Janice Comeau, CFO of LMS Reinforcing Steel Group, is used to fighting for her place. Growing up in a large family where the boys outnumbered the girls three to one, she learned at an early age that if she was going to be noticed, she had to stand out.
“I’m the third of nine children,” she said. “You generally had to do something pretty exceptional to get noticed.” So she became an exceptional student, achieving honours and top grades throughout her childhood. “I’ve always pushed myself pretty hard.”
Growing up as one of the older siblings in her family also trained her to be a leader.
“At a very young age, I had a lot of responsibility. I played a big role in raising my younger siblings.”
It prepared her well for the business C-suite, where women are most often outnumbered.
“I’ve always felt very comfortable in a male-dominated environment,” she said. “It’s been helpful for me in business because I definitely take the approach that I’m an equal.”
It’s a good thing she does. A January 2016 Statistics Canada report shows only 33% of senior managers at Canadian companies are women. Only one company on the S&P/TSX 60 is listed as having a female CEO.
Comeau does her part to buck that trend. A board member at a number of private companies, she has 30 years of strategic corporate and financial management experience spanning a variety of industries.
“I’ve had a real breadth of experience in many different industries,” she said. She’s worked for KPMG and VersaCold, and for real estate, construction, paint and software companies.
She came to LMS initially as a consultant. Struggling financially, the company was looking for some outside advice on how to make operations more profitable. She worked for almost a year with the company before being invited to join the executive as CFO.
“There were lots of issues that needed to be fixed,” she said – not only inefficiencies, but also pockets of negativity and discontent among some of the team. The only way to turn the company around, she believed, was to institute a sea change, and along with it a changing of the guard.
New skills were needed, she told the executive. An object lesson in the importance of trust ensued. “They trusted me in terms of knowing what the right people were, what the right processes were. They got out of my way and let me do what needed to be done.”
As a result, the company began a strong turnaround, generating profit where waste once pervaded and embracing growth such as it hadn’t seen in years. Today, said Comeau, LMS’s finances are stronger than ever.
Comeau is unapologetic about her perspective on the importance of positivity and constructive energy in the workplace.
“I don’t really tolerate people being toxic or negative,” she said. Offsetting that perspective, though, is Comeau’s commitment to supporting the professional development of her employees. One person who can testify to Comeau’s success with that support is Lisa Domeij, contracts administrator at LMS.
“I was in a completely new field,” said Domeij, who came to LMS with a background in biology. “I was unsure of myself; I struggled a lot at the beginning.”
Comeau reached out to her, provided support in the form of a life coach and helped her develop the skills she needed to succeed.
“She foresaw what I needed,” Domeij said. “She’s been a positive role model for me; she offers really constructive feedback and she values what I’m saying. She’s humble, approachable, but at the same time she’s firm.”
Comeau embraces the broader interpretation of a CFO’s role. In finance, said Comeau, there are generally three tracks a CFO can follow. First is an internal focus on profitability. Second is a more external focus, looking at dealing with auditors and external reporting, especially for public companies.
The final track, which she has found most rewarding, has been that of the corporate financier.
“That’s when you get into a lot more of the strategic stuff – buying and selling businesses, tax planning, risk management and financing businesses.”
To that end, Comeau has managed a variety of executive financial initiatives including syndicated financings, sales of businesses, corporate and tax restructuring and financial oversight during significant growth. Yet the drive she developed as a child doesn’t stop her there.
She has served as president of the Financial Executives Institute Vancouver chapter, on several professional committees for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia and as a board member for the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia, the Legal Services Society, Caravel Investments Ltd. and Junior Achievement.
It doesn’t stop there. “I get up at 5 a.m., I head to the gym and run before commuting to work,” she said.
She uses the drive time to plan for the day. She’s also an avid golfer.
“I used to take it pretty serious, but then I realized I wasn’t having as much fun.”
Now she doesn’t keep score. Success, she’s found, depends on more than the numbers.