From humble beginnings to finance leader
SAF alumnus credits determination, perseverance and experience formula for his finance success
Before his start at Waterloo, Chester Dawes (BMath ’99, PDAcc ’99) didn’t know what a high-powered career in finance could look like. To begin with, his parents emigrated from Jamaica in the early ‘70s to start a new life; Chester and his two brothers grew up going to schools in Canada where most kids did not look like them. As a child growing up in an immigrant family environment, Chester’s career goals were quite humble: “My measure of success was a career where I could go on a vacation and not worry about where the money came from.”
Having held senior positions in multiple far-flung geographies (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific) at various companies throughout his nearly 25-year career, it’s safe to say that Chester has racked up plenty of frequent flyer miles and achieved great success professionally since graduating from the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) in 1999. Chester is currently the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Melody Investment Advisors LP, an investment management firm where his responsibilities include accounting and finance and working with portfolio companies to raise and deploy capital and overseeing internal operations.
“At Melody, we invest in digital infrastructure such as wireless towers, fiber and data centers which are the backbone for communications,” describes Chester. “These are some of the key parts of the ecosystem that makes virtual meetings, events, and conference calls happen.”
And what a time to invest in digital infrastructure when much of the world is working remotely — including the Melody team. “Melody has historically had a strong technical infrastructure and business continuity plan in place,” says Chester. “Once the pandemic began, we were able to seamlessly transition to full remote operations with staff spread across the States because we could work from anywhere.”
Prior to COVID, Chester, who lives in Toronto with his wife and two children, would spend two to three weeks a month working from his Manhattan office. “Normally, I would be in the States, visiting some of the companies we own and going to Europe four times a year for board meetings and overseeing some of our off-shore vehicles,” states Chester.
Influencing perspectives in how business is done.
Working remotely hasn’t posed too many challenges for Chester or his teams, but the nature of the industry of private equity, “which requires working long hours, makes it convenient to be able to huddle in person and have ad hoc conversations,” notes Chester.
A culture shift was needed in how business was conducted. Raising capital has traditionally involved in-person meetings but when the global pandemic hit, how do you acquire a company when you can’t go out and see it? Virtual meetings, virtual tours, and conference calls, and lots of them, have become the new norm for Melody to raise capital and deploy capital into potential investment opportunities.
The pandemic also slowed down growth and skill development of teams, to which Chester pivoted around the challenge to find new ways of building his team. Melody had equipped their staff ahead of the lockdown with the virtual tools needed to stay connected from a work- from- home environment. One of the positives for Chester has been the ability to get to know and work with colleagues on a more intimate level, “you see people in their home offices with their kids running by and get a deepened sense of their values and work ethics.”
In building his career in finance, Chester “entered an industry where virtually no one looked like me.” Fostering a sense of belonging and community was an important factor as Chester grew Melody’s teams and implemented regular team events and ensured that the events continued throughout the pandemic. The virtual team events are varied in activity and engagement level, that not only helped to solidify the relationships amongst Melody’s teams, but also provided a much-needed aspect of fun to relieve stress while building community and creating cohesive and collaborative teams.
Thinking about his time at Waterloo, Chester credits the university for providing a career perspective that’s not just about financial success. “I look at my peers and we’ve all done well. We’re in leadership positions and gaining fulfillment from what we do and the change that we’re driving and influencing.”
Chester’s Waterloo experiences provided the confidence he needed to persevere in building his career to what it is today. “I’ve exceeded my original goals and am in leadership positions where I never thought I’d be.”