Neil McInnes: Making a difference

Strong financial footing benefits everyone in First Nation, CFO says

Neil McInnes, director of finance, Lil’wat Nation | Simon Bedford

How do you measure success?

In most organizations, it’s the financial bottom line. But for the  Lil’wat Nation, success is also measured by the benefits brought to the community.

Neil McInnes became the First Nation’s director of finance in April 2012. While he was no stranger to the Sea to Sky corridor, having worked previously for Tourism Whistler and Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies Society, he hadn’t worked for an aboriginal government before.

McInnes, who is not aboriginal himself, said, “As far as cultural differences, this was something I probably didn’t do as much research as I should have before I came.”

Elders in the community helped get him up to speed. “I get a real sense of their history and how they’re working hard to continue their language.”

Lil’wat Business Corp. includes a variety of business ventures, which had a combined operating profit of $1.5 million and total income of $2.4 million in 2013-14, according to the Lil’wat Nation annual report of 2014.

Lil’wat Forestry Ventures – one of the largest licensees in the Squamish Forest District, with an annual allowable cut of 65,000 square metres – reported an $803,000 surplus for the year, while Lil’wat Capital Assets generated $553,000 from the sale of timber from a recently purchased woodlot.

Lil’wat Construction Enterprises LP reported a net profit of $239,000, primarily due to a new partnership with Lizzie Bay Logging and the creation of the joint venture Mumleqs Construction.

“That’s good for us,” McInnes said. “We’ll be able to continue to have more of these successful partnerships, which will bring long-term success to the community.”

Forestry, which includes contracts to slash under BC Hydro lines, has “a great bottom line,” he said. “I think we’re [just] as happy about the fact that, during the summertime, there’s 30 to 35 community members that are hired on those crews.”

Lil’wat businesses also include a gas station and grocery store. While the gas station “does well,” the grocery store loses money. Still, it’s a store that elders can access easily, and it creates jobs in the community.

“So there’s all these other benefits,” said McInnes. “It’s definitely not making money, but it has gotten to the point where it’s losing less money.”

McInnes, 39, was born in Victoria and grew up in North Vancouver. He moved to Pemberton in 2010. An avid skier, he is passing along his love of outdoor sport to his three sons, aged six, four and one. He received a bachelor of commerce degree, majoring in entrepreneurial management, from Royal Roads University in 1998 and became a certified general accountant in 2010.

When McInnes joined Lil’wat Nation, there were challenges. Changeovers in management had resulted in annual financial statements being delayed, and the organization was not as efficient as it could be.

“Some of the systems and procedures that you’d think an organization would have in place ... they were missing here,” said McInnes.

One eye-opener was the scale of the Mount Currie Indian Band operations. Mount Currie is home to 1,850 band members; another 550 live off-reserve.

“What I wasn’t aware of is really how big this organization is,” McInnes said. “The amount of programs and services that are provided for the community ... that was a difficult learning curve. There are over 100 programs and departments to oversee. That changes the scope of things, as far as what tools you can use.”

The finance department McInnes oversees also handles the small stuff, with staffers often volunteering to help elders in the community to file their income tax returns, or to apply for Old Age Security or the Canada Pension Plan.

“It’s amazing how you can really see what you’re doing on a daily basis and how that is positively impacting the community,” said McInnes. “It’s one of those scenarios where everyone’s personally motivated to do a great job for the organization you work at.”

McInnes was nominated for the CFO Award by Curt Walker, Lil’wat Nation senior administrator.

“Neil has been transformative in so many ways,” Walker said. “He has reinvigorated our strategic planning and budgeting process to enable better decision-making. He has created innovative reporting which has resulted in improved transparency for our senior management team.

“He has been a real transformative leader in moving these positive changes forward. He has been a role model and leads in a humble, understated way.”

McInnes has his eye firmly on the future.

“What I hope is that we will be set up for future success,” he said. “I know that, with some of our corporate activities and some of our partnerships, we will be in a much better financial position.

“As well, if we can create a strong organization we can better use that money, when it does start to flow, for what it’s really for – to support community with expanded programs.”

Neil McInnes will be honoured at the BC CFO Awards gala dinner on June 2nd at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info visit