Contrary to stereotype, a CPA designation leads to fulfilling work and life

For PC Urban’s CFO, Volodya Gusak, accounting is all about people and communication

Blame Charles Dickens. It was the Victorian author who, with mean, miserable Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, stereotyped number crunchers as unsociable and people-hating.

Just the opposite is true – to be effective in their role as business leaders, chartered professional accountants (CPAs) have to communicate well with others and enjoy doing so, says Volodya Gusak, chief financial officer of PC Urban Properties.

Gusak, who received his CPA, CA designation in 2011, should know. The real estate development company, whose mantra is “property re-imagined,” relies on him for constant back-and-forth communication.

“It’s your job to take the numbers, which are often difficult to understand – they scare people – and convert them into something easy to digest, something tangible. Your ability to communicate is pivotal. Otherwise you wouldn’t be successful, no matter how bright you might be. So that’s one stereotype that breaks down first and foremost.”

But Gusak’s colleagues depend on him for more than making sure the numbers work in developing commercial, residential, and industrial-zoned buildings, many of them heritage gems. They look to him to provide, as all CPAs do, a clear, uncomplicated leadership vision and to set and carry out executive priorities.

They also trust him to evaluate the value-added elements PC Urban provides beyond getting each property ready.

Showcasing public art is one example. Adding art to an equation isn’t something you expect from a CPA – certainly not from the penny-pinching stereotype. But Gusak exudes a most un-miserly pride and enthusiasm in explaining PC Urban’s aesthetic contributions: “Typically, we have no obligation to include public art on any of our projects, yet we’re doing it on all of them. We believe that this will enhance the projects we deliver and show we care.

“Will it cost money? Yes, but we like to think it’s more than just about money,” says Gusak, expressing a point of view that would probably give Scrooge a heart attack. “To create something unique and better, something that will stand the test of time, requires creativity. We should think about all stakeholders, including the users of the space and the local community. People walking by the buildings we develop should leave with a positive impression. And since a company’s success will be measured by profits and longevity, doing something different benefits many stakeholders. Simply put, it is taking a long-term view, and I believe our company does that very well.”

Public art as part of a CFO’s portfolio: proof positive, one could say, that those with CPA designations are into the big picture. They have to be. Companies from industry to public accounting, government, education, and not-for-profit look to them as business leaders for analytical skills and good judgment. They look to them to be involved.

Yet the Ukraine-born Gusak admits, chuckling, that as a Simon Fraser University (SFU) undergrad he subscribed to the CPA stereotype. Gusak was studying finance because he’d always been good at numbers – but the last thing the road cyclist/swimmer wanted was to hunch over numbers all day in a lonely cubicle.

His life-changing revelation came as a result of student volunteering – being a social animal, giving of his time, and meeting new people came naturally to Gusak. Invited to SFU’s Outstanding Alumni Awards, he met Brad Bardua, CPA, CA, then CFO of Gateway Casinos.

Recalls Gusak, “Brad was kind enough not only to have coffee with me, but eventually to introduce me to a great network of business leaders here in Vancouver, guys who had top positions. His advice to me was, ‘Pick a role, what it is that you would like to do right before you retire. What does that look like?’”

Gusak decided “these individuals were very content, were very happy about what they did with their lives, and they seemed to have it together.”

“And I thought, ‘That’s what I want!’”

Graduating from SFU, Gusak went straight into the 30-month, module-structured designation program. His work experience through an Approved Training Office was primarily focused on audit and assurance, though current students in the CPA program can obtain their work experience in industry through the Experience Verification Route as well.

The most valuable part? “Clarity on how to tackle problems,” Gusak says.

As with any job, problems come up all the time in his. But as a CPA he has an advantage. “You’ve just spent the last three or four years being constantly trained over and over again in how to solve specific problems that you don’t have the answer to. You had to go research, you had to find the solutions, you had to talk to the right people, you had to put it all together, and you had to make it into a presentable form”—all vital components of a strong executive presence.

The designation did something else for Gusak, though again grumpy, self-centred Scrooge might not approve. It nurtured his curiosity about life. “I read more books now than I ever read before. It seems to be like opening the floodgates. Your curiosity continues peaking. It’s exciting, it’s very interesting because life is constantly a puzzle and books help put those pieces together.

“When we think about what the best days are at work, it’s actually not the days where everything went as planned and you came under budget. It’s the day when there was some impossible deadline to meet, some impossible challenge to overcome, and somehow through the camaraderie of the entire team it all came togetherand you worked hard and it worked out. That’s the maximum satisfaction.”