Emerging Leader

Leslie O’Leary, Ph.D.


For exceptional technical and leadership abilities; for creating safe team spaces that encourage debate, discussion, and improvement; and for championing underrepresented groups in and outside her workplace.

Leslie O’Leary, Ph.D., currently holds dual roles as senior research and development (R&D) leader for specialty product R&D, and strategy leader to the R&D vice president, both within the Packaging and Specialty Plastics and Hydrocarbons (PSP&H) division of Dow Inc. This multibillion-dollar division serves packaging, infrastructure, consumer, and transportation markets. In her role as strategy leader, Dr. O’Leary supports the development and implementation of strategic organizational and technology initiatives. She also works with the directors and technical leadership on workforce development and R&D’s inclusion and diversity programs.

Dr. O’Leary is also responsible for talent attraction and retention, development and execution of innovation strategy, and management of capital and expense budgets for 15 researchers. The organization is the center for excellence in polar and reactive ethylene copolymer technology, and supports product innovation in industry-leading brands such as SURLYN (used in golf balls and cosmetics), ELVALOY (roofing and paving), and BYNEL (packaging films), among others.

Dr. O’Leary supported the integration of a large portion of this portfolio from DuPont to Dow by leading the lab capability transfer and establishing the innovation portfolio. She drove the integration by cultivating global collaboration, facilitating knowledge transfer, and enhancing research capabilities. These efforts have doubled the innovation portfolio since 2020, resulting in several new commercial products and applications and garnering an R&D 100 Award in 2022 from R&D World and an Edison Award in 2023.

She joined Dow in 2012 and completed job rotation experiences in several Dow businesses. She developed a range of innovations, including patent-protected quantum dot encapsulation, sustainable sun-care booster technology, polyolefin catalyst technology, and dispersion technology. She has been a member of GLAD (Dow’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group) since 2012 and a member of Dow’s Texas Operations GLAD site implementation team since 2019.

Dr. O’Leary has also been active with the American Chemical Society Midland Section Women Chemists Committee, and with the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers’ middle and high school science and engineering activities. She also organized volunteers and secured a grant for Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities at the Harry Holmes Affiliate Garden near Houston.

Dr. O’Leary has received many awards, including the California Institute of Technology’s Demetriades–Tsafka–Kokkalis Prize for her thesis on environmentally benign renewable energy, and a Link Foundation Energy Fellowship. She has authored 56 reports internal to Dow, 13 peer-reviewed publications, one book chapter, and 10 patent applications and grants.

Dr. O’Leary earned a B.S. in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. She also completed an executive strategic leadership program through Columbia University’s Columbia Business School.

Dr. O’Leary is married to a fellow scientist, and they have a cat named Chloe. Outside of work, she enjoys playing board games, gardening, and cooking. She also practices yoga and kickboxing.