Life is full of the best-laid plans, it’s how you deal with things when life happens that matters. Getting to where I am today was a very meandering road but ironically it was that meandering that exposed me to different situations in business and in life and has informed many of the services we offer at Hawkins & Co.
As a CPA I spent a lot of time in school and writing exams while working. It seems like a long time ago now but at the time it seemed like it would last forever.
Becoming a CPA has a structure to it – a perfect fit for those who are then going to be tasked with putting structure to a business. You go to University, take a specified list of courses, get a job in accounting, write a series of additional exams, put in a given amount of time performing a specified list of work and voila you are a CPA. Traditionally CPA firms have a true hierarchy to them – many students at the bottom, some newly qualified CPAs, fewer managers and senior managers and, for those few at the top, partnership. Assuming you wanted to stay in public practice you knew exactly the stops you had to make along the way to becoming a partner.
After all of the schooling, I never imagined I would stay home when I had children -I assumed I could do it all. Anyone who has children knows that you have no idea how you will feel about them until you have them. You also have any idea how much work is involved.
During my first pregnancy, I was working at Direct Energy – I had left public practice but gone from a large CPA firm to a large energy company. I was still a cog in a very large organization. I was fortunate to be in the Revenue Assurance department so I had exposure to many of the departments and processes within the company surrounding the accounting but also the overview of operations, HR, IT etc.
When our first son Christopher was born he was 8 weeks premature. I spent six weeks in the hospital on and off and then he spent five weeks in the hospital. I enjoyed my maternity leave with him and as I got further through the year I started to realize I couldn’t go back to my job at Direct Energy. Between the commute and the hours I wouldn’t be able to spend much time with Christopher. It was a hard decision, compounded by the fact that I’d spent so much time working toward something I felt I was now wasting – my CPA. Instead, I found a job I could do part-time.
I enjoyed working part-time but often when I was at work I felt guilty that I wasn’t at home with Christopher and when I was with Christopher I felt guilty I wasn’t at work. Looking back I think I did a great job at both but when I was in it I didn’t feel like I was doing either role particularly well.
Going through university for my accounting credits and my CPA exams my main group of friends were male. We all studied together, we pushed each other to do better and we competed to see who could get the best marks. As I sat at my part-time job and spent time at home with my son I watched as their careers progressed and mine did not – at least not in a linear way. For my competitive side it was very hard to watch and again I felt I was wasting a part of me I’d spent so much time creating.
I spent the better part of nine years at home or working only part-time. During those years I had the pleasure of working with business owners helping them with their internal systems, processes and accounting. It allowed me to have more control over my hours. I limited the number of companies I worked with at a time, so I could enjoy the time with both Christopher and our younger son Duff.
I look back on that time with fondness. I was so fortunate to be able to watch the boys grow and enjoy reading a story or playing with them in the middle of the day.
Four and a half years ago I set up an office with the purpose of having physical space and technology in place for my husband Jules, also a CPA, to leave his job and start his own practice. My intention was never to be involved with the practice itself.
My partner will tell you when we started the business I suffered from a lack of confidence in my business abilities. I felt so removed from public practice there were a lot of things I felt I had to relearn. I spent time second-guessing things and looking things up to make sure I was correct. The reality was it was in my head. I thank my partner for helping me to realize that.
Ironically, all of that part-time work with business owners where I actually worked within their businesses helping them with their systems and processes gave me a very different perspective from my work in public practice. It’s this perspective that has helped us to build a unique firm that serves clients not just for compliance with taxes, HST, payroll etc. as most CPA firms do, but instead helps them with their business end to end.
The time I was able to spend with my boys was such a gift and as they get older (9 & 14) I realize how quickly they are growing and how soon they will be gone. All of those years made me a more compassionate and patient person. As Jules and I started to piece together what we wanted to build I was able to draw on personal experience in both my business and personal life.
This has resulted in a vision for our company that is a much more positive and collaborative environment than many of the companies I’ve worked with in the past. We work together to create something bigger than any one of us. We celebrate all of our wins, big & small, and we learn from our mistakes to make things better. Although I could never have envisioned my role today if you’d asked me when I was working at PwC at the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t have it any other way. For all the women (& men) out there that take a break from a career to raise children, be kind to yourself when you re-enter the workforce full-time. You have more to give to your new role than you can imagine. It will unfold over time and with the support of those who believe in you more than you believe in yourself.