William Hallett: Going for gold in work and life

Vancouver Foundation’s vice-president of finance and operations is proud of his achievements as both a chartered professional accountant and an athlete

Chung Chow photo

When it comes to financial management, William Hallett is a gold medallist.

The triathlete and marathon runner calls himself an “aspiring Olympian,” but his main job is vice-president of finance and operations at the Vancouver Foundation. As Canada’s largest community foundation, the organization has more than $1 billion in assets and $140 million in revenue from donations and investment income. Its 50 full-time employees work with individuals, corporations and charities to create endowments to support thousands of projects.

Born and raised in Toronto, Hallett moved to Vancouver in 2003 and lives in the city’s trendy Coal Harbour neighbourhood. With more than a dozen years of senior operations management experience in the non-profit sector, Hallett, 64, previously served as senior vice-president and chief operating officer at Sport BC, vice-president of finance and accountability at the Rick Hansen Foundation and CFO of the Vancouver Board of Trade. Before joining the non-profit sector, he worked nearly 20 years in the corporate world, including nine years in senior financial management, accounting and taxation at General Electric Canada and 10 years as a financial manager and planner in the mining industry. Hallett said he was ready for a change.

“The challenges are just different here than in the corporate sector where it’s all about the bottom line. In the non-profit sector, it’s more subjective.”

Hallett said helping staff embrace change in a “meaningful and non-threatening way” has been one of his greatest challenges at the foundation, which has experienced major changes since 2012, including a change of CEOs and an office relocation – moving from “an environment where everyone had their own office to an open-office concept,” Hallett said.

Hallett’s achievements in the community rival his professional accomplishments. He has made a lifetime commitment to sport volunteerism, including more than nine years as president of Triathlon Canada and six years as a director on the Canadian Olympic Committee. He is interim chair and treasurer of the Canadian Olympic Foundation, and serves as a member of the audit committee for the Pan American Games and Parapan American Games. He is also a director of the BC Unclaimed Property Society, an organization overseeing the collection and distribution of unclaimed money.

Among other accomplishments at Vancouver Foundation, Hallett oversaw a financial and information technology (IT) systems modernization including implementing automation of a number of manual finance processes. He also completed a complex custodial transition from RBC Investor Services to the Northern Trust Co. involving the movement of about $1 billion of invested assets across more than 15 investment managers – all on the same day.

Modernizing meant leading a review of all IT and implementing a five-year plan addressing security, infrastructure requirements and staffing.

“Over the last four years we went from a chaotic, ad hoc IT process to one that is organized,” Hallett said.

Hallett, who has completed two Ironman triathlons, is proud of his achievements as both a chartered professional accountant and an athlete.

“Both accomplishments are very similar,” he said. “They both require planning, dedication and commitment. They are both potentially fraught with failure, but when you stay focused and you achieve [your goal] there is a big exhilaration in the end.”

While president of Triathlon Canada, Hallett increased the financial base of the organization to more than $2 million from $50,000 to support its broadened mandate and scope, enabling the organization to have long-term sustainability.

During his time on the board of the Canadian Olympic Committee, he actively worked with management to develop and implement a $10 million financial contingency plan ensuring that the committee could withstand a future economic downturn. He also reviewed multi-year financial forecasts to ensure the committee would be in a position to meet its obligations to the Olympic, Pan American and other games.

Remaining focused and staying “on mission” are keys to Hallett’s success as a CFO. Willingness to make a tough call also helps.

“Don’t be afraid to say no,” he said. “I’m not afraid to challenge people, but I do it in a professional way.”

Hallett said other traits great CFOs possess include being “professional and patient.” He also recommends using ideas as coaching opportunities, and looking at each new day with a positive perspective.

Kevin McCort, the Vancouver Foundation’s president and CEO, said Hallett’s strong team-building skills set an example for other CFOs.

“What makes him great is building the capacity of his team,” said McCort. “He does a great job at mentoring staff.”

McCort said he also admires Hallett’s active engagement with the broader community and his dedication to athleticism.

In 2015, Vancouver Foundation partnered with its donors to make more than 4,000 grants and distributions totalling $43 million. Since 1943, it has distributed more than $1 billion to registered charities.

Join us June 2 when Business in Vancouver celebrates the 2016 BC CFO Awards at the Four Seasons Vancouver. For further information or to register for the event visit the events page at www.biv.com/cfo.