Choices CFO Arif Ahmed, CPA, CMA unconventionally followed in his father’s footsteps to become a professional accountant

Ahmed says accountants can “walk into any meeting and any conversation throughout the organization and make a meaningful and impactful contribution”

Choices CFO Arif Ahmed, CPA, CMA 

By Renu Singh-Joseph

As the chief financial officer of Choices Markets, Arif Ahmed, CPA, CMA, leads the company overseeing strategy, sales, operations and business development, importing products worldwide and selling them throughout North America. He also oversees retail support divisions, including marketing and IT, for Choices.

Q: Why did you want to become a professional accountant?

A: My father is a CPA, CGA, and I recall going to his office as a child and seeing his desk filled with papers and ledgers, all covering the multiple adding machines. That really scared me, and being an accountant was the last thing I wanted to be.

When I was graduating high school, my uncle, a successful businessman, told me that I should look at accounting as a profession because it dabbled in so many worlds – financial, legal, operational – and there would always be a role for me in any organization around the world. That stuck with me, and it took me another 10 years after that to recognize what this actually meant.

Q: Did you have any perceptions about the accounting industry that were later broken?

A: People have this image of the accountant being the guy in the bad-fitting suit and brown tie with papers and stamps all over his desk, when in actual fact, it’s the guy that can walk into any meeting and any conversation throughout the organization and make a meaningful and impactful contribution.

Q: Can you tell us about your work experience at Choices, from the warehouse to CFO?

A: I did my education a bit backwards; I paused my university career to enter into the workforce. … In 1999, when the Choices owners decided to open a warehouse, I was brought in as “Employee No. 2.” Being there were only two of us, there was a lot of responsibility and learning on the job – not just the ins and outs of the business, but also work ethic.

I figured out what I enjoyed doing and evaluated which educational path would be the best fit. The chartered professional accountant (CPA) designation was by far the best because it had the most versatile application to the business and beyond. Going through the program with work experience under my belt was enjoyable because I was able to instantly relate and apply what I had learned.

Q: How has your accounting background resulted in an achievement at Choices?

A: I’ve been fortunate to help develop and execute on our recent and continued expansion. I’ve been tasked with putting together pro formas and projections, which have been used to not only evaluate but also help guide negotiations. In the last year, we’ve pulled the trigger on multiple projects, including three new stores and an expanded production centre. Not only will this production centre be state of the art, but it also gives Choices the opportunity to develop more unique and fresh products in house and locally and will give us enough space to grow into in order to further expand.

Q: Why should businesses of all sizes hire a CPA?

A: There is no doubt in my mind that organizations of all sizes should look at hiring CPAs. We are trained to be problem-solving ninjas: identify, execute and sustain. If I can come in and make your job marginally more efficient – say, 5 per cent – then this means in a given work year, I’ve freed up about 15 working days of your time to be more productive. That’s to one person. Now, imagine applying that same formula to two people or 10 people or an organization of 1,000 people. That can be a pretty quick and ongoing payback.

Q: In 2012, the CPA introduced a framework for uniting the Canadian accounting profession. Why was this an important step?

A: Beyond the economic and jurisdictional benefits, all of which have been well documented, I think optically it is very important. There’s certainly a stigma attached to the profession, that accountants are just “tax guys.” In actual fact, accountants have a fit in all parts of an organization, and the unification will help broaden the definition of an accountant, which will be a benefit to all.

Q: Can you tell us about your work in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)?

A: In 2013, a few friends and I started to do weekly meals for a couple of single-room hotels in the DTES. We managed to turn our Sunday gatherings into providing over 20,000 meals and supplies to those in need. Our goal is to get to 50,000 touch points a year, which is a big goal but will be really rewarding and fulfilling at the same time.

Q: Any words of advice?

A: Whether you’re a business owner, straight out of school or mid-career, don’t be afraid of entering into the CPA program, as it will allow career advancement or simply provide a better and more efficient way of doing what you’re currently doing.