Laura Kucera: “Whether female or male, the advice I would give here is the same — if you want your team to thrive, give them the authority to feel empowered and the room to grow”

Laura Kucera: “Whether female or male, the advice I would give here is the same — if you want your team to thrive, give them the authority to feel empowered and the room to grow”

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Whether female or male, the advice I would give here is the same ? if you want your team to thrive, give them the authority to feel empowered and the room to grow. I?ve talked about this before in a LinkedIn Blog I wrote on the role of leadership where I really emphasize that a good leader leverages the talents and individuality of her team to shine and even sometimes break new ground together. I think Steve Jobs really said it best, ?It doesn?t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they will tell us what to do.?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Kucera. Laura is a principal and Chief Marketing Officer at Citrin Cooperman, a nationally recognized, top-25 assurance, tax, and business advisory firm headquartered in NYC with offices spanning from Boston metro to DC metro. In this role, she oversees a team of more than 15 and is responsible for the marketing, communications, and business development strategy for the Firm. Prior to joining Citrin Cooperman, Laura has help prior CMO roles at two other regional accounting firms and has spent time managing marketing and sales strategy at two Big Four firms.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As to what brought me here, it wasn?t entirely a straight line. Both my parents had long careers as marketing and sales executives. I studied psychology in college with the intent of pursuing a career in behavioral sciences with the FBI. Upon graduation, I found myself working in marketing for a St. Vincent?s Westchester, a psychiatric hospital. My assumption was this would help prepare me for my end goal while I started graduate school for my MBA. Spending the first 5 years or so of my career in health care marketing at both St. Vincent?s and Lenox Hill Hospital, really gave me insight into all aspects of marketing. Both roles were very hands-on, giving me experience and skills in several tactical marketing areas including events management, public relations, writing, graphic design, etc. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the profession and followed this with a move into professional services and my first experience with a Big Four firm and landed a role overseeing marketing for the financial services practice at KPMG Consulting (aka BearingPoint). It was here where I really started to sink my teeth into strategy and understand how to leverage the marketing world to create plans and programs that really impacted the way the business went to market. It was also here that I discovered a passion for working in the professional services industry and marketing relationships and people. From there, I moved on to PricewaterhouseCoopers where I had the good fortune to lead the marketing and sales strategy efforts for the NY Metro Private Company Services practice. I say good fortune for a number of reasons, but the most important was working for Rich Poccia ? the managing partner of the practice, who became a true mentor (still to this day and someone I am thankful to also call a friend). He took the time to teach me about the business of accounting, was very open to new ideas and really encouraged me to build a marketing strategy that was customized with my vision. Sometimes, in a large firm you can get mired down in process and silos, but with his help, I was really able to learn and develop and build my career into something that allowed to continually be challenged and grow. I would say without a doubt, my time at PwC is really what influenced me to stay in this industry and fueled my passion to focus on roles where I could develop strategies that had a broad impact on an organization. In the years that followed, I have since taken on roles that gave me those experiences and are what ultimately landed me here at Citrin Cooperman, which, almost 4 years in, is still one of the most rewarding roles in my professional life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Our Firm is part of a larger global network of firms known as Moore Stephens International. Under this network, I was given the opportunity to further my education through a special executive leadership course at Harvard Business School. This was a rewarding experience for me in many ways. Being one of the only non-practice professionals, I got the chance to understand leadership issues from an entirely different perspective and come away from that program having learned more in those two sessions about the business of accounting, our clients, and leadership than in any of my courses at college and graduate school. In addition, this experience has allowed me to build a large network of my own and work with colleagues from all over the world to strengthen our association with this network and have a positive effect on the way we leverage this group to bring value back both to our organization and to our clients. What was most interesting and rewarding for me was the enthusiastic attitude of my Citrin Cooperman colleagues in encouraging me to bring back what I learned and incorporate it and build it into tools we would come to use to shape and impact our overall service methodology for our clients. That to me, has been the most fulfilling initiative I?ve come to be a part of here, as it really inspired the point of making room for new ideas and collaborating together to affect change on who we are.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Sadly, a story that comes to mind happened fairly recently at Citrin Cooperman. Our Westchester office had recently changed the names of their conference rooms to the names of various towns within Westchester County (i.e. Larchmont, Ardsley, Scarsdale, etc.). One day I had a meeting with the Office Managing Partner and he was running late. He sent me an email letting me know that he was stuck in Scarsdale with a client. Not really thinking about it, I took it to mean he was quite literally stuck in the town of Scarsdale and so I left to head out to another event and figured I would see him there later on. While at the event, I was relaying to another partner that he was running late and was in Scarsdale, and then as it was comically pointed out ? it dawned on me, that he was just in the Scarsdale conference room in the office down the hall from me and not in the town of Scarsdale itself! All was fine in the end and everyone had a nice laugh at my expense ? deservedly so. The lesson from this ? ? don?t name your conference rooms after neighboring towns!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Over the course of my career I have worked at several accounting firms and as a marketer I always find myself in the role of how to express what makes us different. It is not particularly surprising in a service-oriented business that we all tend to focus on the broad idea that business is personal. I have written and re-written messaging on this concept many times. Citrin Cooperman is no different in this aspect ? but ? what I have found here that I find really special from the other places is the efforts we go through from management down to put those words into action every day with our clients, our community, and our employees. This is a firm that has come together over the past four decades through the idea that we should be there for both our clients and our employees as more than just a service provider. We are a team that strives to understand the goals and challenges of each, and beyond that ? Citrin Cooperman thrives on knowing that each of us brings something unique that we can learn from and leverage to improve the impact we have on each other professionally, as well as personally.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We definitely have a very exciting year ahead for marketing at Citrin Cooperman. The Firm has always had an aggressive track record for growth and the past few years have been no exception. In only the almost four years that I have been here, we have opened four new office locations (Bethesda, MD; Providence, RI; and two offices in Boston Metro). In addition, we have brought in several new advisory service offerings and have grown to over 1000 professionals. Finally, 2019 marks a very special milestone for Citrin Cooperman as we turn 40. All of this growth and our 40th celebration is leading to a very ambitious marketing year for the Firm. You will see our brand presence more strongly displayed throughout our geographic footprint with a new theme to reinforce our brand and position in the market as the business-person?s advisor. We will be rolling out a new overall firm marketing campaign from top-down through multiple channels including advertising, social media, and more with a cohesive look and message. We are really excited to see this strategy come to life.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Whether female or male, the advice I would give here is the same ? if you want your team to thrive, give them the authority to feel empowered and the room to grow. I?ve talked about this before in a LinkedIn Blog I wrote on the role of leadership where I really emphasize that a good leader leverages the talents and individuality of her team to shine and even sometimes break new ground together. I think Steve Jobs really said it best, ?It doesn?t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they will tell us what to do.?

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I don?t believe this advice would be any less true if I were a man ? but as a person, the best advice that I can give to anyone in a leadership role of a large team is to really listen and trust those you have in place to help push your strategy, team, and firm forward. I have led teams before in my other roles, but my team at Citrin Cooperman has by far been my largest to date, bring a new challenge to me. I would never have been able to accomplish what we have been able to achieve so far without listening to my team. We all bring a unique set of skills and experience to the table, and it?s critical to build an environment where we are all able to express ideas and challenges together in order to grow. Some of our best ideas have come from the collective conversations and visions of our team. If you aren?t willing to really listen to those around you, any leadership you try to instill won?t be effective. Your team has to trust you and they can?t do that if you aren?t hearing them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Of course my mother has been the greatest help, supporter, and inspiration to me for my life and my career ? I would not be anywhere without her guidance, love, and support. She is the greatest model of strength and perseverance I have ever known in this world. Along the way, I have been very lucky in my professional life to have many partners as mentors and friends that have all rolled up their sleeves to offer support and guidance but if I had to pick only one ? there is no question. My biggest mentor throughout my professional life has been, and continues to be Rich Poccia, the former managing partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers? NY Metro Private Company Services practice. He hired me many years ago as a marketing manager. In an organization like PWC that is so large, it would have been easy to just fall in line in my pre-determined role and do my job, getting lost in the day to day of life at a Big Four, but Rich demanded more of everyone in his team and that included me. He was determined to make this practice stand out. Rich really showed me what a leader should be. His door was always open for questions, ideas, and guidance. He pushed me and others to live our professional lives outside of our comfort zone and always strive to do things differently. He wasn?t looking for people to simply fall in line and say yes but really looked for people to be proactive and bring thoughts that would inspire new ways to reach our market and new ideas to push our practice forward. As a marketer in professional services it can be a challenge to be seen internally as being able to bring anything more to the table, but he really taught me about building trusted relationships and gave me the freedom to build my role into more than just an internal support function.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The most fulfilling way I?ve been able to utilize my success for good is through mentoring the staff I?ve had the pleasure to lead over the years. I believe that it is the responsibility of leaders to set a good example by going beyond simply training our staff and instead, taking the time to share with them the lessons we?ve learned along the way, both from our successes and failures. Mentoring my team members, both past and present, has been incredibly rewarding. It?s a remarkable experience to watch those that you?ve mentored reach their goals, become leaders, and begin to mentor staff of their own. I make it a point to save time in my schedule to touch base with the professionals I mentor, and through this, I often find myself learning and growing as much as they do. It is our imperative, as leaders, to help facilitate the path to success for the people that follow us. When you get there, remember to send the elevator back down.

What are your ?5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience? and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Listen to Each Other ? At the end of the day, everyone has a story that needs to be heard. A lot of times, we can get frustrated by the way someone responds to us (or doesn?t). It?s easy to get caught up in what you?re trying to accomplish without thinking about those around you. It?s important to remember that we are only getting to interact with each other in a snap shot of our days and that we all have things going on that have brought us to that moment. Don?t forget to listen to the other person and really hear what they are telling you. It will make for a better outcome to the immediate issue and a better relationship in the long term.
  2. Find Common Ground ? We don?t always get to choose the people we work with and sometimes that can lead us down a difficult path. The lesson I take from this is simple ? we don?t have to agree on everything and we don?t have to be best friends ? but we should remember that we are all on the same team, working towards the same goal ? so if we take a moment to remember that and find some common ground we can be successful together.
  3. Be Generous with Credit ? No one gets where they are by themselves. If you want to continue to be successful it?s critical to lift up those around you that helped you get there. Whether the contribution was as small as someone being in the room when you thought of it ? or doing the heavy lifting on a project ? the fact remains without them, you may not have accomplished the goal in the same way. Share that with everyone. As a leader, nothing makes me happier than being able to shine a light on those that were part of it.
  4. Don?t Be Afraid to Use Your Voice ? Usually I will always say that my advice and my opinions on being a leader would be the same whether you are a man or a woman ? but here is where I think I lean more towards this is something women should remember. A lot of times, women grow up with this idea that we should keep our heads down, work hard, and leave the big decisions to the men at the table. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. We should never be afraid to share our opinions and ideas and remember that we can impact change and growth just as much as our male counterparts. I?m not always right ? but neither are they. But if we aren?t willing to share ideas and speak our minds in a respectful and productive way then collectively we will get nothing done. This is true for me not only in male/female roles but in hierarchical roles as well ? it is important for all staff regardless of title to not fear expressing their thoughts and views ? the best ideas come when we are all able to stretch and collaborate together.
  5. Laugh as Often as Possible! ? This may sound like the most insignificant but to me, this is where the real power lives. Today, we spend the majority of our waking hours at work. A lot of us have very stressful jobs, regardless of roles. No one is ever truly offline anymore how do we cope if we can?t find the joy. We all have good days, long days, and sometimes excruciatingly painful days. It?s necessary to keep some perspective and be able to laugh and find ways to keep good energy around us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don?t know if it?s really a movement ? but I recently wrote a blog about accountability and that even when we lose ? we win. I think it would be great if we could be a culture that wasn?t afraid to talk about what we did wrong. In all aspects of life if we learned to embrace that perfection isn?t the only route to success we could open the door to so much more.

Can you please give us your favorite ?Life Lesson Quote?? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In terms of a life lesson quote ? honestly there is a Motorhead song lyric that for me really resonates, ?Just ?Cos You Got The Power, That Don?t Mean you Got the Right.? Now forgetting the bad grammar for the moment, the spirit behind it of just because you can, doesn?t mean you should, is something that is in my mind always. I think often times, it would be easy, especially in a leadership role, for people to just go forward with any thought or action simply because they can as a result of their position. For me, that is not an option. Whether in your career life or your personal life, it is crucial to always consider first how your words and actions can impact those around you. The way we treat each other holds the greatest power of anything we do. Something as simple as the tone of our voice can shift the course of someone?s perception of themselves in the most personal way. Now, none of us our perfect including me, but I think that all of us should always strive to remember this quote and think before we speak or act.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Twitter: @laurafkucera

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!


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