Advice from the woman behind the cape: The backstory of Dynamics GP expert Leslie Vail

October 17 2019

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on Collaboration Works to honor the years of service and recent retirement of Leslie Vail.

Leslie Vail is a legend in the Microsoft Dynamics GP community. With hard work, strong relationships and a positive attitude she has impacted everyone around her. This is the story of how Leslie built her career and found her style. And the advice she has for newcomers as she leaves this industry after more than 25 years of “living the dream”.

The three words that changed her life

Leslie paid her way through college by working as an engine mechanic at Sears. Lawnmowers, chainsaws, and tractors, not cars. After she received her degree in accounting, she went to work for Arthur Andersen and was a senior tax accountant for several years.  Then she worked in the savings and loan industry.

Leslie might have stayed on that track, except for a project that came along in 1993 that took her in a totally new direction.

One of her mentors at Arthur Andersen helped Leslie get involved in choosing a computerized accounting system for a high-income individual in Dallas who wanted their 30+ companies to be on Windows.  She admits there was not a whole lot out there in the midmarket at that time. She looked at MAS90 and Platinum, but the system that caught her eye was this little known software from Fargo, North Dakota that had just been released called Great Plains. Leslie is one of the few people that say she started with Version One.

Leslie selected a Great Plains reseller and arranged training for the client. But when the reseller came to install it, it was clear within seconds that he didn't have any idea what he was doing. He was so inept that the client sent him away.  Then he looked at Leslie and said, "You do this."

Those three words changed Leslie’s life forever.

The first Great Plains training tapes for VHS were $90 each. Leslie bought all of them in a panic and set out to learn the system. The more she learned, the more she realized she had found her place. Personal computers had come out after Leslie graduated from college, and she was very interested. It occurred to her that if she worked with computerized accounting systems, she could do everything she loved: play on the computer, use her degree, and get paid for it.

And that is what she has been doing for more than 25 years as an independent consultant for the system that is now known as Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Now Leslie is one of the most experienced consultants in the Microsoft Dynamics GP channel, though most people know her as “the lady in the cape.”

The legendary cape


The tradition of the superhero cape started as a dare.

Many years ago, at a Convergence event, her good friend, Sheila Jefferson Ross, had a crazy heart shaped balloon hat with a little balloon dog on the end of it. To win a dare, Leslie wore the hat to train during the Hands-On Lab, and a tradition was born. Every year, there as another outrageous hat. Whatever Sheila came up with, Leslie would wear.

Leslie decided a hat was not enough, and decided to add a cape. The first cape, she made by hand, was black satin with gold-metallic discs on the inside. It was heavy, and it was hot. But it stood out.

Next, Leslie had a pink hat, with LED lights and a pink feather boa, so she decided to make a matching hot pink cape. This one had a black Superman emblem with the letters H-O-L on the back, which stood for Hands-On Labs, to give the training sessions some extra promotion. At this point, GPUG was in the formative stages so the next cape included the new GPUG logo in satin.

For years, John Lowther begged Leslie to give him the gold cape. Finally, she agreed, but only if he would wear the hot pink cape with the pink hat on stage. And he did.  At the end of their joint presentation, John got down on his knee, and Leslie conferred the special gold cape on him.  John wore that cape to events for years. She decided the next cape had to be even more outlandish than the others. That is when Leslie made the cape she wears today, that will have its last appearance at the 2019 User Group Summit in Orlando.

This cape sparkles with hundreds of Swarovski crystals. The crystals were originally applied by hand, one by one, with a toothpick and glue. Then Belinda Allen told Leslie there was a way to attach them with a machine. Belinda is always helping people to be more efficient, including Leslie.

Every year, Leslie added something extra: LED lights, more crystals. The hat got fancier too: more feathers, more sequins. The capes and all those crazy hats meant that it was never hard to find Leslie at an event when you wanted to ask her a question.

Any questions?


Leslie always has the answers to user questions or knows how to find them. First, it was on a newsgroup and then a forum. For the past few years, Leslie has become a legend on the GPUG Collaborate Discussion pages. She admits that answering those questions is like an addiction for her. She has learned a lot from the people on the forum because they ask the questions that force her to do the research and she credits the users as her best trainers.

Before the days of blogs, Leslie published books. With the late Richard Whalley, she wrote “Confessions of a Dynamics GP Consultant,” published in 2007. In 2012 she published her own 600 page book “Developing Microsoft Dynamics GP Business Applications.” Writing that book took the better part of two years, which didn't make the publishers very happy, but for Leslie, helping her clients always came first.

Because of her answers and books, people started to know her name and her trademark outfits helped them find her at events. It is always a special thrill when people come up and thank her for helping them. But users are not the only ones who recognize Leslie.

The recognition that means the most

Leslie was honored when she was named a Microsoft MVP. But she admits that it was a bit stressful as you don’t know the criteria, who is evaluating you and if you would make it every year.

The most meaningful award she received in her career was in 2017 as a GPUG All-Star. This was an award from people she knew, her colleagues, and her peers. And for her, that made it extra special.

During the General Session at the GP Technical Conference 2019 in Fargo, Leslie Vail was honored for her many years of service to the community. Her friend David Musgrave shared this video that was shown as part of the celebration.

Advice for new consultants

After so many years keeping clients happy and building a reputation in the Dynamics channel, Leslie Vail is ready to retire. And she has some words of wisdom for the next generation of Dynamics consultants:

  1. “Technology moves so fast, and you have to keep up. I remember when the web client came out, I had to learn how to install it and work with it. That was outside my daily work, but I knew I had to bring it inside. It takes a lot of hours. And nobody pays you to do that. You do that so that people will continue to pay you to do something.”
  2. “I love the interaction with people at conferences, doing presentations, and seeing the same friends over and over again. But you have to spend a few years being anonymous. You need to put in the work and grow. I remember when I sat there in those big audiences at the beginning, and I thought how cool it was that Doug Burgum (the president of Great Plains) knew certain people by name. Eventually, when Doug looked at me and called my name, I thought, "Wow, I've made it.” (In 2019 Leslie was given a special certificate of recognition from Doug, now Governor of North Dakota). 
  3. “Learn the hard stuff. Be the technical consultant. Everybody knows GL, AR, AP, SOP, POP, and Inventory. Learn report writer. Learn those Word templates. They're not as easy as they look. Learn Modifier, VBA, and whatever replaces VBA. You need to know enough Dexterity to understand the error messages. If you want to excel, you need to be that person that can do the imports, that can write directly to the database. Know SQL. Learn the data model. Understand how info flows from file to file, what the table names mean. In order to troubleshoot, you’ve got to understand that data model. Learn the things other people don’t want to learn.”

Living the dream

Leslie is known for the phrase “living the dream.” She says it with enthusiasm. And she promises that if you do that, you just can’t help feeling better.

Leslie has been doing what she loves for more than 25 years, always looking forward to the next day. She really is telling the truth when she says she is “living the dream.”

All of us in the Microsoft Dynamics GP Channel thank her for her enthusiasm and wish her the very best.

Looking for the cape and sparkly hat these days? Ask Steve Erbach.

About Anya Ciecierski

Anya Ciecierski has worked in sales and marketing in the Microsoft Dynamics channel since 1999. In 2009 she co-founded ERP Software Blog and CRM Software Blog then added ERP Cloud Blog, now the largest group blogs in the space.  These sites encourage collaboration between 150 Dynamics partners across the world and educate more than 90,000 readers each month. Anya is committed to the idea of “using the power of the group” to benefit the community as a whole. She also leads the Channel Marketing Academy, a project to connect marketing professionals to share ideas.

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