NPO Work? Rocco Fazzolari, CA, CFO Raises His Hand (Pt 1)


Rocco Fazzolari has worked in a number of interesting jobs. In our interview he talked candidly about some of the tough moments in his career and how they have shaped him. He also spoke about working at Lavalife, living in Australia, and the challenges of moving from finance into marketing.  Like many of the high level finance executives that I have met with, Rocco Fazzolari took some critical risks and made some choices that many would perceive as being on the edge.

1.  What was the toughest moment for you in the first 10 years of your career?
There were a number of tough moments in the first 10 years of my career.

a)  I learned the hard way not to assume things. I was in treasury and there was a fairly large bookkeeping error. When the higher ups called me from the US I quickly realized that they had gone to a deeper level of examination than I had thought to go. I assumed I hadn’t had to go that deeply. They called me out in a big CFO meeting and I was mortified. I learned to really investigate things and not to assume that you have all the data when you are asked a question.  It was a painful lesson, but a good one.

b)  The next toughest moment occurred when I changed from finance to marketing.  Talk about needing a different skill set.  It was challenging, but it was also rewarding.  It definitely rounded me out and gave me a foundation that could take me to COO or CEO. It educated me. The choice I made to push myself to the edge and learn something completely different from what I was used to helped to substantially further my career.

c) I would also say that living and working in Australia was challenging. I was offered a position in Australia and decided to pursue it. It was worth making the move because great growth resulted from it.


2. How much of your career did you plan out in advance?
I really haven’t had a plan, even though I have spent a large part of my life in planning and analysis – ironic isn’t it?  I have been conscious of trying to take on opportunities that challenge me and build on  my skills. That is the reason that I have tried different industries and roles.

3. What were the critical steps that you took in your life to get you to where you today?
There have definitely been some critical choices that I have made that have moved me forward both personally and professionally.

a)  Even though moving to Australia presented me with a whole host of challenges, it was a critical step in getting me to where I am today.  It got me out of my routine and taught me versatility and flexibility. Changing countries, cultures and roles all at the same time was challenging, but I rose above it all, learned some new skills and got to see how adaptable I was.

b) Leaving Lavalife was a key step that moved me forward as well. The office was closing and it opened me up to the opportunity I later pursued in Australia where I was the Director of Marketing for a counselling college.  The transition into marketing was tough, but I was able to leverage my analytical background to determine what was working strategically and that was definitely an asset. I also introduced them to the online world and helped them with performance measurement.  The only reason that I resigned was that I had to temporarily move back to Toronto for personal reasons and I couldn’t take a leave for that long, otherwise I might still be the Director of Marketing.

4. How did each job build your skill set?
Each job that I have worked in has offered me new challenges because they are often in different industries. This enabled me to learn all the intricacies of each industry and work with a variety of people in various roles, sectors, and cultures,  which subsequently broadened my skill set.  More recently, my 3 years as CFO at Prostate Cancer Canada sharpened my financial leadership and change management skills and taught me about non-profit governance and charity regulation.

5.  Why did you decide to work in the not-for-profit sector?
I love the charity sector because of the connection to the work being done. Working in a not-for-profit allows you to use your skill set, and still feel like you are making a difference.  I was first drawn to the charity side of things about 6 years ago when I was in Australia in the Sydney Opera House. Charities are professionally run and they have just as many challenges as commercial operations.

6. What kind of work drives you?
I like something that is entrepreneurial and requires real business improvement because this challenges me to grow and implement change. I thrive in a place that needs hard work and innovative ideas to bring about transformation. Some people might see it as walking on a bit of an edge, but that’s where I am most productive.

7. What is the most surprising thing about the new job?
I’ve been at Harbourfront Centre for just over 2 months, and am surprised by the degree of complexity in the business model and operations. Its’ charitable non-profit mandate relates to programming for the arts, education and recreation;  it runs commercial operations in the marinas, parking, real estate, and food & beverage spaces, and there are numerous capital projects on the go to develop the 10 acre site.  As a former crown corporation with its unique set of legacy issues , the degree to which we have maximized what we can do within the budget is astonishing.

Check back on Friday for Part 2 of Rocco’s Story

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