“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
When you were hired as a student by a CA firm, you were very focused on what you wanted to accomplish – obtain your CA designation. Your timeline was three years and during this period you would have written the Core Knowledge Exam, attended the School of Accountancy, and sat down for the Uniform Evaluation – all requiring countless hours of study.
Then suddenly you’re a CA. As you bask in the realization of your accomplishment, an uneasy thought enters your mind – now what?
You’ve achieved one of your primary objectives and new career opportunities and choices beckon. You need new goals and ambitions, and something to strive for. Some new CAs have very clear career aspirations and know where they are going and the path that will get them there. However, judging from the queries that the Institute receives from recent CAs, there are many who feel unsure as to their next move.
You have endless choices and for some this freedom can be disconcerting. Should you stay in public accounting? Or consider a specialty or even an international posting? Test the waters in the big seas of industry or the public sector – or become an entrepreneur? To help you with these difficult decisions, we asked six accomplished CAs to reflect on their careers and the choices and decisions they made that were instrumental in helping them achieve the successes that they currently enjoy.
Use the designation to try different things
Brent VanParys is Managing Partner of VanParys, Micacchi, Shippey & Warnick LLP, a CA firm focused on business and agriculture in southwestern Ontario. Brent obtained his designation with Thorne Riddell (now KPMG) and after four years left to begin his own practice as a sole practitioner.
Brent says he was always somewhat entrepreneurial and prepared to take risks. The big leap for him was leaving a large firm to begin his own practice. While he never thought he would fail, he was comfortable knowing that his designation would provide a safe landing in any outcome.
He pointed out that he was able to bring to his own small practice those aspects of the larger firm that appealed to him.
As time went on, he partnered with other like-minded entrepreneurial CAs. This eventually led to the current midsize practice he now manages. His advice to new CAs: ”Use the designation to try different things. Downside risk is minimal.” Coming from a small community himself, he was interested in helping family businesses in smaller communities – and found a niche that was both personally and professionally rewarding.
Bloom where you are planted
Susanna D’Arcy is Regional President, Southwest Ontario for Rogers Cable Inc. in Kitchener. She obtained her CA designation with Touche Ross & Co. (now Deloitte.), and after five years in public practice she left to work with a company as a Manager of General Accounting. Following some internal promotions, she went on to increasingly responsible roles with a few different companies before landing at Rogers Cable in 1998.
Susanna’s initial interest in obtaining her CA designation was to develop valuable business world experience through academic learning and practical experience. Once she decided to depart from public practice, her next big decision came when she chose to leave finance for the operations function with a communications company in an industry that was not only new to her, but was also in a state of flux. She seized this opportunity, partially because she was well acquainted with her new boss from a previous association, and partially because she saw this as a rare opportunity which might not reappear.
Susanna believes that taking career risks, when they are well thought through, make sense and can be transformative. She acknowledges that for CAs there are times when their jobs are difficult – anything from boring work to difficult economic circumstances or troublesome
bosses. She recommends that you list both the positive and troubling aspects of your job before seeking to leave for other pastures. She notes that she has turned a bad situation into a productive one through this assessment – and likes the adage ‘bloom where you are planted’.
She has also made some career changes by leaving a company situation that was frustrating, and recognizes these changes ultimately benefitted her professionally and personally. She found her career changes helped her come to a greater understanding of who she is, what she really enjoys doing and consequently does well, so that today she feels satisfied on many levels.
Explore and develop new skills
Charlie Spano is Vice President Finance, Business Planning and Analysis for Canwest Broadcasting. He obtained his designation with Deloitte in Mississauga. Soon after, he pursued a career in tax and completed the CICA in-depth tax program. After seven years with Deloitte, he left to pursue opportunities in industry and had progressive roles in tax, treasury and planning, and ultimately, operational management.
Charlie relished his time at Deloitte and recognizes the opportunities that large public accounting firms offer CAs for specialization and obtaining outstanding training and experience. He would encourage new CAs to explore these opportunities to further develop their skills and expertise. Eventually, Charlie decided that he wanted the exposure and opportunities of the corporate sector and left for industry. As a result of taking advantage of the firm’s post-CA training, he was able to test the waters in different disciplines – including corporate tax, treasury management and business planning.
Having found that he really enjoyed the business planning discipline, Charlie has focused the latter part of his career in this area. His advice to new CAs: ”Continue to develop your skills and investigate new opportunities and disciplines. Take advantage of the different avenues that public accounting firms provide. Obtaining your CA is not the end of academic pursuit but a springboard to other interests and learning.” For him, it eventually led to a focus and career which he greatly enjoys.
Establish your career parameters and objectives
Ron Seftel is Senior Vice President, Operations with Bullfrog Power Inc., Canada’s leading 100 per cent green electricity provider. He obtained his designation with BDO Dunwoody in 1993 and transferred to a BDO U.S. affiliate shortly thereafter. After a few years, he returned to Canada and moved into industry where he worked for a U.S.-owned company before joining Bullfrog Power.
Ron recalls that one of the most important decisions he made was seizing the opportunity to transfer to a position with BDO’s affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the time, Charlotte was quickly becoming the fastest growing city in the southern United States. He obtained his CPA while there, but more importantly, he was exposed to American corporations and the U.S. audit and regulatory markets, an experience which became invaluable when he returned to work in industry for a U.S. company in Toronto. Ron stayed with the company for seven years before moving to Bullfrog Power.
The move to Bullfrog Power came about because he had made the decision that he would only leave his current employer to go to work for a company that was a market leader, in a sustainable industry that would thrive for years to come, and with individuals who operated with a social conscience. Ron set up the criteria for his career progression and was satisfied that Bullfrog Power matched these expectations.
Ron’s advice is to establish your own parameters and objectives in a career – and then find those opportunities that meet them. Ron’s objectives were to find career opportunities which balanced his societal and family values. Interestingly, he recalls an opportunity to work with a brand name multinational and wonders where that route would have taken him. However, he also acknowledges that such is the dilemma of choice – the ‘what-ifs’ – and ultimately he is comfortable with the choices he has made.
Be proactive and opportunity comes knocking
Susan Allen is the Audit and Assurance Group Leader for the Technology, Infocomm, Entertainment and Media Group for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for Canada. Susan joined the firm in 1981 and became a Partner in 1994.
Susan identifies three significant events that shaped her career. “My first defining moment was having the courage, conviction and passion to successfully run for a director position with a not-for-profit organization. This I did as a new manager at PwC, very early on in my career, and (it) gave me such a breadth of practical experience, insight into the corporate world and built my confidence in so many diverse ways.
“A second decision was to ask my firm if I could go on a part-time work arrangement, for three years, to spend time with my young family. This was over 15 years ago when part-time work arrangements were not as common as they are today. I designed my own program, which I believed would be a win/win for myself and my firm.” Susan believes that if she hadn’t been able to orchestrate some kind of part-time career and family split of her time, she would have left the firm and the profession.
The third event of significance for Susan was a secondment for two years to work with the San Jose, California office on IPOs for public and private emerging tech companies. “I took a risk and put up my hand to say that I would like to go and my family accompanied me. The experience increased my confidence tenfold and was a rewarding and bonding experience for my family as well.”
Her advice to young CAs: “Be deliberate in setting career goals and aspirations. Think beyond this year and next – make sure that you are taking stock of your current skills, and making plans to develop the skills that you need to get to the next level.” Staying in public practice provided abundant opportunities for a fulfilling career for Susan, and she encourages CAs to consider this path.
Find your passion
John Friday is Director of Management Services for the Children’s Centre Thunder Bay. John joined Clarkson Gordon (now Ernst & Young) in 1981 and became a CA in 1984. He joined an audit client of the firm – the Children’s Centre Thunder Bay – in 1989.
Here’s how John left his public accounting firm to go work with one of its clients. The firm was given the assignment to fill the Director of Management Services position and John advised his partner that he was interested in it. He had already discussed his long-term plans of leaving public accounting with his partner, and the Centre was familiar with John (as he was with them) through the annual audit, so the move was easily decided by both parties. John was passionate about giving to his community and was able to satisfy his own career aspirations and this passion with the position.
The job was much broader than simply finance and accounting, including significant HR-related responsibilities, and, through the years, John continued to learn and grow and subsequently obtained his MBA and his CHRP (Certified Human Resources Professional). In fact, he was one of the first CAs to obtain this designation. While John left public accounting to work in the not-forprofit sector, he is very committed to public accounting and to the profession. He serves on the Institute’s Council and is involved in his local District Association so as to stay connected to this interest and commitment.
John’s advice to new CAs: “Continue to grow and learn and develop. Acquire expert level competencies and you’ll find your passion. The public accounting firms are great incubators for this development and you should not leave too hastily. Stay connected to the profession and you will find continuous opportunities for personal and career development.”
The CA career: great potential
Hopefully, the CA career path may seem a little clearer thanks to these accomplished professionals sharing their insights. The path has much potential, and includes great diversity and flexibility. However, it does require effort on our part to look inward to determine our own wants and needs, discover what we are passionate about, establish our career parameters and objectives, continue to develop new and existing skills, be proactive and welcome opportunity, and not be afraid to take risks. In all situations, ‘bloom where you are planted’, and destiny will converge with your career path.
Guest contributor Robert Gagnon, CA, Associate Director, Professional Development, oversees the Institute’s Executive Programs.
Article appeared in The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario’s CHECKMARK magazine Summer 2009.