meetings and conventions. Walt states, “We also will continue to integrate Built to Host messaging into all that we do to recruit meetings and conventions. Launched in 2021, Built to Host is our first truly integrated destination-wide approach to selling and servicing. Now every sales professional in the city, not only at New Orleans & Company and the New Orleans Earnest N. Morial Convention Center, has a consistent message to share with the world. The campaign is resonating and we will take it to the next level in 2023.”

Learn and Improve

Despite our best efforts, life is full of uncertainties, and things don’t always go as planned. Obstacles seem to present themselves at every turn. However, Walt believes that one can either focus on the obstacle or find a way forward, even if it means creating a new path. Adversity and challenges are an integral part of life, and without them, we would not grow and our successes would not be as meaningful. Failure and setbacks can be tough to deal with, but they provide an opportunity to learn and improve. Walt sees failure as a stepping stone towards success, and every obstacle as a chance to demonstrate resilience and determination. Despite the challenges and obstacles that may arise, Walt’s unwavering belief in finding a way forward keeps him motivated to achieve his goals and succeed in life.

The Constant Struggle of Achieving Balance

Maintaining balance can be a constant challenge, and Walt has found one way to achieve it by involving his family in his professional life. By discussing the work he does, the challenges he faces, and the successes he achieves with his wife and children, he hopes to integrate his personal and professional lives and teach his children the importance of finding joy and fulfilment in work. Working for New Orleans & Company provides a valuable service to the city, and this fundamental aspect motivates the entire team to work towards building a stronger community. Despite the great responsibility and pressure that come with the job, putting in one’s best effort every day and striving for excellence on behalf of the community is incredibly motivating and brings out the best in everyone involved. The success of the team ultimately benefits the people of the community and member businesses, which is a significant source of motivation for everyone.

The Future of New Orleans & Company

Drawing on his extensive background in law and 12 years of legislative experience, Walt will continue to advocate for New Orleans by building partnerships, breaking down barriers, and bringing people together. In today’s political climate, where organizations are quick to express disagreement through boycotts and travel bans, the intersection of politics and business has never been more crucial.

Walt strongly believes that the success of promoting and selling New Orleans as a welcoming destination for meetings, leisure, and business will bring people to the city, driving economic growth and creating opportunities for all residents and workers. Walt tells his team, “It is our jobs to be optimistic.” His aim is to continue finding ways to unite people in the great city and encourage them to do great things.

Motivated daily by the Mark Twain’s quote, “travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” Walt’s goal is to showcase the creativity and innovation that emerges from the streets, inspiring individuals from all over the world to become more inclusive, compassionate, and open-minded, ultimately promoting positive social change. Through effective communication and collaboration, Walt believes that people can achieve anything and that his efforts can improve human interaction, benefiting everyone in the community, including visitors to New Orleans.

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