Getting to Know the La Piana Team: An Interview with Sumaya Quillian, Associate Consultant


What are three words you would use to describe your role with La Piana Consulting?

  • Ever-changing. Intriguing. Complex.

What attracts you to working with nonprofits, foundations, and/or the consultants who serve them?

  • The work that is done in the nonprofit sector addresses so many problems and challenges that I feel passionate about – the arts, film, DEI, international relations, climate change, just making communities better…When I think about the things that I care about the most in life, the people largely invested in those areas are in the nonprofit space, so I’ve always been drawn to it.

What skills or lessons from your past experience do you expect to draw from the most in your role? And/or what stands out as a career highlight for you to date?

  • The skill that I draw on the most is from my experience working in customer service at a university Human Resources department. People come to HR when they are dealing with a serious problem, so doing that work and helping someone while trying to appreciate the seriousness of their concerns allowed me to develop empathy and mindfulness in a way I never had before. The other lesson I took from that job was learning not to take things personally. So many people would come in and have moments where they were really upset or stressed, and sometimes that would be reflected on me even if it wasn’t about me. It’s so similar in consulting – people are dealing with experiences and challenges that I need to help them through without worrying about my own ego. Ultimately, this work is about learning how to center yourself on the challenges the client is facing.

What are your favorite types of challenges/projects/opportunities?

  • I think mergers are so cool! It’s interesting to see how two organizations can come together. I didn’t even think about the concept of nonprofits merging before working with La Piana Consulting. I always associated it with the corporate world. I continue to be fascinated by how it works and how intriguing it is from a sociological perspective with all the different personalities involved and working through the process of getting to the final merged entity throughout the negotiation and relationship building process.

What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not working? 

  • The main things I love doing are watching classic movies and going for walks with my dog and husband. My husband and I also recently started reading together, where we take turns reading a book aloud before bed. So far, we’ve read Murder on the Orient Express and Pride and Prejudice, and we’ve just started Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. In a non-Covid world, I especially love going out to eat, exploring art museums, and, above all things, traveling!

What is your favorite place/sight/sound in the world?

  • My favorite place in Los Angeles is the Getty Museum. I’m from LA, and I spent so much of my childhood there. Internationally, it’s Café de Flore in Paris because they have my favorite hot chocolate, and I have so many fond memories of sitting at a table there people-watching and enjoying a good book outside when I lived in Paris. The Place des Vosges in Paris is a close second for me. It’s this small park square in the middle of a beautiful brick complex that was built centuries and centuries ago, and that used to be my falafel eating spot!

If you could have lunch with anyone famous, who would it be and why?

  • If he was still alive, I would love to have lunch with James Baldwin! I took a class in college on James Baldwin’s work that totally changed my life. We spent so much time not just reading his writing, but also listening to his speeches and debates. The professor said she wanted us to have a feel for him as a living being, not just as words on a page, so hearing him and his way of speaking as well as reading him made such an impression on me. It made his written work feel so alive, and I still read and re-read his essays to this day. He also used to live in Paris, so I would love the chance to talk to him about that!

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