insight magazine

IN Play: Q&A With Angela Carlomango, CPA

For the last 22 years, this Illinois CPA Society member has gladly gone to Portillo’s nearly every day. But, you won’t find her anywhere near a grill. By Eric Scott | Winter 2019

acarlomango-310Don’t be surprised if you’re craving a Chicago-style hot dog with a side of cheese fries by the end of this column. For the last 22 years, Illinois CPA Society member Angela Carlomango, CPA, has gladly gone to Portillo’s nearly every day. But, you won’t find her anywhere near a grill or mixing up a heavenly rich batch of chocolate cake shakes at one of Portillo’s many restaurants.

As director of accounting in the Portillo’s restaurant support center in the west Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Carlomango has watched the company grow from a small conglomerate of family-owned restaurants to a corporate powerhouse of dining hotspots that now serves customers in eight states. Carlomango has relied on a solid background of business experience and leadership examples from mentors as she has overseen vast changes at Portillo’s—but the skills needed to succeed today are different than when she first began her accounting career.

What skills do accountants need to have on day one?

In the early days, things were explained strictly “by the numbers.” Presenting financial reports used to be black and white, balanced or out of balance. Today, I have to be a storyteller. Presenting financial results is about providing insights and telling the story behind the numbers so your business partners can understand them. I’m spending more time broadening the details and adding value as an advisor.

What’s also different today is that you have to come into organizations being very analytical and open to learning new systems. You have to get up to speed very quickly and know how to collaborate with diverse groups of people.

How has your career changed at Portillo’s?

I was hired in 1997 as an accountant because the business was growing and there was no CPA on staff. Our CFO needed someone with higher credentials to help the company maintain its growth and I was later promoted to accounting manager.

In 2014, the company was sold. Following the sale, we became a large, complex corporation, and I was promoted to director of accounting. My various roles exposed me to many different facets of accounting, banking, annual projections, and working with various departments.

You credit your success to mentorship. How should leaders approach mentorship today?

One of my mentors was a former boss. She always kept me challenged. We always had open conversations. She was very compassionate. Watching how she interacted with people really helped me learn how to be a mentor to my staff.

My approach today is to find out what’s important to each individual. I want to learn how they can best help the organization and how we can play to their strong skills rather than focus on their weaknesses. If I have to talk to someone about a weakness, I look at how we can overcome it and help them along in their career. It’s also important to set clear expectations.

What’s the best part about your job in corporate finance?

The best part is that you never know what the day is going to bring. You really have to be flexible and be willing to work for a wide variety of departments.

I also love the Portillo’s brand! I’ve enjoyed being here for so many years because you have a great leader who is interested in you and treats you well. You stay for the development piece and human interaction. When Mr. Portillo owned the company, he instilled standards that everyone had to abide by, not just the restaurant team members. He expected hard work, and he held people accountable. He believed in systems as well as quality, service, attitude, and cleanliness. Today, we are building and expanding on that foundation.

So, what’s your favorite thing to order at Portillo’s?

The chopped salad!

Leave a comment