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FEI Chicago Member Spotlight – Grace Sajdak Reilly


Tell us a little bit about your career, educational/professional background and how you got to where you are today.

As a first generation American and first-born in our family (my parents immigrated from Poland in the late sixties), I always had a strong desire to learn more about our new American identity as well as our European heritage.  I was inspired from a young age to be a life-long learner and to strive to build a great new career and way of life.  While I originally planned to go into medicine, I decided to go into business at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.  I found my way to Accounting after hearing a number of auditors and consultants from the largest public accounting firms describe how they worked closely with the leaders of corporations on a variety of business issues and I was drawn in.  I hoped to learn more about how businesses really operate and was excited about the prospect of working with and learning from top leaders.  I interned at Arthur Andersen my Junior year and went to work for the Firm when I graduated.  After nearly 5 great years working with many large and small, mostly public companies, one of my clients approached our engagement partner and me to ask if I might join them to work on their initial public offering and become part of their Finance team.  With AA’s blessing & support, I took the opportunity and eventually became Corporate Controller, overseeing the public reporting and expanding accounting operations while also working on M&A opportunities and integration.  I had many wonderful opportunities and then another one came knocking.  I joined Hewitt Associates to work on their IPO and subsequent External Reporting.  From there, I continued to grow my experience in consulting and advisory and eventually went on to work for Kraft Foods Inc., now Mondelēz International. There, I was part of the team working on the Spin-Off and standalone reporting of the Kraft grocery business.  I also led the technical accounting for our global coffee business deconsolidation and simultaneous coffee joint venture formation.  I led our global Revenue Recognition Accounting Standard change initiative and have had other wonderful opportunities to work with many across the Company on other projects, including Finance learning and development programs.  In June 2021, I’ll be celebrating 10 years at Mondelēz International and standing alongside many wonderful colleagues, looking back on a number of great experiences, risks and adventures taken that led me here.
Do you think it takes a certain kind of personality to thrive in your field? What traits are most important? 
Having a strong work ethic and desire to learn and do your best are always very important at every step of your career.  I’ve also found that being a positive, compassionate and confident leader go a long way to growing trust and building relationships on a solid foundation.

What is your best networking tip?
Jump in.  When I first started at FEI, I believe I was 28 and I was likely one of the more junior members in the group then.  I recall being self-aware about my still learning and growing my financial knowledge and experience and at times I remember being nervous about blending in and starting conversations.  What I always found was we generally all have so much in common, including but not only our shared learning and experiences in accounting, finance and business.  Years later, I’ve also come to appreciate and look forward to networking as a way to drive personal-professional social connections.  FEI, in particular, has been such a dynamic group of vibrant, real people who I can’t help but enjoy spending time with.  At FEI, we have so many great programs and opportunities to socialize and get to know each other.  I’m always intrigued and moved by the many inspiring individuals who make up FEI and give of themselves to lead as well as connect with so many across the group and beyond.  We are a part of a wonderful living community here and I think it’s important for me to do my part to keep it alive and going strong.  

What is one piece of information you wish someone had told you when you first started your finance career? 
Expect great things and great things will happen. 
Being first generation and somewhat “new” to many experiences in my early life and career, I’ve always intuitively leaned in to learn more about how things work and operate.  I propelled myself to keep moving forward and ahead, but not without awareness and perhaps hesitation at times that I was still learning along the way.  What I learned was to press past those initial hesitations and take some calculated risks.  One for me was leaving public accounting to play a key role at a growing newly public company.  From there, I went on to build on my experiences at a <$100M company to a $4B company and then to a > $50B company.  Each experience was amazing and as I accepted each new opportunity and change, I strived to be open and expect great things and great things came each step of the way.

What do you love most about working as a financial executive? 
Feeling like what my team and I do has a significant impact on our Company and our leadership team. Having had many opportunities to work on IPOs, Spin-Offs, Reorganizations, JVs, M&A and other projects has been exciting and fulfilling.  Working as a trusted partner with a number of supportive, wonderful leaders and team members over the years has also been truly rewarding.     

What are some activities you participate in to advance the profession or your career? 
Within FEI, I’ve become more involved over the years.  I started on our Programming Committee and had the privilege of helping plan the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management & FEI Professional Development Day for several years.  More recently, I became a FEI Chicago Chapter Board Member at large and this year I’m honored to be the new Board Secretary for our Chapter.  Aside from FEI, I also network in and outside of our industry, including with groups such as SEC Professionals.  To stay connected with a number of good friends and colleagues, I enjoy hosting alumni dinners and get-togethers with former employers and colleagues each year.  Prior to the pandemic, I’ve also hosted celebratory lunches with current colleagues each quarter following our corporate earnings season.

What are some of your personal hobbies outside of work? 
I have two teenage daughters who are mid-way through high school, so many of our interests revolve around them, their school and friends.  We’re close with our family and friends and I work to make time to see them and entertain whenever possible.  I also make time to read, run/walk/weight train and travel whenever I can.

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