A former professional golfer, Terry Gabriele, CMA, talks about serendipity and the role that it played in advancing his career. What is apparent once you speak to him, however, is that he sets very clear priorities that allow him to take advantage of opportunities. His first priority is his family. In fact, when asked to define his success, he will speak about his children’s happiness and their successes, rather than his own. To Terry, his hole in one, is the work/life balance that he has achieved. By almost anyone’s definition he has done very well professionally, and yet you get the sense that what he really measures success by has nothing to do with work.
1) Why did you choose accounting and finance as a career?
I tried to play professional golf and I got tired of eating hamburgers and noodles because I was broke, so I decided to go back to school. I went to Simon Fraser for Commerce when I was 25 years old.
2) Why become a CMA?
It was a calculated decision. My brother-in-law was a CMA and after university, the CA firms were trimming headcount. It made sense then to become a CMA rather than a CA. There were simply better opportunities.
3) What did you think of the CMA program at the time?
The program was good, but there was definitely a gap. Specifically, for those of us who wanted to go into strategic management, there was not enough of a focus on finance leadership and strategy. They have definitely moved the program in that direction over the past 30 years.
4) Were there any other careers that interested you?
I wanted to be a professional golfer. That was really the only other career choice that interested me. I could have chosen to work in my family’s business, but it was competing in a field with much larger companies and the value it provided to the market place was waning.
5) Did you have a goal for yourself at the beginning of your career? Yes, it came with two steps.
First I was focused on getting my CMA and then achieving a strategic management role. I pursued the learning and opportunities appeared.
6) What was the toughest moment for you in the first 10 years of your career?
One of the most poignant moments in my career was interviewing for one of the regional CFO roles at Corn Products. I knew that if I took the job I would be travelling 40-45 weeks a year. I had a young family and that much travel would have compromised my commitment and responsibilities to my family. Basically, I had to talk my way out of consideration. It was a tough moment and I really did want that job. There was no guarantee that I would have gotten the offer, but I basically had to jettison myself on the first interview. It was tough because I had been working towards that moment all of my life from a professional perspective. It could have been a perfect path professionally, but a disaster personally.
7) Do you have any regrets?
Not at all. I don’t think about it because I have both; a good career and a fantastic family – the decision worked out well.
8 ) Did you make conscious decisions on the path of your career? Any critical advice that shaped your path?
As I said before I really did follow the learning. I became friends with the person who hired me to work at Canada Starch and I still remember him telling me, “Terry, if you have any opportunity to learn something by sticking your nose into a situation then do it!” I followed his advice and it really helped me grow as a professional. For example, I always try to find opportunities to understand initiatives outside of my area. By acquiring operational knowledge to add to by finance base being inquisitive and curious you accumulate a broader perspective that improves your judgment and problem solving.. I applied this mindset when I started working for my current company “The Ontario Power Authority”(OPA). I came in without a real understanding of the energy business and without the right language. I started walking around and talking to people. I learned a lot simply by doing this. In general, as the finance partner, I try and sit learn about the operations of the business so that I can see how things relate to one another. This allows me to build the right knowledge base and understand how to effectively measure performance and build useful financial analysis.
9) Why did you choose the OPA? It was serendipity. I was working at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in a contract capacity. Although opportunities were presented to me at GSK, I was looking for something new and different. While we were discussing a permanent role, a former colleague called about a role that had potential to make a difference, so I came down to the OPA on contract. Early on a vacancy came up in the Controllership function and I took over that position. Once I had spent enough time in the business they asked me to stay on as the Director of Finance. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
10) What is different about the public sector? One of the struggles in the public sector is that the success achieved is positive to one set of stakeholders and negative to another. For example, at the OPA one mandate is to promote energy efficiency and conservation. (we are trying to get consumers to conserve electricity) The activity is positive to the set of stakeholders that believe government actions transition society to positive behaviours. While another set of stakeholders may believe that market signals should drive social behaviours. The difference in the stakeholders values drives a higher level of scrutiny of our measurements. In this instance the measurement is somewhat like business interruption insurance where you have a measure of activity before and a measure after with the difference attributable to our conservation actions. It becomes a question of ensuring that we can measure the impact of our activities in a way that survives scrutiny based on different stakeholder values.