What have you learned about yourself in the past 5 years that you didn’t know before?
I realized that I love the tech. industry as it can completely reinvent itself every few years. That is the great thing about technology is that the world changes so fast. One of the people that I recently met runs a forum for technology company CFO’s, and one of his biggest challenges is keeping his contacts straight, because nobody is in the same role for long. The landscape changes every 3-5 years.
What is the technology space like in Canada?
Canada produces some great technology firms and there is a real entrepreneurial spirit. The sad thing about tech. in Canada is that companies incubate the technology and sell it to the U.S. or another country. I was talking to a former colleague of mine recently who is also in the technology space, and he pointed out that every company he has ever worked for no longer exists. That is fascinating to me.
What was the toughest moment in your career?
That would be when I was with one company and I realized that there was nothing that I could do to change the organization. The business was going to run the same way, my job was going to stay the same and I didn’t have the power to move it in a different direction, even though the change would have been great.
The moment that I recognized that it was a bad fit for me with that organization was a bit of an epiphany, and it took a while to get over it. I really did feel bad leaving the company, and it took time to learn all the lessons. That is part of the reason that I like small companies, because you can make change happen quickly.
What was the best moment in your career to date?
I can’t say there was a single moment. I can’t even name a big “a-ha” moment, because there have been ups and downs. The real highlight of my career is all of the people I have met and stayed in touch with. We all work together to help one another, and it amazes me that I have made all of these connections who choose to be part of my circle.
That same network has been a key part of my success. Someone I had worked with twice before called me in and got me my first CFO job – I owe him.
You’ve been in small and large companies over the course of your career. How did the experience you gained early in your career help get you to where you are today?
Early in my career I was working with a company called Newstar which was then bought by BCE Emergis. At Newstar, I was the Director of Finance which was more than an accounting position, and they really didn’t know what to do with me after the acquisition, so I was rolled into an SAP implementation.
BCE Emergis was a well- funded e-commerce company that provided e-commerce solutions to companies. This was at the time that Internet companies were being valued at incredible multiples. BCE Emergis did several acquisitions and grew very rapidly while I was there.
The growth meant that BCE Emergis was a really different experience for me as putting SAP into a rapidly changing environment was a challenge. When the project went well, I was promoted into the Controllership role.
I didn’t stay in the controller role very long partly because it was Montreal based and I was commuting. I moved into the business development team doing business cases and ROI models and liasing with the M&A and Finance teams. I took away from that an appreciation of just how difficult it is to sell, by observing what others were doing. I realized how difficult it would be for me to get good at this. It made me more sensitive to sales and business development and less likely to be prescriptive on how things work. You become willing to help get deals done, because you know how hard it is to win business.
In the end, I think that seeing that makes me a better CFO – even though I know I could never be a salesperson.