Thursday, December 8, 2016

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Stories of Leadership: Clara Leonida

Clara Leonida, '90, is the chief financial officer of Syntricity.

Clara Leonida graduated from San Diego State University in 1990 with a master's degree in finance.

She has more than 20 years of senior management experience in finance and accounting and was appointed chief financial officer of Syntricity —  a company that produces management tools to analyze data — in September 2005. 

Clara Leonida

Prior to joining Syntricity, she served as chief financial officer for Z Microsystems, director of finance and medical economics for FHP Healthcare (acquired by Pacificare) and other finance positions for Braun Thermoscan, Brooktree and Applied Micro Circuits Corporation. 

She is a certified public accountant and in addition to her degree from SDSU, holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of West Florida and a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Illinois.

Tell us the highlights of your professional career. What are your proudest achievements?

I am proud of everything I’ve accomplished in my career, but I am most satisfied by what my former employees tell me when I meet them again.  They tell me how much they learned from me — not just the technical expertise, but also business sense and personal growth.  

What’s your favorite college memory?

My favorite memory is of a class taught by Israel Unterman. Early on in that class, he made us pick someone we didn’t know and asked us to hold a conversation for five minutes.  After the nervous laughter and small talk, most of us had no clue how to fill the remaining time. With a look of disgust, he made us all sit down, picked one student and proceeded to show us how it was done. He was able to put that student at ease, focused on her with questions and really opened up a conversation. That was a lesson on building rapport and relationships that really stuck with me.

Who was your favorite professor and/or what was your favorite class?

Again, that would be the case study class with Unterman. His approach was extremely different from a typical lecture. At first his approach was aggressive and stressful, and he didn’t hesitate to raise his voice  He wouldn’t accept vague answers or tolerate slow responses. He expected everyone to have completed the homework assignment and be ready to discuss the case in depth.  He wanted specific and practical answers. He was loudly critical of glib responses. Once you got over the shock of his approach, you realized how important the class was.  He was preparing us for dealing with demanding bosses or customers and to think fast on our feet.

If you were to give current SDSU students some advice, what would you say?

Technology and the world are constantly changing. You need to change too — be flexible, nimble and resilient. Be open to learning new technical and professional skills, especially after college.  Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Develop a professional network and stay in touch with them.  

What are you currently reading? What’s your favorite book?

I do read a lot of research journals, and I also try to read the non-fiction titles on the New York Times best seller lists. For fun, now I am reading "Ukulele for Dummies."  I promised myself I’d learn how to play!

What is your passion?

Six years ago I was looking for a low-impact workout.  I took up Argentine tango, and that has become my passion.

What is your motto?

The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?

After taking care of family needs, I’d travel more and support specific non-profit groups.  I see a tremendous need for services for the elderly in the community.

Which trait do you value most in your friends and colleagues?

I admire a sense of humor and a straight-forward, honest approach.

If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt?

Skydiving! Just think about the fall!