Sauder’s assistant dean and director of finance, Sandy Tanaka, was destined for a career in accounting and beyond

“Being a charteredprofessional accountant is not about crunching numbers and balancing
spreadsheets; it’s about knowing how the business currently operates, where it’s
going in the future, how to financially support it now and how to make it
sustainable in the future,” says Tanaka

By Renu Singh-Joseph

There are those in life who just know what they’re destined to do. This holds true for Sandy Tanaka, who not only knew she wanted to be an accountant, but has employed decades of knowledge, experience and skill set to her current role as assistant dean and director of finance at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a professional accountant?

A: It sounds really nerdy, but I knew since Grade 10 that I wanted to become an accountant. Originally I wanted to be a dentist and enrolled in science courses with my one elective course of accounting. I struggled with the sciences but excelled in accounting. Learning accounting came really easy to me; it just made sense, and I really enjoyed crunching numbers.

Q: You’ve worked at the University of British Columbia (UBC) for 28 years. Can you tell us about your career journey?

A: In 1987, I applied to a job ad in the local paper to work at UBC’s accounts payable department. After multiple interviews, I was hired as the new mail clerk. It was the most junior position in the department, and my job was to open the mail and make sure every invoice had three copies. Little did I know this was the start of something great for me.

Through the years, I continued my accounting education and started to develop additional skills beyond accounting. I came to realize that beyond the number crunching, I was good at strategic planning, information technology, project and change management and human resources and operations. I had great mentors along the way, and when there was an opportunity for advancement, they took a chance on me and placed me into an entry-level accounting management role. I made sure they would never regret they did, and, eventually, I elevated to my current role as Sauder’s assistant dean and director of finance.

Q: Why are chartered professional accountants (CPAs) beneficial to a business?

A: Being a chartered professional accountant is not about crunching numbers and balancing spreadsheets; it’s about knowing how the business currently operates, where it’s going in the future, how to financially support it now and how to make it sustainable in the future.

Q: Can you share a few instances in which your accounting background resulted in a success or achievement at UBC?

A: Much of what I have created within Sauder on the finance, budget and IT operations is a model that is being adopted around campus by other faculties. I have also done a lot of business process re-engineering with success in cutting costs and processing time in financial requests. It is always rewarding to know you have been responsible in making a positive change, especially when others adopt what you have done.

I was a member of the project team that managed Sauder’s $70 million building renovation project. And I have also participated in university steering and advisory committees for large-scale projects and ongoing operations.

For the past three years, I was the chair of the Committee of Faculty Business Administrators, which represents the 12 faculties on campus in finance and HR leadership. And this year, I am the chair of UBC’s 25 Year Club that recognizes and celebrates employees who have given 25 years of service to the university.

Q: The CPA united the Canadian accounting profession. Your thoughts?

A: Having one governing accounting designation provides clarity and ensures standards in accounting practices are being met. When a business hires a CPA, you know they have gone through a rigorous training program and have the right skill set to meet your business needs.

Q: Can you tell us about the organizations you’re involved with?

I am very passionate about volunteering my time. I spent five years volunteering for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada and their fundraising arm called Team In Training. I am now working with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and PALS Autism Society, in which I sit on the Adult Program Advising Committee that provides support and services to young adults aged 19 to 28.

Q: You are the first recipient of Sauder’s 2015 Graeme A.G. Stamp Community Project Award. Can you tell us about this recognition?

A: I lost a good friend, who suffered with mental health issues, so winning the award was special. I wanted to break some of the negative stigma around mental health and to raise awareness of the resources available. I also wanted to win so I could give the $2,500 award to CMHA.

Q: Looking back on your career?

A: I would never have had the career that I do if I weren’t a designated accountant. The university places a lot of emphasis on making sure you have the credentials to do the job. Having a CPA, CMA gave me credibility and opened up opportunities for me to advance.