From first-generation immigrant to female CFO, Alina Panas shares how she helped The Mixx double its size and revenue and acquire B Corp certification, all while fiercely advocating for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
As an independent, LGBTQIA+ woman-owned and operated strategic creative agency, The Mixx is driven to create a more diverse and equitable world. This comes through in the work we do for our clients to help them approach audiences with purpose and authenticity, and in our diverse team makeup.
At The Mixx, 54% of managers identify as women, and 66% of our executives identify as women. We are proud to disrupt the status quo of our historically male-dominated industry to foster the growth of people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. One of those people is Alina Panas, Chief Financial & Operations Officer at The Mixx and Titanium Worldwide. Read our interview with Alina to learn about her inspiring story, accomplishments and vision for the future.
Tell us about your background.
I am a first-generation immigrant, originally from Romania, and I came to the US in 1997, after I barely graduated from college. Since then, I have become a wife, a mother, a homeowner, an investor, a mentor, and CFO of The Mixx and Titanium Worldwide.
How did you get to where you are today?
It’s sort of a “rag to riches” story. I came to the US more than 25 years ago with $200 in my pocket and a college diploma in my hand. Breaking into the job market was not easy, without work experience or relationships. My first job was selling Kirby vacuum cleaners, door to door. I learned a lot about the American way of life during this time. My next position was as a cashier for a department store. From cashier I was promoted to bookkeeper. It was here that I discovered my passion for finance and operations. From there, I took on a series of roles in the media and entertainment industry.
I love working in creative agencies. The team and the workflow are fluid and connected—you get a sense of community. By working with small to medium-sized companies I can create a greater impact.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
As a woman in finance, I have encountered numerous challenges based on biases—implicit or otherwise. Many times I was the only woman at the table, and sometimes I felt my credibility was questioned. Additionally, there weren’t too many women in senior financial positions to learn, get support from or connect with while I was rising up. I believe at the time when my career took off, women accounted only for 2% of the workforce in finance, at managerial and C-suite positions. I was fortunate to meet good mentors along the way who advised, encouraged and promoted me. Being a woman and a mother, I also faced the choice of prioritizing motherhood over career advancement. What has helped me get to where I am today has been a combination of allies and self promotion. I learned early on that we need to be our own biggest promoters. It takes grit, ambition, discipline, consistency, perseverance, studiousness and above all, facing the fear to speak up.
What does the future look like?
There’s still more ground to cover, but the future looks very promising. It has become easier, and more women are taking on senior roles in finance. Women are being brought more to the C-suite table, and the number of women CFOs is increasing every day. Financial analysis and planning is more than just crunching numbers. And having an all-encompassing and meaningful take on the stories that numbers can tell us requires a diverse makeup of the finance team.
How have your experiences in your career influenced what you do for other women in business?
I’ve always made it my mission to mentor and promote women during my career. I know what I had to face while climbing the career ladder, and I wanted to do more for the generation coming up behind me. I have helped young professionals rise up, whether they were building a career in finance or another department, by teaching soft skills, organization skills, listening, encouraging and raising awareness of their skills and strengths. I have been mentoring women, whether by simply having tea time together, or going over their work and giving feedback. Giving your time and thought to someone else is so rewarding. You end up learning and growing yourself as well, in addition to helping someone else grow.
My actions are always based on the premise that you need to be a permanent learner in order to grow. Never stop learning and listening. Learn from your peers, as each person has unique knowledge to share. Learn from listening, reading, and staying on top of industry and professional trends. And learn from courses, webinars, conferences, and networking events.
Can you tell us about a time when you helped pave the path for women in your line of work or similar?
A few years ago, when I was working at Loyalkaspar, I had a wonderful assistant. Her role was as bookkeeper and front desk receptionist. She was smart, ambitious and a quick learner. But she was also a very good writer and a lively personality, who knew how to read a room and get people’s attention. I advocated for her as a social media and marketing coordinator, even though that meant losing her from my team. Since then, she has grown to become an amazing communications manager. It felt good to have helped her discover her strengths and calling.
I have always focused on helping and advocating for women in the workforce, in any shape or form that was applicable. And of course, the highlight of my mentorship has been helping out my daughter on her career path. She is only 19, and a sophomore in college, but we started planning for her career when she was a senior in high school, paving the way for her to embark on internships and giving advice and support whenever she needed it.
How do you see The Mixx changing in the next few years, and how are you contributing to that change?
The Mixx has already changed so much since I first joined. With Robyn Streisand, our CEO, and Phil Smith, our Managing Director, The Mixx has doubled in size and revenue. The Mixx is still changing, and I am here to help steer the ship by sharing my learnings and perspective on all financial and operations matters. I am here to help the organization keep safe financially, mitigate risk, and set growth goals.
Being fluent in several languages has helped me think differently and strategize. I have used the technique of translating when composing and relaying the stories that numbers tell us to the team. Not everyone speaks “financial” language. Communicating to other departments—marketing, project management, creative studio—means speaking their language. I think this technique has helped in creating synergies and being able to work together towards a common goal.
You’ve had an extensive career as a CFO, why did you choose The Mixx?
I chose The Mixx because of its mission and vision. Robyn Streisand, at the helm of The Mixx, has been a fierce promoter of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for more than quarter of a century. Here it does not matter if you are a woman, an immigrant, or a minority, it’s what you bring to the table as an individual and as a team player. The world needs organizations like The Mixx, today more than ever. It’s one thing when an individual advocates for inclusivity, but it’s another when an entire organization speaks for diversity through their team, their product and their clients.
You recently led the charge for B Corp certification for The Mixx. What happens next?
Leading the certification for B Corp status for The Mixx was an arduous but rewarding journey. We have achieved so much in doing business for good, but the road does not stop here. What else can we do for the well-being of our team? What more can we do for the health of our planet? There is so much more that can be done—here at The Mixx and beyond. Internally, I am focused on bringing more team members into the B Hive community, so they can learn how they can play their part in serving the planet and the people. And what better way to do more good than to pass on the knowledge? I see the next step as helping other businesses join the B Corp community and make it their mission to promote ESG efforts.