Lissette Penrod and Jessica Stravino
Fisher alumnae Lissette Penrod (BSAc ’03, MAcc ’03), left, and Jessica Stravino (BSAc ’10, MAcc ’10) have established their company—Stravino Penrod Search Partners—as one of the top recruiting firms in the Tampa Bay area.

Fisher alumna shares journey from Big 4 accounting to entrepreneur

Lissette Penrod’s introduction to corporate recruiting seemed ill-timed, to say the least. She entered the field in 2009—just as the Great Recession was decimating the U.S. economy.

Despite the unenviable job climate and lack of recruiting experience, Penrod thrived in her role. More importantly, she found a truly fulfilling career. Penrod (BSAc ’03, MAcc ’03) will share her professional journey at the Fisher School of Accounting’s Women in Accounting Symposium on Friday and Saturday at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Gerson Hall.

Penrod’s career began—as do many Fisher graduates—at a Big 4 public accounting firm. Her experience, however, was anything but typical. Her first year at EY was comprised of seven-day work weeks at a single client that limited her exposure to other aspects of the practice.

Professionally, she wasn’t growing. Personally, she wasn’t all that happy.

“Going to a Big 4 is a great experience, and I encourage students to do it,” Penrod said. “I was paying my dues, but it was not getting better. I didn’t get the chance to see other things.”

So Penrod left public accounting when her former EY Manager came to her with a great opportunity. For the next five years, she served as a Controller or Assistant Controller for a national homebuilder, a land development company, and a global technology solutions firm. It was at her last stop where 50- to 70-hour work weeks again enveloped her life.

So she resigned…on the spot…without another job lined up.

“I had a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with myself,’” Penrod said. “I didn’t want to be a Controller for the next 20 years.”
Penrod then joined a national recruiting firm, a seemingly tenuous step to take during the nation’s financial crisis. Yet, she was a top producer, and found her niche.

After five years serving as their Director of Permanent Placement,, Penrod decided to start her own recruiting firm with her then Senior Recruiter and fellow Fisher alumna Jessica Stravino (BSAc ’10, MAcc ’10). Stravino had joined Penrod in recruiting from Protiviti, a global consulting firm, where she was a Senior Consultant. Penrod said from the moment she met Stravino, she knew they’d make a great team.

“I found her to be smart, classy and poised,” Penrod said. “She grasps things quickly, and I never have to explain anything twice. It’s really hard to find someone who sees through your eyes and identifies talent the same way. We weren’t friends before I hired her, but now I have my best friend as an equal business partner.”

Stravino Penrod Search Partners, based in Tampa, sets itself apart from other recruiting firms in two significant ways. First, it focuses exclusively in the accounting and finance fields. Second, the firm attains its candidates from personal referrals. Penrod and Stravino rely on their trusted connections to find qualified candidates.

The results have been impressive thus far. Most new companies take months, if not a few years, to become profitable. Stravino Penrod, which opened in July 2014, turned a profit within four weeks, Penrod said.

And what makes this venture more satisfying is Penrod, a mother of two young children, is not experiencing the burnout she faced at some of her previous stops.
“You have to decide what’s important to you, and it’s important to spend time with my family,” Penrod said. “From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is family time. I don’t take any work-related calls unless it’s an emergency. That, and having a great support network around you, is how I get my balance.”

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance and making informed career decisions are two themes Penrod, the Symposium’s keynote speaker, plans to emphasize.

“I’ve seen people make so many poor decisions at the start of their careers, and they don’t understand the impact of those decisions until it’s too late,” Penrod said. “I love helping people, and leveraging my personal experiences to help candidates make better career decisions.”

Age: 36
Career: Partner and Co-Founder, Stravino Penrod Search Partners
Hometown: Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.
• Lissette serves as President of the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (Tampa Chapter), and on the Board of Directors of The Tampa Connection, a yearlong program exposing business professionals to community service and leadership development opportunities.
• Stravino Penrod opened for business on July 10, 2014—only three days after the birth of Lissette’s second child.
• Lissette was nominated and chosen as a finalist for The Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Business Woman of the Year award in both 2011 and 2014.
• Lissette’s business partner, Jessica Stravino (then Richardson), helped organize the first Fisher Women in Accounting Symposium in 2007.

Connect with Lissette on LinkedIn.