Reprinted from CHICAGO TRIBUNE, December 13, 2004

Volunteer Work Leads Banker into a New Corporate World

When JoAnn Lilek became involved in Metropolitan Chicago YWCA activities in 1996, she wouldn't have predicted that move would lead her out of LaSalle Bank, her corporate home for 20-plus years. "I loved the bank and thought I'd be there forever," she said.

Enter Sheila Penrose and Cheryl Francis, fellow YWCA supporters. Penrose's friend, Ann Drake, chief executive of DSC Logistics, a Des Plaines-based supply-chain management firm, was looking for a chief financial officer. Francis suggested Lilek. Five months later Lilek moved to DSC Logistics, Illinois' second-largest woman-owned business, with annual sales of $300 million and 2,500 employees.

"LaSalle was a fairly secure environment," said Lilek, 48. "This move had an element of risk. But it's also exciting. I'm directly influencing the company's strategy for the future.

Q. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was young, my parents separated. My dad was a very successful salesman for International Paper. He went to live with his parents in the DePaul neighborhood. I spent a lot of time with them.

My mom, Grace Paldo, was an elementary school teacher; my brothers, Pete and Joe, and I went to live with my mother and her parents on Chicago's Southwest Side. Pete, 18 months younger, sells printing materials. Joe, six years younger, is a civil engineer at Walsh Construction.

Because my grandparents raised their families during the Great Depression, my brothers and I learned to be very frugal and work hard. Repeatedly, I heard how my grandmother didn't buy a coat until their $5,000 house was paid for.

My husband, David Lilek, inspired me to become a banker. He was going into banking. Banking resonated with me. Because of my grandparents, I understood what saving meant and liked the service aspects of banking. I often would go with my grandparents to the Talman Bank branch at 55th Street and Kedzie Avenue.

Q. Did anyone give you a big break or mentor you?
Harry Tempest, ABN Amro's North America chairman during most of my career; Ted Roberts, the bank's chief financial officer for part of the time; and Ann Drake, DSC Logistics' CEO, have supported me, taught me and given me opportunities.

Harry told me what he was thinking, so I could do a good job supporting him. That's a gift. Many times when you're working in positions way below senior management, they tell you what to do, but not what's helpful, but not necessary, to know.

Ted, a former chairman of LaSalle-Talman, encouraged me to get involved in local charities.

Ann Drake has been great about creating space so I can maintain my outside networks downtown from Des Plaines. That allows me to develop in ways I otherwise couldn't.

She's also very supportive and encouraged me to get the training needed to be considered for corporate boards of directors.

Q. Were any classes from college particularly helpful to your career?
For an undergraduate corporate finance course, I wrote a mini-dissertation successfully replicating a proof of Eugene Fama's random walk theory. He theorized that all stock market price changes are random.

It was a hard project. I wrote a computer program using Fortran for all the math and then punched all the time series data on computer cards. The professor from that class inspired me to go to the University of Chicago for my MBA.

Q. What job best prepared you for this one?
In early 2000, ABN Amro reorganized itself globally along its three major customer lines. North America's wholesale banking services, for example, were reorganized to report to the Netherlands directly. Under Chairman Harry Tempest's direction, my job was to develop the strategy to make this change happen in North America.

Q. Have you ever had a career setback or project that didn't achieve expectations? How did you deal with that?
People don't come to work wanting to make a mistake. But mistakes happen. Mistakes need to be fixed immediately. Where possible, I ask the people who made the mistake to correct it, so they learn, even if it means taking away their other work before the problem snowballs.

Q. How did your personal life fare while you were moving up the corporate ladder?
My husband, a career banker at Bank One until August 2001, is also an accountant. He started a home-based accounting business and advises small companies. Before he did that, my mother lived with us on weekdays to be there for our two children: Paul, now 17, and Grace, now 14. Without this support system, I wouldn't have worked while my children were growing up.

Step by Step
2001-present: Chief financial officer, DSC Logistics

2000-2001: Executive vice president, office of the chairman, ABN Amro North America Inc.

1999-2000: Executive vice president and chief financial officer, ABN Amro Wholesale Banking North America Inc.

1996-1999: Group senior vice president and corporate controller, ABN Amro North America Inc.

1991-1996: Senior vice president and corporate controller, ABN Amro North America Inc.

1989-1991: Senior vice president and controller, LaSalle National Corp.

1985-1989: Vice president and head of financial planning and management information systems, LaSalle National Bank

1983: MBA, University of Chicago

1982-1985: Assistant vice president and head of financial planning and MIS,
LaSalle National Bank

1981-1982: Strategic planning officer, LaSalle National Bank

1979-1981: Market research analyst, LaSalle National Bank

1978-1979: Management associate, LaSalle National Bank

1978: Bachelor's degree in business administration, Loyola University Chicago
© Copyright December 13, 2004. Chicago Tribune. Ann Therese Palmer. All rights reserved.

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