RI Commerce Corp. determined to help businesses grow

Lisa Lasky is as Rhode Island as they come. She grew up in Portsmouth and attended the University of Rhode Island, earning both a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, and later, her MBA.

She understands the quench of a Del’s Lemonade on a hot summer day and the delicacy found in clam cakes and chowder.

She also understands the beauty of Rhode Island – and the potential it holds. She knows that it is by building the core of the state’s economy that such potential will be realized.  As CFO of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, Lasky enjoys a prominent role in implementing an economic strategy that she sees as representing a winning formula for sustained success.

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget places emphasis on workforce development, advanced industries and innovation, visitor attraction and enterprise, expansion and recruitment. This approach, said Lasky, will allow Rhode Island to “get into the game,” ultimately retaining, expanding, and recruiting businesses to a state with so much to offer. 

WHAT COUNTS: Why accounting? Is there something about the exactitude of numbers? What drew you to the field?

Lasky: I have always been strong in math, however, my passion is solving problems.  My career in accounting has allowed me to take what I am good at and match it with what I enjoy.

WC: Can you look back to a time when you think you were destined for accounting work?

Lasky: I decided I wanted to be an accountant while at Portsmouth High.  Later, as a student at the University of Rhode Island, I was fortunate that the school had exceptional accounting and business programs which helped me reach my goal.  I have always been goal-oriented and once I set my mind to something I do it to the best of my ability.  I was offered, and accepted a job at KPMG Peat Marwick, Boston while completing my senior year at the university.  

WC: What did you learn in your early years of accounting that you have carried forward to this point in your career?

Lasky: Ethics is fundamental to being a Certified Public Accountant. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard and always stand up for what is right.  Early in my career, I worked on a fraud case and learned how easy it is for an otherwise good person to make very bad decisions.

WC: When did you join the RISCPAs and why?

Lasky: I started attending training courses through RISCPA in 1994 shortly after becoming a certified public accountant in the State of Rhode Island.  I became a member of the society to network with my peers while meeting required continuing education requirements.  The society has always offered a vast array of training sessions that help me grow professionally and keep up to date with changing standards.

WC: Previously, you had been the CFO at the Rhode Island Department of Health? What drew you to work at the state? What do you like about it? 

Lasky: I started working for the state in July 2012 at the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).  It was a natural transition for me since I previously worked at Looking Upwards Inc., a private non-profit agency that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities and children with special health care needs.  While at Looking Upwards, I learned how critically important the State’s role is in providing the resources necessary for agencies to offer outstanding care to some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.  I wanted to make a difference and I feel like I have.  

WC: When and how did you arrive at the Rhode Island Commerce Department?

Lasky: I never turn down an opportunity to continue learning and growing.  I arrived at Rhode Island Commerce in June 2015.  I bring with me my experience in public accounting, private industry and government.  

WC: The Rhode Island Commerce Department has taken many different shapes in its history. Many people may be most familiar with it as the Economic Development Corporation in recent years. What is it about this latest incarnation that makes sense? Why will it be effective in boosting the state's economy? 

Lasky: In June 2015 the Rhode Island General Assembly passed Governor Raimondo’s economic development focused budget, which invests in workforce development, advanced industries and innovation, visitor attraction and enterprise, expansion and recruitment. With these new tools Rhode Island is poised to spark a comeback. 

WC: As CFO of such an agency, is your approach any different than it would be in the private sector?

Lasky: My approach doesn’t change based on the type of agency I’m working for.  I am expected to make decisions regarding the appropriate accounting rules and standards, be fiscally responsible, be responsive to informational requests, comply with all reporting requirements and hold myself and my staff to the highest standard possible. My career has been built on hard work, treating people respectfully, holding myself to high ethical standards and constant learning and improving.

WC: Do you feel a certain responsibility that the decisions you make -- big or small -- need to positively reflect the state's overall economy?

Lasky: As Chief Financial Officer at the Commerce Corporation I believe that I have an opportunity to play a positive role in managing and advising on financial resources to help the agency positively affect the economy.  

WC: What are key factors, from an economic development perspective, in boosting the state economy? 

Lasky: Rhode Island has so much potential, but we have to get in the game. The new tools we have to retain, expand, and recruit businesses give us an opportunity to move the state forward and focus on many areas including workforce development. I encourage everyone to check out our website and learn more about what we do and how we can help businesses grow.  

WC: If you do find free time, what is t you like to do to relax? 

Lasky: I enjoy spending time with family and friends, running, cycling, and reading.