The 2015 Women Leaders in Consulting: Theresa (Kain) Merlino


Theresa (Kain) Merlino

Principal, National Gaming and Hospitality Services
Future Leader Award

Theresa (Kain) Merlino is a principal in RSM’s (formerly McGladrey) Pacific Northwest consulting practice and has served in a performance improvement capacity with the firm for 15 years.

Ask her how she got into the business and she’ll say it was a little bit by design and a little bit by accident. “I was interested in consulting during college, so that was the ‘by design’ aspect,” she says. “I didn’t expect, however, that I’d have the opportunity to start my consulting career immediately after college, and I didn’t realize how well-suited I was to the consulting profession.”

In college, Merlino says she certainly liked the idea of consulting, but did not truly understand how thoroughly she’d enjoy and flourish in the constant variety, challenge and emphasis on client service that are integral, and somewhat unique, to the consulting profession.

“It’s highly satisfying for me to help our middle market clients solve their complex business challenges within a dynamic team environment,” she says. “The relationships I’ve made through the consulting profession are very rewarding, as is the trust, comradery, friendship and respect that develops.”

With a background in management and finance, Merlino uses her skills, knowledge and experience to assist clients with business process improvement and internal audit services. She has designed, authored and implemented internal control systems for start-up enterprises and has worked with numerous established enterprises in updating and improving their internal control systems. She is responsible for designing checklists, developing strategies, and leading the performance of internal audits.

Merlino likes to say: “We are all faced with challenges—and in consulting, often more so than in other professions. Yet, these impossible situations do truly serve to be our greatest opportunities, and we need the courage to tackle the impossible.”

One thing she has learned along the way and would pass on to a woman consultant beginning her career is this: “Don’t treat feedback as criticism, but rather as coaching,” Merlino says. “Look for and seek out feedback, not only formally but informally. Ask clients how you did. If they candidly share their perspective, you know that you’ve established trust, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a better consultant.”

In addition, she says that women working in a field predominantly served by men, “must continue to add diversity of thought and perspective. At RSM, we believe in ‘The Power of Being Understood,’ and I believe that we, as women, can understand and connect with our clients and our talent differently,” she says. “The unique perspective we bring is critical in an increasingly diverse marketplace.”


What is your greatest personal or professional achievement? 

Theresa (Kain) Merlino: “For me, personal or professional achievement means making a positive difference in the lives around me. Personally, this has been achieved through standing beside and supporting friends and family in moments of great sorrow and great joy. It’s been through investing time and resources into various charities I support that actively work to make a difference in the lives of individuals. And professionally, it’s demonstrated when I run into a client at a tradeshow six months after our project and receive a hug and another thanks about how our firm’s support was important to their organization’s success and their own professional success.”

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