This site runs best with JavaScript enabled

Laura Lillas on how growth has been her biggest challenge and her greatest reward

small logo
The global CFO of Partners In Performance empowers her people to stay delivery-focused in order to get the job done

Laura Lillas FCPA

Global CFO
Partners in Performance

Sharpening her leadership skills and playing to the team’s strengths works for the CFO of this global management consultancy.


The role has many of the usual CFO functions – accounting, compliance, tax, and so on – with the added challenge of managing all those in a firm that’s rapidly expanding internationally. Partners in Performance (PIP) has been growing at about 30 per cent annually for 10 years. Part of my role is to deal with PIP’s growing operations. In our more mature markets, that means stabilising or building our capability, investing more in local expertise. In some of our less mature markets, we’re setting up operations – creating the legal entities and operating models to support doing business. It’s great to be at the front of all that change.


There’s no shortage of them, but dealing with the challenges of growth is vastly preferable to the alternative. My biggest challenge has been achieving a balance in my personal life while upholding a high benchmark for delivery at work. As a mother of two daughters, it’s important to role model commitment to both career and personal life balance. In a tough and demanding corporate job, it’s critical to maintain mental toughness, which is related to being happy and physically fit. Getting that right is something I’ve built up over time.

How it began

I’ve been at PIP since February 2014. My career history is rooted in global professional services firms, such as international law firm Baker & McKenzie, based in Chicago where I’m from. At university I earned a business degree, majoring in accounting. I went from university to an auditing career at Arthur Andersen. It’s always appealed to me being able to use numbers to make decisions, to translate that information into delivering an improvement. Being able to say: “We moved from that point to that point – it’s a measurable outcome” appeals to me conceptually. 

How this job is different

Our focus is about consultants being on the ground with our clients, rather than maintaining a big corporate presence. Many of our engagements are structured on a pay-for-results basis, which clients love because they’re able to pay for our work out of savings from improvements we drive. We stay with our clients until those results are cash-flowing. That means I get a bit more involved with our clients than I would in a firm with a more traditional approach to pricing and engagement.

Key strengths

Being able to stay delivery-focused has always been one of my strengths. You need to recognise your values as a leader, and be consistently true to those values. People can see the authenticity of your leadership and that helps you build a team and be effective in your role. Personal integrity, and people knowing they can rely on you, is critical.

Lessons learned

It sounds like a cliché, but you need a great team. How to build a great team, with diversity of thinking – you don’t want a bunch of “yes” people – is one of the most important things to learn as a leader. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses should complement each other. I’ve made a few key appointments [at PIP], but I’m not the sort of person who marches in and replaces everybody. It’s not my style. I prefer to empower people and trust that with the right leadership they will deliver, they will grow professionally, and they will be excited, engaged and challenged. 

This article is from the May 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.

About the authors

Aoife Murphy