Winter 2007 • Issue 27, page 1

Profile: Jeanne Sleeper

By Rense, Kirk*

(Editor’s note: Ms Sleeper is many things, not the least of which is an accomplished writer and author. The Receivership News is very pleased to print this profile about her professional life — in both business and her primary love, the sea, in her own words.)

There is always one kid in the neighborhood who has the lemonade stand, who whips everyone into shape for the two-block-long Fourth of July Bicycle Parade and who takes off swimming all the way across the lake though strictly forbidden to do so. Well, that was me as a kid — an organizer, an entrepreneur and an adventurer (much to the frequent distress of my parents). This pretty well set a trend for the years that followed. When only 18 years old I co-founded the Minnesota Coalition to Lower the Voting Age, which lobbied for a state ballot initiative to do so. I then raised the funds for and ran a successful statewide campaign that lowered the Minnesota voting age to eighteen. This effort, in turn, set the stage for the enactment, on July 1, 1971, of the Twenty Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states:

“The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

So before turning 21 I had been a driving force for significant national change. Pretty heady stuff. This was an early example of my life-long commitment to causes, and willingness to work hard and long to achieve the goals I set.

I began teaching high school students in Robbinsdale, Minnesota after receiving my Bachelor of Science Degree with honors in Political Science and Journalism (with a secondary teaching credential) from the University of Minnesota. I found that it is hard to get someone to hire you when, at age 21 your most recent gig was amending the US Constitution. Even more intriguing to me than teaching in a high school classroom was teaching the joy of scuba diving to students and teaching scuba diving instructors how to train safe divers about the underwater environment.

I learned to scuba dive in Minnesota’s land of 10,000 lakes and became an instructor in 1971. The National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) quickly recognized me as an ambitious source of free labor and made me the “Mid-America Branch Manager,” invited me to staff instructor courses and advised me not to get a big head over my $ 200 monthly stipend.

I had the perfect job from 1975 to 1980 – working at NAUI headquarters in California (for a more reasonable paycheck), learning association management, and helping NAUI expand with Canadian and Japanese affiliates. NAUI’s California headquarters eased open the doors for me and other women in diving when I became the first woman to assume several professional diving leadership roles.

My advocacy had moved from voting rights to open access and opportunity based upon relevant skills, not gender. Dr. Susan Bangasser and I co-authored Women Underwater, a relatively daring book in 1979. NAUI gave me the opportunity to edit and write technical publications, and the NAUI NEWS monthly magazine. I also produced its IQ international conferences.

Over the years I have been honored by the diving industry with the prestigious (if I do say so myself) NAUI Service Award, the SSI Platinum Pro 5000 and was selected as an inaugural Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2000. To date I have logged more than 8,000 scuba dives in places as diverse as tropical paradises to the Mississippi — zero visibility — River.

I decided in 1980 that, no matter how much I loved my career in diving and association management, I wanted to start my own business. My first big client was a company that produced Supercross motorsports events in NFL stadiums. I started as a consultant, eventually took my little marketing company in-house and within two years became president of that organization. But it was not my creation.

So I resigned that great-paying job in 1985 (parental distress continued) and started re-building my own company, JBS & Associates. I decided to specialize in event and association management and implementation of multi-disciplinary marketing, advertising and public relations programs…and I would have control over my schedule so I could spend more time in the ocean.

When no longer a corporate road warrior I finally had the flexibility to make a living while diving, writing and sharing my love of the ocean. As an associate editor of Skin Diver Magazine I authored the “Advanced Diving” feature — 84 articles of 2500 words with accompanying photographs — and published many other magazine articles. Finally I was back to teaching, to molding attitudes and to opening minds to the importance of the world’s oceans.

My ocean advocacy for the past ten years has been focused through two great institutions: the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, where I serve as a volunteer diver and also as Trustee of the Pacific; and through Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. There I have had the honor of serving on the Scripps Director’s Development Committee and on the Birch Aquarium Board of Advisors.

There is no greater joy or source of drive in my life than as an ocean advocate. Our well being as a planet is tied to clean drinking water and healthy ocean ecosystems. Opening eyes and hearts through my photographs, adventure stories and through assisting institutions in creating wonder and stewardship of the oceans and all its inhabitants, is a major focus for me. My current project is photographing whales in the wild – free diving in the open ocean with 30-ton mammals that choose to approach me and let me swim near them and capture their beauty. I hope to gather enough special images for a book.

As in the ocean, where organisms interact to thrive, my company has grown as various parts of my life intertwined. After exiting the race production business, I met Bill Lobel, who had formed a new law firm and needed assistance managing the bankruptcy fee application process for his boutique bankruptcy debtor firm (back in the days of plentiful chapter 11 bankruptcy cases). Bill volunteered to chair the California Bankruptcy Forum’s fledgling annual conference, and talked his partners into paying me for two years to do the event production after he raised the sponsorship money.

I eventually left that part-time firm position and was hired by the California Bankruptcy Forum to manage the statewide organization. It is hard to believe that the upcoming 2008 California Bankruptcy Forum conference will be the eighteenth I have managed, and that I have proofed so many years of California Bankruptcy Journals.

In working with bankruptcy lawyers and trustees I met many of the founders of the California Receivers Forum. When the group decided to start a formal organization, I was honored when asked to be its administrator. The California Receivers Forum ten year anniversary is on the horizon.

JBS & Associates has grown in staffing and services. We now also produce conferences, trade shows and special events for clients such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America national golf tournaments, the HMO Research Network and advertising for Yamaha Motorcycle dealer groups.

It has been a remarkable journey, building a business and being of service to my clients. It is humbling to think of how many people in the bankruptcy and receivership communities have become friends and have mentored me.

With this article, my habit of spending Tuesday afternoons out of the office is finally explained – I am diving at the Aquarium of the Pacific, hand feeding fish and rays, moving sharks, and washing exhibit windows on the wet side, always hoping to ignite in the visitors, young and old, a sense of wonder in the marine environment and its many varied creatures, because people protect and cherish what they know and love.

Jeanne Sleeper is the founder and director of JBS & Associates, a Laguna Beach firm that produces conferences and trade shows nationwide for a variety of clients as well as providing administrative services to the CRF and many other trade organizations.