Story by Danielle Veestra
Photo by Chris Redd
Ocala Magazine catches up with a former 40 Under 40 member – Kim Leemans, 40 Under 40 2011 – and two of her closest friends, also from Ocala, making waves in the City of Angels.
Once upon a time, three girls, a dreamer, a risk taker and a realist, grew up in the same small town with the same big dream: to live big in life from career goals to passions. Ant it all happened to come together in the City of Angels. Many years later, after high school and college, each of them went out and took their chances. It paid off because where they are today is anything but small.
Meet Kim Leemans, Nancy Diaz and Piper LeJeune, who call Ocala their hometown even while they are 2,433 miles away. They have not always been as close as they are now, in high school they loosely knew of one another, but finding out later in life that they had moved to LA they reconnected and are the best of friends.
Many may remember Leemans from the well-known TV show, Americas Next Top Model, where she “smized” with the best of them. Leemans has worked in the movie industry since high school and has some studio film work as well as indie films.
Recently, she has worked closely with Jim Hanks, Tom Hank’s brother, on some future projects. She also recently spoofed Mila Jovovich (5th Element/ Resident Evil) in a 20th Century Fox Comedy film and is front in center as Lois Lane in the short comedy that is generating a great deal of buzz, “Little Man of Steel”, that has been making its festival rounds. It was released online for a week leading up to the blockbuster premiere of Man of Steel and quickly surpassed 20,000 views. A travel show that she created/executive produced/and hosted is now being sought after by major networks like Travel Channel and Discovery. Leemans continues to model, and was last seen strutting the catwalk at LA fashion week modeling for designers Dar Sara and Furne One (who have made costumes for Rihanna and Katy Perry) as well as Bree Seely. She also has an international Head and Shoulders commercial with football player Troy Polamalu. A fashion editorial photographed by local fashion photographer Kristia Knowels will be published by the end of the year.
Diaz works for the Style Network, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal in LA. She started out as a coordinator with the company after having worked in advertising, but has since been promoted to Manager of Marketing Solutions. In her position she services the sales teams to come up with new integrated 360 partnerships and works closely with Piper who works in the digital department.
LeJeune also works at Style, as a manager in the digital team. She was promoted from Executive Assistant to the President of Style Network. It is her job to make sure Style is at the forefront of everything technological, whether that be a new app for smart phones or a new website page. A fun fact about her first job out in LA is she worked as a producer’s assistant on the movie Twilight.
Although it may seem like their paths to success have been easy, it was anything but. All three took major risks moving half way across the country, especially since they had no definite job opportunities waiting for them. In the end, however, it paid off.
“You work day to day grinding to get your work and that is a risk and I think we all had to be willing to do that,” said Leemans.
Each may have their nose to the grindstone, but they take the time out of their busy schedule to get together, release stress and have fun. The ladies try and meet up at least once every two weeks, if not every week, for some Pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup.
“No one knows you like someone who knows where you came from,” said LeJeune. “It’s a big deal because I think we look at where we are sometimes and we get frustrated, but we are able to remind each other to be grateful for how far we have come. It’s encouraging and homey to feel like you have someone from back home who gets it.”
Leemans, Diaz and LeJeune have bonded over where they started out and where they are currently, but they could not be anymore unique.
Her friends describe Leemans as the kid of the group. She will be the one to make you laugh on a stressful day. Diaz goes on to say that she is excited about life and wants to enjoy it without worrying about the practicality of it. She is the dreamer.
Where Leemans is the child, LeJeune is the mother. She is described as a very wise, practical, intelligent, hard worker. She is not afraid to bring you back down to reality whether that is with personal or work life. She is the realist.
Diaz is the go-getter of the group. She lives all the way out, and she does not curb herself on anything. If she wants something, she goes for it with a smile on her face. She is the risk-taker.
Together these ladies have formed a triad of successful businesswomen, born of the same roots, who have each other’s backs. LeJuene submitted Diaz’s resume to Style, and Diaz hires Leemans for all of her shoots.
“The key to my happiness in my adult life is a supportive group of friends. Professionally and personally they get me to where I need to be” said Diaz.
“We are always considering how we can be of value to each other as we grow and as we do more and more,” said LeJeune.