A Partner in Any Industry

Lisa Locklear leverages the power of being a business partner to drive success at Avanir Pharmaceuticals.

Photo by Cass Davis

“I don’t think transferring industries is an impossible task,” Lisa Locklear says. “It takes a little bit of courage, a lot of commitment, and the knowledge that you don’t know everything.”  Locklear sets the bar high when it comes to career diversity. The vice president and chief financial officer at Avanir Pharmaceuticals has worked for one of the “Big 4” public accounting firms, a global entertainment leader, the world’s largest technology distribution company, and a mobile game developer. She has relocated to Europe on two separate occasions and has represented Mickey Mouse all over the world. Locklear now assumes the CFO role at Avanir, just a few years ahead  of the company’s expected second drug offering, AVP-786, which is being investigated as a possible treatment for moderate-to-severe agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. As the countdown continues, Locklear is making sure Avanir is ready to scale for what she’s calling “Finance 2.0” by growing finance’s business partner role.

Lisa Locklear, Avanir Pharmaceuticals Photo by Cass Davis

Locklear didn’t have much pharmaceutical experience prior to coming to Avanir, but her sheer adaptability sends a strong message. “I think my life and career experiences really allow me to come into a new industry like pharmaceuticals with a solid set of finance skills. This allows me to be open-minded as to how finance can be a business partner and earn a seat at the table,” Locklear says. “Ideally, we want to be in a position where the business leaders consult with their finance partner before making any big decision.” Developing that business partner role, Locklear says, is crucial, and that goal spans any industry.

The finance roles Locklear has taken on are impressive, not only in their complexity, but in their breadth. As senior audit manager at then-Price Waterhouse, Locklear took on a three-year tour of duty in Paris as a newlywed who had never been to Europe. “We arrived with our suitcases and that was it,” Locklear says. “I didn’t know what it was like to live in a city, let alone a foreign country, but it taught me the importance of being adaptable and culturally aware.”

Locklear would eventually find her way back to Europe with the Walt Disney company, working both in Paris and London, leading finance for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for Disney Consumer Products for close to five years. Upon returning to the US to work at the Disneyland theme park in California, she learned an entirely different skill set working in a culture with a laser-focus on the guest experience.

It was while spending the next decade at Ingram Micro that Locklear says she really began to realize just how engrained finance could be in the business process. “The role of finance when we’re striving to make basis points on the dollar in terms of profit really required us to be an active business partner,” Locklear says. “It taught me about the ability we have to add to the overall growth or direction of the business.”

Photo by Cass Davis

Coming to Avanir, Locklear hopes to leverage her experience in preparing the pharma company for expected expansion. “I think I have a good feel for the key functions and roles required for a successful finance team,” Locklear says. “Today I’m really looking at what the financial organization needs to be sustainable and scalable to support our future, larger organization.” Locklear and the finance team are looking at tech and potential automation that may allow more time for thoughtful analysis to better aid the larger business. Preparing for the company’s growth is one of Locklear’s defining roles at Avanir.

She says that while there are nuances and complexities within the pharma world that keep her on her toes, she’s ultimately found the passion she says that is required to take on any substantive role. “The idea of being able to help patients and their care communities is really motivating,” Locklear says. Her desire to better understand the business and how it operates has led her to go out in the field with the Avanir sales team to learn about how healthcare professionals engage with and treat patients. As Avanir prepares for its future growth, Locklear says the finance team has united behind a mission to become trusted partners providing expertise and value, words the team has defined for itself. Locklear says it’s become the defining phrase of helping Avanir begin to build toward Finance 2.0.

Breadth in Experience, Breadth in Giving

“I think it’s important to give back to my community and complement my work in finance,” Lisa Locklear says. Avanir Pharmaceuticals’ vice president and chief financial officer was a board member for eight years and is a current supporter of the Orange County United Way. Locklear sits on the board for the Gemological Institute of America, a mission-driven nonprofit in the jewelry and gem industry, and she recently joined the board for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine life that may wash up on coastal shores. “We’re trying to promote stewardship of our oceans and marine resources,” Locklear says. Also active with the Dean’s Leadership Circle at the University of California Irvine, Locklear says her decades of experience can be helpful in connecting past and future leaders. “I try to be a contributor in my community as well as within my professional network,” Locklear says. “My kids are grown, so now I get to dedicate some of my efforts into other areas I am passionate about.”