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New clothing business built on passion for Lake Tahoe

By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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One local man has turned his passion for an iconic Sierra lake into a business,. Mike Leister, a 37-year-old family man who lives in El Dorado Hills, has started a business dubbed Tahoe Libre. It’s a line of clothing with a percentage of each sale contributed to the preservation of Lake Tahoe. “It’s really the product of several things: late night inspiration, a business school project, and really a love for Lake Tahoe,” Leister said. Leister has been in the business world for some time, currently working as a medical sales representative. Looking to expand his skill set and increase his business expertise, he began the Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) program at Drexel University’s Center for Graduate Studies in Sacramento. “That decision so far has been one of the best decisions I’ve made,” Leister said. He started his program in the winter of 2010. The next year, he was home unwinding after a day of work and a thought-provoking evening class at Drexel when the idea of a Tahoe-themed clothing line came to him. “I’m starting with T-shirts and have the desire over time to throw it into a full line of clothing for men, women and children,” Leister said. “But T-shirts are a good way to start when you’re starting small and trying to build from the ground up.” When he and two teammates needed a project to work on in their class on New Venture Planning, Leister’s thoughts turned naturally to Tahoe Libre, which he had already begun building. “I pitched my idea of Tahoe Libre to them, and they liked it and we decided to make it our final project,” Leister said. “They were very valuable in helping me craft a plan for the class and delivering the final project.” Shaun Youngberg, who achieved his MBA this year at the same time as Leister said that he and the other classmate worked with Leister to develop how they could help him potentially market the brand. “Ultimately we got into the idea of how he could give back to the community up there, given his passion around the Lake Tahoe region,” Youngberg said. Using Lake Tahoe as the theme for his business came easily to Leister’s mind because it is a natural playground for himself, his wife Julie, and their two children Christian, 9, and Caitlin, 6. “We sled, we hike, we play on the beach, we kayak,” Leister said. “Just in the past couple years my family has started trying out skiing.” David Stewart, Director of Drexel’s MBA program, was pleased but not surprised by the translation of the idea and classwork into a working business. “Mike’s MBA class set the highest group standards in the classroom and in various internal and external business competitions,” Stewart said. Right now the business is online only at www.tahoelibre.com; five dollars of each shirt sale goes toward the conservation and cleanup program for Lake Tahoe. Part of Leister’s long-term plan is to put the product into stores, as well. “It may be months out, it may be a year out, but I would like to get product into some of the boutiques around Tahoe,” he said. Leister and Youngberg both have a lot of good things to say about Drexel’s MBA program. Youngberg said that since starting in the program he has received four separate promotions in the company he works for. And, of course, Leister now has his own business. “I think one of the things I learned at Drexel is that challenges and difficulties are part of starting a business,” Leister said. “The key to being successful in business is being able to navigate those challenges and figure them out. And I think that is a lot of what I got from Drexel.”