2021 Alumni Story Series

Celebrating leadership in an unprecedented year of challenge

by Patty Mah

As the year 2021 begins, many of us continue to reflect on the past year which was unlike any other in recent history. The global pandemic became a driving force for businesses and organizations to pivot, often with very little prep time, how and in some cases, what they do. It’s easy to focus on the negative side of the pandemic, but within the previous lackluster year, there have been numerous examples of positive change and evolution.

Throughout 2021, the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) will be celebrating and recognizing the positivity and the accomplishments that have and will impact the future of work and society. Each week, a newalumni storywill showcase examples of leadership.Storieswill demonstrate expertly managed teams and organizations to maintaining engagement and productivity to pivoting business models to adhere to health and safety regulations and supporting our communities and front-line workers in staying safe and protected through and beyond the global pandemic.

To kickstart theseries, it is only fitting to tell the story of the University of Waterloo and the School of Accounting and Finance.

Dr. Steve Fortin, (PhD '99, CPA, CA, ICD.D) took the helm in leading the School of Accounting and Finance on September 1st, 2018. Steve is an active researcher in the areas of financial instruments, hedge accounting, fair value measurement, related party disclosures, and audit quality. Steve's goal is to continue SAF's trajectory of success in leading the transformation of the professions through world-class research and experiential education.

Hear from Steve what he feels future accounting and finance professionals will need to be successful.

2021 Alumni Stories

For this last week before we welcome the new year, we’re revisiting the inspirational stories of alums who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and skill with aplomb in navigating their careers to executive or C-suite levels. The pathways these alums and many others we’ve profiled over the past year have not been direct career routes, let alone the alum’s sole objective.

For the week of December 13th, we’re revisiting stories of alums who push boundaries and go above and beyond to extend diversity and inclusion for all. In this round-up are stories of alums who faced and surpassed adversity, alums who transcended their humble career goals, and alums who are leveraging untapped talent to even the playing field.

For the week of December 6th, we’re revisiting stories to celebrate the powerful women who inspire and motivate through the leadership and actions they take. In this round-up are stories of SAF women who face and overcome challenges head-on; advocate for equity, inclusion, and sustainability; and have successfully balanced work and life, all while effectively pivoting and leading their teams and organizations through and beyond a global pandemic.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Year in Review - Entrepreneurs

For the week of November 28th, we’re revisiting the entrepreneurial alums with which we’ve had the pleasure of sharing their stories. In this round-up are stories of a beer mogul, a start-up instigator, a tech start-up magnate, visionaries of education, and a Dragon’s Den pitch winner.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Leveraging the language of business

As a Mathematics/Chartered Professional Accountancy student, Nitish Sharma (BMath '14) was part of the second team that led the development of the hEDGE Financial Services Conference. Hosted annually in the heart of Toronto's financial district, hEDGE offers University of Waterloo students a comprehensive look into both sell-side and buy-side finance through six pillars of capital markets: asset management, equity and debt research, investment banking, private equity, sales and trading, and venture capital. The brainchild of School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) students, the conference’s goal is to showcase the impressive finance talent that is present at SAF and to inform students about recruitment and networking opportunities. What is particularly inspiring about the large and successful conference is that it continues to be completely student-run to this day.

Shubham Datta (BMath, MAcc '13) discovered his love for entrepreneurship while still going through the Mathematics/CPA program at Waterloo. Waterloo's innovative eco-system and entrepreneurial spirit encouraged Shubham to explore a career path that worked with start-ups and entrepreneurs. This interest morphed into a career in finance, working for Shopify.

Hear how Shubham navigated his career in accounting to finance through a love of entrepreneurship.

Even during his time at the School of Accounting and Finance when studying in the Master of Accounting (MAcc) program, Langill was drawn to complex problems that needed solving. This curiosity and tenacity led Langill to build an impressive career in the financial services industry.

Oni Prisecaru, (MAcc ’16, CPA, CA) is one of a few co-op students who completed their co-op work terms and launched their careers with the same employer. Hired by Deloitte in their Audit Practice as a Junior Associate for his first co-op work term, Oni leveraged his accounting skills and knowledge and quickly became interested in the finance side of Deloitte’s business. As the Executive Director of the M&A Advisory team within Deloitte’s Corporate Finance area, Oni attributes his success to maintaining his intrinsic values, being open and coachable as a manager, and always seeking learning opportunities.

The Women in Accounting and Finance: Global Summit is an event that celebrates our female leaders and showcases their accomplishments in the field of accounting and finance. This year, though virtual, was a great opportunity to hear the unique and empowering stories of the panelists from around the globe.

As the world begins to transition back to business as usual, it is more important than ever to provide forums, such as the Women in Accounting and Finance events to serve as inspiration to current students and young alums in amplifying the importance of female leadership and perspectives in business. The 2021 Global Summit event for the Women in Accounting & Finance panel discussion brought together three School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) alums to share their career stories and answer questions from event attendees.

Julia Klann(MAcc’05)is one of the luckyfewwho knew exactly what they wanted to do aftergraduatingfromuniversity. Fromherco-opexperienceatBig 4 accounting firms, she developed an affinity forworking intax early on – Canadian tax that is. It was when she wassearching for her final co-op work termthat she came across arolefocusedon U.S.tax– a realm she wasn’tasfamiliar with. She made the leap, and from that moment on fell in love with U.S.tax and never looked back.

For Carol Leaman (MAcc ’89, CPA), the solid foundation in accounting from the University of Waterloo led her toward a winding, yet interesting and life changing career path of founding early-stage technology companies and leading them through to acquisition…four times over. From the wild rides of founding to the sale of the tech companies she’s led, Leaman has remained humble with the firm belief of creating an environment and culture that empowers everyone with knowledge, transparency, and honesty. Her latest start-up, Axonify, is a demonstration of Leaman exemplifying these qualities through her leadership which has translated into multiple years of recognition for Axonify as one of the best workplaces in Canada. Axonify was acquired last April by an American private equity firm to which Leaman has remained in the leadership role to take her passion project to the next stage of growth.

Globally, 2020 has been a year of unanticipated decision-making as organizations pivoted to ensure business success, often with very tight timelines. With the common theme of the global pandemic as the driving force of these strategies, the School of Accounting and Finance leveraged its annual Women In Accounting and Finance event to invite five SAF alumni from across the globe to share their stories and insights in managing and pivoting their teams, organizations, and personal lives through the global pandemic.

As the world slowly transitions back to in-person office environments, the newly appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Sun Life, Manjit Singh, (BA ’93, CPA, CFA), is excited to implement digital and people focused strategies to lead Sun Life beyond the global pandemic. The School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) caught up with the Waterloo alum to learn more about his career and where he sees the future of the financial services industry.

As the President and CEO of Sun Life, Kevin Strain (MAcc ‘90) brings close to thirty years of insurance industry experience to his new role. Strain spent much of those years with Sun Life in various finance and business roles to advance his career to eventually assume the responsibility of Sun Life’s leadership. The School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) caught up with the very busy President and CEO to chat about his career, how he hopes to lead Sun Life beyond the global pandemic, and why he chooses to give back to Waterloo to help build future talent.

With the start of the fall term, our community is getting ready to return to campus, and so it is a great time to be introduced (or re-introduced) to some of our faculty and staff. Candid, enlightening, serious, and not-so-serious, our Q&A series allows the personalities of the faculty and staff members who make up the School of Accounting and Finance community to shine.

This week, we interview David Ha (MAcc ’09), Professor and MAcc Co-Director, who has been with the School for ten years. Fun fact: At Grad Ball when Ha was a university student at Waterloo, he was voted by his class as most likely to become a professor one dayguess they were spot on in their assessment! 

A pair of Waterloo alumni are helping families deliver math in a fun and engaging way.

Prodigy Game, developed by two University of Waterloo Engineering grads, has filled the resource gap for building math skills and confidence, especially during the present school-year interruption due to COVID-19.

To celebrate Canadian Beer Day, we caught up with Phil Hipkiss (BAFM ’10, CPA, CA), the co-founder of Block Three Brewing Company in St. Jacobs, Ontario. In addition to the craft brewery, Hipkiss is also CFO and VP of Finance for the hearing aid manufacturer, WS Audiology.

Hop, hop, hurray! Cheers to another SAF Alumni Story.

For many, gone are the water cooler and lunchroom conversations that while mundane, were important in staying connected with colleagues. Workplace rituals we’ve long taken for granted have been removed by the pandemic. You would expect that these changes could be detrimental to every company’s culture, however, employees like Siddhi Purohit (MAcc’08) are currently very impressed with their employer’s culture and the values exhibited during the pandemic.

Boris Bong (MAcc ’94, MSc Finance (UK), CPA), like many of his peers completed co-op work terms in the field of accounting throughout his undergraduate career. After attaining his CPA designation, Bong sought a career path beyond accounting and pursued a Master of Science in Finance at the London Business School (UK). He then built his finance career by working in Canada, the UK and Hong Kong for EY, Barclays Capital, Prudential plc, Search Investment Group, and JP Morgan Asset Management. SAF caught up with our accomplished alum to learn more about his career path and his insights and observations of the financial industry in Asia, where he now resides.

Since we last caught up with Arthur Wang (BAFM, MAcc ’13) in 2019, his career hasn’t slowed down one bit. As an estate planning specialist at RBC Wealth Management Financial Services, Wang has been focussed on building and expanding his team, and on pursuing professional development opportunities. Most recently, he’s obtained his Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) designation and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation.

Two points Susan Uthayakumar (MAcc ’95) wants to make clear: Sustainability is not just a trend, and climate change is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. As president of the Global Sustainability Business Division at Schneider Electric, Uthayakumar advocates for diversity and green practices in business to not only save our environment but to stay relevant in the marketplace.

When running due diligence on transactions and tax planning on multi-million-dollar deals, what exists between Jocelyn Blanchet (MAcc '00) and Benjie Thomas (PDAcc '98) is a desire to deliver the best with a unique camaraderie and mutual trust.

However, it wasn’t always like that. They were once professional competitors, which began with their time at the University of Waterloo.

The value and potential profitability of being environmentally conscientious has placed more accountability on corporations to be transparent about how they get to their bottom line. Consumers and investors, and increasingly, younger investors are wanting to align their investment choices with their own values of environmental sustainability, equity, and human rights.

Like many freshman university students, Dinesh Balakrishnan (MAcc ’14) did not have a definitive goal in mind for his career. One certainty was his vision to build a career focused on supporting others and providing value. “A vague goal but I felt it resonated with my core, gave me purpose, and started to define what ‘success’ meant to me.” Graduating from Waterloo’s accounting and finance programs may not seem like the most direct pathway to a career in helping others, so the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) caught up with the 2020 SAF Young Alumni Award recipient to gain a better perspective of his circuitous career path.

In a year defined by the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to recognize and acknowledge those who have positively impacted our businesses and communities. Being named in 2020 as the School of Accounting and Finance’s (SAF) Alumni Achievement Award recipient, alum Pamela Steer (MAcc ’94, FCPA, FCA, CFA) is honoured by the recognition and will be using it as a way to benefit future students of SAF and the University.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

MAcc alumni band together

Celebrating the 25th anniversary with your graduating class is a milestone. Reunions provide opportunities for classmates to reconnect, engage, and reminisce. But for the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) Master of Accounting (MAcc) class reunions, it was also a call to action.

On a wintry day in 2019, the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) celebrated alumni, donors, and scholarship winners at the annual SAF Awards Celebration event…one of the last in-person celebrations before the global pandemic.

The Waterloo Centre for Taxation in a Global Economy (Tax Centre) has taken a significant role in advancing and supporting tax research and education, not only at the University of Waterloo, but across Canada. As the Tax Centre enters its 25th year, Ken Klassen (MAcc ’89), Director of the Tax Centre and professor with the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF), sits down for a conversation about the Tax Centre's accomplishments and the influence that it has had on the accounting profession and the SAF curriculum.

Cousins Elaine Lee (BA ’03, pictured second) and Michelle Lam (BA ’01, MAcc ’01, pictured first)spent their university days together. Both were accepted into the Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) program and became roommates, supporting one other through their studies and university life. SAF caught up with the two to reminisce about their academic and career paths.

AFM and MAcc graduates, Annu Puri (MAcc ’19) and Jacqueline Sue (MAcc ’19) virtually meet with SAF to chat about their new venture, &Vision, and how they hope to change how prospective students research and select university business programs.

As the global pandemic enters its second year, research is showing women with children are spending significantly more time in caregiving and housework than their male counterparts. This is true in the corporate and service worlds as it is in academia. This is also true for dual-career couples in which women still bear the larger burden of what is traditionally accepted as “women’s work.” 

Christine Wiedman (MAcc ’88), professor with the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF), highlights the current disparity between genders as it specifically pertains to performance on the job.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

From humble beginnings to finance leader

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.”  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

CFE Gold Medal Winner - Lawrence Zhang

On February 20, 2020, the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) faculty, staff, alumni, and members of CPA Ontario gathered in downtown Toronto to celebrate the successes of 2019 SAF graduates in their Common Final Examinations (CFE) to become aChartered Professional Accountant (CPA).

A conversation with Shana Laurie de Hernandez (MAcc’98, PwC Audit Partner and Chair of the Supervisory Board of PwC Europe) sheds light on the impact that the pandemic has had on women’s participation in the workforce.

In the span of only a few months, a large number of women have lost their jobs, lost advancement opportunities, or have voluntarily dropped out of the workforce. According to a new study from the Royal Bank of Canada, women's participation in the labour force has reached its lowest level in 30 years due to COVID-19.

SAF grad Julia and Patrick Lann's love story started on campus.

"We first met at co-op interviews at Needles Hall during our second year.  Pat and I had not crossed paths much during our first year at UW.  During the co-op interview period, Pat had two conflicting interview times and needed to swap interviews with someone, and that’s how we met. We ended up spending quite a bit of time together throughout the interview period, and by the end of those two weeks, we both knew there was something special about the other. "

Sarah Cheng (BAFM ’08, MAcc ’09) stepped into the Dragons’ Den with her five-year-old daughter while eight months pregnant. The Waterloo Alumnus pitched her small business, Bluish, and ended up striking a deal from Canadian investor Arlene Dickinson.

Historically, roles within the finance industry have been dominated by men with very little representation from women. Lana Paton’s (BMath ’93, National Managing Partner, Business Units, PwC Canada), generous gift to establish the Lana Paton Women in Finance Scholarship hopes to bridge this gap.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many workplaces from bustling offices with shared work spaces to remote, telecommuting networks. Employees around the world now find themselves working in isolation away from the familiarity of their colleagues and their workplace. This unplanned, but profound, shift in job design can have detrimental effects on employee engagement.

COVID-19 has seen entire industries retooling their production to make personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers. With all the PPE that’s being produced, Purolator Canada was the logistics company selected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Federal Government to deliver the PPE to hospitals across the country.

In the last six years, four recent graduates from the School of Accounting and Finance at the University of Waterloo have won the national and Ontario gold medals for the Chartered Accountancy Uniform Final Examination