SAF Grad Scales Path to Neverest

When she was a student at WaterlooCindy Kottoor, Cindy Kottoor (MAcc ’97) never envisioned running her own company. “I assumed I’d work for established global organizations,” she recalls. “Working for myself wasn’t an option I was exposed to -- or even recognized! So, when I started my business, I really had to figure out everything from scratch.” Although she will describe her journey into entrepreneurship as anything but happenstance, it didn’t really seem that way until much later.

“I started thinking of becoming an entrepreneur when I came back to Canada in 2003 after working in the United States,” she explains. “My new role at RBC involved sourcing training for the 200-plus internal auditors in the department, and I realized there weren’t many training providers in Canada who targeted the unique needs of accountants and auditors.” At the time she had to fly in speakers from the US to meet her requirements.

As the Waterloo grad reflected on her situation, she wondered what was stopping her from filling this gap herself. Nothing at all, she decided. At that point the door to entrepreneurship swung open, and what was a challenging problem in the Canadian marketplace became a life-changing opportunity.

Today, the company she set up, Neverest provides technical and soft-skills training to a wide range of clients -- corporations, governments, public accounting firms and professional institutes. Clients often choose to have Cindy and her associates deliver custom-tailored training in-house. Neverest also hosts public classes across Ontario for individual participants. While that province is the company’s current focus, the short-term plan is to expand its offerings across Canada. The longer-term vision is to grow into the international market.

A Welcome Surprise

“By launching Neverest, I could blend my passion for teaching with my interest in identifying and servicing specialized training needs,” says the Neverest president, a firm believer that learning never ends. “Once I saw the opportunity, it was just a matter of when!”

Giving up a guaranteed paycheck was admittedly difficult at first, as was adapting to a shoestring budget and a change in lifestyle. “But when you’re doing what you love, making decisions like these isn’t really so hard,” she laughs.

Rare is the entrepreneurial path that’s devoid of bumps and potholes, especially in the early days. But Cindy can recall only one big surprise -- and it was totally welcome. “I started the business as the sole instructor,” she explains, “and I did everything -- developing course material, finding clients, delivering the training, marketing, handling administration, bookkeeping -- all of it!” But not long after Neverest’s arrival on the scene, potential course instructors began expressing interest in joining the team – not only a pleasant surprise but a business-enhancing one.

And join they did. The Neverest team now comprises 11 instructors who bring a wide array of professional expertise and real-world experience into delivering courses in financial accounting, risk management, internal and external audit, communication and leadership. Three team members are SAF alumni.

“I’m very humbled by our A-team of incredibly talented people,” Cindy says. “Clients often comment on the calibre of the team, and I’m proud to offer courses led by such a strong talent pool.”

All Roles Contribute

“Looking back, my path to entrepreneurship was inevitable!” asserts the UW grad, taking quite a different stance from other SAF alumni who say they more or less fell into running their own business. Obviously many roads can lead to Rome. “Each role I had prepared me for the next,” she adds, “and helped me start and grow Neverest to where it is today.”

She checks off the contributions made by those various roles.  As an Audit and Assurance Manager at Deloitte in the 1990s she learned how to teach industry-specific courses to peers and staff. As a VP at AuditWatch Inc., a US-based training and consulting firm, she recognized the importance of customized training -- and confirmed her passion for teaching. Later, as Senior Manager for RBC Financial Group’s Internal Audit Services department, she saw the need for specialized trainers to meet Canadian demands. After that, while serving as Associate Director at Protiviti, a global business consulting and internal audit firm, she learned how to grow a business.

In 2013, Vanessa Flint (BA ‘97) joined Neverest as Director of Business Development and Client Relations. “Vanessa was a natural fit,” says Cindy of her Waterloo classmate, who not only shares the company’s vision but has brought with her an extensive background in public accounting, internal audit, business development, client service, and business start-ups. Up to now Neverest has been something of a best kept secret -- growing mainly by word of mouth and client referrals -- but Vanessa, who is in charge of marketing the company’s services, is energetically engaged in raising its profile in the market.

Enjoyment and Entrepreneurship

Today Cindy delivers presentations at conferences, designs and develops courses, and recruits skilled, passionate instructors to join the Neverest team. “I still enjoy the actual teaching most of all,” she told us. “Our classes are attended by professional accountants and auditors with a wealth of ideas and experience. As a facilitator I add my perspectives, but I learn from the participants too. That’s really what keeps me going!”

A 2011 recipient of ICAO’s Award of Distinction, the Neverest leader is involved with the professional accounting institutes across Canada, including the CICA, CMA, CGA and the newly formed CPA Canada. She also keeps up with fellow UW alumni and actively maintains connections with her classmates.

Common wisdom may say entrepreneurs don’t -- or can’t – have much of a vibrant personal life, especially in their company’s early days. But Cindy has proved otherwise. “Since starting Neverest, I got married and I have two children under the age of two-and-a-half,” she reports. “At times I've been managing the business between diaper changes!”

And that’s not all. An avid traveller, the entrepreneur and mother of two has gone swimming with hammerhead sharks in East Malaysia and trekked through Nepal. Her husband, Trevor, a pilot, shares her love of travel. What will they choose for their next holiday? “Something adventurous,” Cindy says, “but now it has to be child friendly!”

By Stephen A. Jones, School of Accounting and Finance