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Leadership Journey: Melissa Terito On Finding Her Path & Taking Risks

Melissa Terito, CPA

Melissa Terito believes in exploring new paths and new ways to use her skills – and she isn’t afraid to step out into unfamiliar endeavors. This ability to push her own boundaries and encourage others along the way adds to her strength as a leader at Faulk & Winkler, where she is a Partner in their pension division.

Before Melissa went back to school to get her accounting degree, beginning a journey that would eventually see her directing over 200 plans and hundreds of millions in assets, she was a math teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge. While Melissa enjoyed the challenge of teaching and inspiring her students, she eventually realized that teaching was not her ultimate calling; and committed to working from the ground up in different field. In her current role, she greatly enjoys helping the public with challenging and personal financial products.

“I had the mindset to just jump ship and hope it’ll work out, and fortunately working with 401ks ended up being a really good fit. My career presents me with a new challenge every day. I find it especially fulfilling to work with business owners, taking something huge off their plates and making sure they’re in compliance so they don’t have to worry about it. We save the day for business owners!”

In addition to her personal sense of fulfillment, Melissa takes full advantage of the opportunity to be a mentor to other women in finance. She says, “As the only female partner, I have a lot of advice to offer to other women at the company. If a person really wants to be a leader and has that drive, I try to motivate them and give them the tools to succeed.”

Louisiana Ladies Podcast

Melissa’s energy, and that willingness to try new things, has been a force in her career. Recently, she has directed some of that drive to a new project – the Louisiana Ladies podcast, which she co-hosts alongside Maggie Robinson, one of her colleagues at Faulk & Winkler. As Melissa puts it, this was a product of her recognizing that she really enjoys public speaking… and a way to overcome the limitations of COVID-19.

Louisiana Ladies is the “podcast with no agenda.” Melissa and Maggie talk about life, work, and the journeys of inspiring Louisiana women with their guests.

Throughout the pandemic, people haven’t had the opportunity to connect and get to know each other the way they did before. Just as she mentors people in her work, the podcast is a forum to learn each other’s stories and develop a strong network. They have done 26 episodes so far, and now people are regularly reaching out to them about being a guest on the show. In an odd time like this, everyone sees the value of putting themselves out there in new and exciting ways.

“I get so inspired by my guests and their stories, and oftentimes after a show people will reach out wanting to connect with someone who was on. So I find it really fulfilling to help people cross paths in their professional careers, and help them get visibility for their passion or their business.”

Take it one day at a time

As a leader, Melissa wants to continue to push herself to grow. Like many senior leaders, her path will one day have her working “on” instead of “in” the business. In that position, she hopes to use her influence and story to continue to support other women in business, saying, “women can have a tendency to question their ability, and think they’re not worthy of a position that a man doesn’t think twice about pursuing. So it’s paramount that they have that support and a sounding board.”

For professionals who want to follow Melissa’s path into finance, she recommends taking it one day at a time, and focusing on being the best employee you can be in your position right now. She keeps an eye out for employees that show leadership potential, as “it’s important to understand that to truly be a leader, you have to know what it is to be in the trenches. Accounting is very technical, and it’s hard to lead a team if you don’t know what they’re doing.”

She notes that in her field, many people have more introverted personalities and are drawn to the technical side of the work. So she takes the initiative to note potential and work her colleagues to draw out those skills.

“Finding another female partner is a particular focus of mine. In an industry focused on billable hours, many have the perception that buying-in as a partner might not be family friendly. But that is not the culture at our firm. So offering that support, and letting people see the path I took, is crucial.”

Melissa’s leadership journey is a bold example of the heights you can reach when you know yourself, are willing to take risks, and are excited to take your skills to the next level by trying new things. She has been recognized in the 2020 class of Forty Under 40 in the Baton Rouge Business Report, and says that she could not have imagined this journey back when she was just starting out. “I think back to high school and college, and I was not the person I am today,” says Melissa. “I never imagined I would be a business woman, being one of those people recognized in a reputable publication. It’s an honor and humbling at the same time, especially when you get to see all of the other cool things young professionals are doing. I didn’t think I could be a part of that, but I am.”

Melissa Terito joined Faulk & Winkler in 2009 and was promoted to Partner in 2016. She resides in Baton Rouge with her husband Patrick and their two dogs.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential, and stay up-to-date with our latest news and leadership development updates here.

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