Examiner Spotlight: Laura McNeil

Laura McNeil

Senior Vice President

Chief Technology Office SDLC Process Group Manager


Born and raised in Toms River, New Jersey, Laura McNeil of Citigroup earned a Doctorate and Masters in Business Administration with a major in Finance.  Earned a BS in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science and a BA in Business Administration with a major in Accounting. Certifications include – Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Internal auditor (CIA), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Risk and Control Manager (CRISC) and Black Belt certified by Institute of International Learning (IIL).

Laura enjoys running three miles each morning, hiking, boating, gardening, reading and traveling.  She once spent a month in New Zealand hiking the volcanoes and mountains – two weeks on the north island and two weeks on the south island. Today, Laura ventures into the Sterling stratosphere as the subject of today’s Spotlight!

You have been an Examiner for eighteen years. What, in your mind, is the most important Category and how may your answer differ now from where you were eighteen years ago?

I used to think that the Leadership or Strategy Planning category were the coolest.  It did not take me  long to quickly realize that Category 6 is really the ultimate coolest since it is the heart of any organization.  Think about it…. when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple – their Operation was in the family garage.   There was no strategic plan, no real leadership, no workforce except them and a couple of friends.  Category 6 is the essence of any organization and it just so happens that it is the hardest category to cover.  If you are up for a challenge and really want to understand how an organization operates – poke your nose into Category 6 and look for the key and support processes that make an organization truly tick.  It’s the category that produces your product or delivers your service.

What do you gain from your other team members at site visit, and what wisdom do you hope to impart to Examiners who have never been on site before?

I have never been on a site visit that I did not enjoy and I attribute that to the great individuals that accompany us on site.  Each person provides a different perspective and with that an opportunity to expand thoughts and learn different approaches.   These assignments are like in-person Harvard Business Reviews.  This is the only volunteer opportunity I am aware of where we can work with a team of diverse professionals to assess and provide a role-model  organization with feedback that will help them excel.    We may work hard, but we never leave site without a great sense of accomplishment.  In fact, I have always driven away from site on the last day with a big smile on my face, joy in my heart and lots of memories in my mind.

At Conference, you are a presenter in the Managing for Excellence track (and have been since we created it!). It takes a lot of time away from your paid responsibilities. What, then, keeps you coming back in such a laborious role?

The criteria provides the backbone of the only working leadership system I am aware of.   Taking vacation time to participate in the Annual Conference each year is an investment in my desire to continuously learn.  The Managing for Excellence track is an opportunity for new examiners and / or interested individuals to learn about what the criteria is and the techniques that can be used to apply the criteria in practice.  Participating in these sessions as a facilitator keeps my knowledge and practice current and affords me an opportunity to share my experience with those that want to engage in their own personal  Sterling Oglethorpe journey.

Congratulations on your new position within Citigroup! We are proud of you. How are you able to use Sterling principles as you take on this recent role change?

My new organization is focused on establishing and cascading meaningful  Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) – something that is near and dear to the principles of the Baldrige criteria.   I am taking this opportunity to structure the team in such a manner that focuses on development and application of niche personal talents that serve our strategic initiatives efficiently and effectively.  At the end of the day, an organization will only be as successful as the process used to align and motivate the people that comprise it.

A few years ago, a hurricane swept through St. Augustine, and you and your family were caught in the cross hairs. Can you tell us a little bit about the recovery process? How long has it been since the storm, and how has the community worked together to collectively move on?

Both Hurricane’s Matthew and Irma produced unprecedented flooding along the St. Johns River.  What Hurricane Matthew left behind, Hurricane Irma quickly took down. About 50 trees in my back yard were lost in total  – some of which were 100’s of years old.  Docks on the east side of the St Johns River were wiped away by Matthew while Irma took the docks on the west side of the river the following year.  No docks were spared. Our neighbors came together with tractors and chain saws in hand to cut down trees that blocked roads and to clear debris that had washed up.  The area was so flooded that some neighbors took to canoes and kayaks to check on other neighbors.  Both storms left us with no energy for almost 2 weeks.  The following years were full of tree clean up and land clearing by hand.  In fact, I am still addressing flooding damage and re-construction.  Last year, with the help of a neighbor and his son, I finally finished rebuilding my dock.

For people who would like to follow up on you and/or your work, where may they find you? Is there something you are working on that you may tell us a little bit about?

My father was a WWII Latvian refuge who left his home at the age of 5, traveled from war camp to war camp and finally arrived in America at the age of 17.  My grandfather – his father – was a WWI war hero having single handedly saved Riga, the capital of Latvia from Russian invasion.  He was presented with the  Latvian Bear Slayer Order. This is the highest medal/order Latvia bestows. It is the equivalent to the Hero Star of the Soviet Union and the Congressional medal of Honor of the United States.  My hope is to publish the story of my father and his family’s excursions and struggles.