From investigating criminals to accounting under the big top: Four professional accountants with out-of-the-ordinary jobs.
Formulas may be the stock and trade of a professional accountant but there’s no formula for what the job may entail.
Accounting can serve the justice system with forensic accounts of a white-collar crime, or it can help scout and secure a new store location for an international designer label. It can break down and gain an understanding of numerous international currencies and tax laws for the world’s busiest and richest circus, or it can make sure the donations intended for the non-profit sector do not take any detours into the pockets of those trying to seek personal profit.
Four out-of-the-ordinary professional accountants spoke with Jobboom about how their jobs allow them to be the financial go-to person for a variety of operations and make them nimble in environments that regularly throw them new challenges. Their work speaks to the breadth of the profession that tends to bring out stereotypes of the office bean counter. Their jobs seem to take those beans and grow stalks and branches for a profession that spreads across a wide field.
André Lepage works in the shadows so he can shine some critical light on financial malfeasance. He special-izes in financial investigations, including alleged fraud, secret commissions and breaches of company policy. Lepage’s firm, the Montreal office of international powerhouse Navigant, has worked for the Gomery Inquiry, the Oliphant Commission and the Autorité des marchés financiers (Quebec’s securities commission), where it helped uncover financial irregularities at Norbourg Financial Group. He has also worked for countless other companies that he chooses not to name.
André Lepage, FCPA, FCA, CA • IFA
Mostly hired by corporate or legal firms, he often performs work that under-resourced police forces have on backlog, work that has taken him all over the world. A former internal auditor for Canadian National, where he joined the railway’s police force, he combs through files looking for such minute inconsistencies as unrumpled receipts, phone numbers that don’t correspond to addresses, invoices that are out of sequence and above-market prices for purchased goods.
He sometimes needs to enter an office after hours and usually needs to gain access to company files without the person who is under suspicion knowing what he’s doing. Having performed more than
300 investigations, he says the biggest challenge to his job is getting his information to a secured location.
That requirement – that he keep things confidential – is not just about making sure the guilty do not find out about an investigation; he also needs to make sure the innocent don’t have their names tarnished. “We protect the reputation of the identity of the person who is the object of our investigations,” says Lepage, who also performs risk assessment for a wide variety of companies.
The 56-year-old father, who has two grown-up children, sloughs off the occasional threat that he has received over the years. “You can’t stop investigating. There’s a job to do,” he says.
Lepage believes his role requires a mix of intuition, flare, curiosity and creativity.
Since joining U.S. fashion house BCBG last fall (coming from another fashion icon, L’Oréal), Martin Deschênes has been tasked with helping set up a new boutique for the company.
So how does a professional accountant help secure a new store? By analyzing real estate, looking at potential sales traffic, future costs and sales, calculating the costs of moving, renovation and set-up. Deschênes, 37, is CFO and COO for the Canadian operations and works closely with a team of people from the head office in Los Angeles that specializes in setting up new stores. BCBG currently runs 450 boutiques in the United States and 56 in Canada, and its newest store was, at the time of the interview, scheduled to open on June 25 at the CORE shopping centre in Calgary.
Deschênes, who is married and has one child, admits to a 60- to 70-hour workweek, so securing a new location was done in addition to his other tasks. Some of his work involves taking care that there is a healthy cash flow for the Canadian boutiques as well as overseeing the logistics of the distribution centre that is also located in Montreal. He says he enjoys the challenges of his job and being surrounded by people who are good in their specialties.
The company, founded by French-born Max Azria and specializing in dresses, has partnered with several celebrities and brought French designer dresses to the American market. Deschênes says one of his biggest hurdles is handling all the quick changes that take place in the world of fashion, requiring a 180-degree turn when a new style or change of direction is suddenly announced. “The fashion industry changes quickly and we have to adapt quickly.”
For Sébastien Vandal, co-founder of APSV, a firm that specializes in serving the non-profit sector, good accounting does more than help an organization discover financial anomalies, such as when he found fraudulent activity through fictitious payments in the books of one of his clients. He says that when bad things are done by a non-profit charity, it’s not only that organization that suffers: “It casts a shadow on all organizations.”
Sébastien Vandal, CPA, CA
APSV, founded in July 2011, has dedicated itself to helping those in the not-for-profit sector become more self-sufficient. With the sector relying on so many volunteers, many of whom are untrained in sound finances, Vandal’s firm offers training and help for a variety of non-profits so as to make that sector stronger. Their motto is: “Serving the community through accounting.”
The margins are slimmer for his firm, which has four associates, than they would be in other sectors of accounting. Vandal jokes that they may be working for non-profits but they are still in the business of making a profit. “I’m happy to be in this sector and to help the community,” says the 37-year-old father of one.
Cirque du Soleil senior accountant Hélène Kay adapts quickly. Cirque, with 4,500 employees worldwide, 1,500 of them in Montreal, currently produces 25 different shows, with new productions regularly being launched and new countries coming on board.
Each new show means Kay oversees new contracts and each new country means she’ll need to analyze its tax agreements with Canada. She’s become one of the specialists at Cirque on international tax laws.
Kay spends much of her time preparing financial statements – monthly for internal needs and annually for tax purposes – and keeps a keen eye on current and future expenditures.
She admits that her team, which includes financial analysts and which she describes as a busy little ant colony, finds itself at the very end part of the productions that are seen under the big top, in an arena or on stage. She doesn’t mind: She’ll leave the high-flying acts to the circus performers and not the accountants.
Kay, 44, who has been working at Cirque for five years, enjoys the atmosphere of her workplace, which she shares with, among others, artisans making costumes for upcoming shows. She also appreciates the healthy meals on hand, the good working conditions, and the dress rehearsals for new shows that she gets to attend.
Les carrières de la comptabilité 2013