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Lesli Whisenant, senior vice president of tax at AssuredPartners, spends her days at the company focused on strategic planning, tax modeling, and analysis while balancing other priorities like compliance, tax accounting, and acquisition diligence and integration. As vital as those functions are to the business, Whisenant says keeping her employees happy is often a more pressing and fulfilling project.
“You work for people, not places, and happy employees are productive employees,” Whisenant shares. “If they leave the company for a better career opportunity, that’s fine, but my goal is to make sure I’m never the reason we’re doing exit interviews for someone who wants to leave. It’s all about investing in people, relationships, and collaborating with other departments.”
Since Whisenant joined the company in 2017, those investments have paid off, helping the tax department become more cohesive and a stronger business partner. She sets the tone for those successes by leading vulnerably and authentically. She begins meetings with icebreakers to help facilitate intimate conversations among her team. She schedules individual check-in meetings and team events.
As the mother of three, she stresses the importance of putting family first and gives team members the flexibility to take care of personal responsibilities as needed. And for every accomplishment she shares with her colleagues, she also shares a mistake.
With these habits, she hopes to send a clear message: it’s OK to be human.
“As a leader, it’s not effective to appear perfect all the time,” she says. “I probably share more than most leaders do. It’s because I want them to know they matter to me as a person, not just a worker. I also want them to see that I’m willing to adapt, change, and learn. Besides, I’m not a good liar anyway.”
This writer can attest to Whisenant’s authenticity. Throughout the conversation, she speaks openly and honestly about her more than twenty-five-year journey in tax, both in public accounting and private industry. It’s a journey that required a balancing act in the first decade of her career when she became a mother while at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Leaders allowed her to work flexible schedules, a practice she says was unheard of at the time and that influenced the leader she is today.
“If you had a baby, you left the firms—you didn’t stay,” Whisenant says. “I’m fairly certain I’m one of the first people to work a flex schedule in public accounting back then. I’m very grateful to the firm for agreeing to let me balance my work and life. Today, I aim to do that for my team.”
Insurance is a primarily male-dominated industry, so Lesli Whisenant wants to help other women find leadership opportunities in the space like she has. “About two-thirds of our employees are women but not nearly that many are in leadership positions. That’s why I colead the Women’s Coalition Employee Resource Group which provides relevant programs, topics, [and] conversations with the women of AssuredPartners and the men who support them,” she says.
“We’re striving to recognize and empower more women through spotlights, education on topics such as financial literacy and navigating conflict, collaboration, and mentorship,” Whisenant adds. “We send out surveys to ask what the employees would like to learn and hear about to help address their needs.”
After a decade at PwC, she has spent the past seventeen years in the financial services, insurance, healthcare, and technology industries, where she led and managed tax functions for both public and private companies. During that time, she has watched the tax function transition from a heavy focus on compliance to becoming a more strategic business partner due to the emergence of various technology and business needs. As a result, she tries “very hard not to be a cost center but a profit center.”
“Even though I’m in the accounting function, which is typically a cost center, I try to focus on tax planning that will provide either tax benefits or reduce expenses, so I more than pay for my department’s costs,” she says.
Her working relationship with Forvis LLP has made that goal more attainable in her current role. Forvis has helped Whisenant and her team prepare for tax filings with a platform that automates data processes while providing analytics capabilities.
“Forvis has been a fantastic partner,” she says. “Their platform has been really helpful for us to automate and enhance some of the tax compliance support we need while analyzing the results in order to make strategic tax decisions. It’s helped us save quite a bit of time and become more efficient.”
Leaders who want to get the most out of their team like Whisenant should get to know them on a personal level. “You can’t treat everyone the same,” she says. “They all have different learning styles and needs, and you should tailor your approach to each person. Also, be honest, open, and empathetic so they know we’re all human and we’re here to support each other.”
FORVIS LLP is a professional services firm providing assurance, tax, and consulting services. We have over 5,700 dedicated professionals who serve clients in all 50 states as well as across the globe. FORVIS is driven by the commitment to use our forward vision to deliver an Unmatched Client Experience™.