Cool and calm: The philosophy driving an award-winning CPA

Today's Chartered Professional Accountants (CPAs) are working with a lot more than just numbers.

Businesses are expanding faster than ever, and with such growth often come challenges. Today’s CPAs are coaches and problem-solvers, and are integral to the growth of their business.

Take Robert MacDougall, CFO at Unbounce, for example. Unbounce is a digital marketing software as-a-service business that allows marketers to build high-converting landing pages quickly and without a web developer. As CFO, MacDougall is involved in all financial aspects of the company, but he’s also a leader, a team player and responsible for troubleshooting any issues that arise.  

“One of the things I get told quite often is how relatively calm I can be in tough situations, no matter what the circumstances are,” says MacDougall. This sort of calm comes from MacDougall’s experience and training as a CPA. In the face of pressure, he can still see the big picture on where his business needs to go.  

“I have been called on for being able to solve problems, give other people faith and confidence, and I find that these skills go a long way with helping my job.”  

MacDougall has been with Unbounce for less than a year, but as CFO he’s taken full operational control of the financial aspects of the company. 

“The really exciting part for me is working with the rest of the business – be it the development team, the product team, the sales team – to make fundamental changes when problem-solving.” In high school, MacDougall was uncertain what career path he wanted to take. “I took a test that said I was actually supposed to be a librarian or a warden for a prison. I decided I didn’t like either of those two choices, so I made up my mind that I wanted  to be in business.” 

MacDougall took the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of British Columbia and quickly realized he wanted to be a financial leader. 

“I understood that to achieve what I wanted, which was to have the highest level of financial involvement in an organization, I needed to get my CPA.”  

Experience, awards and recognition

After becoming a CPA, MacDougall went to work for a public accounting firm in Toronto, where he got experience reading audits and tax statements. He then went on to work for a ginseng company and became responsible for all of the company’s overseas operations. He travelled to Portland, Mexico City, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and even lived in Barbados for a brief period. 

 “It was a great opportunity to see the world and understand more about the business.” 

 For the better part of almost 20 years, MacDougall has worked for various communications, software and technology companies. The operational side of business is his flavour of choice and what interests him most. In 2007, MacDougall and the company he worked for at the time, Top Producer, won a BC Technology Industry Association award for excellence in product innovation. MacDougall and the company won the award for creating Market Snapshot, a tool designed to help realtors provide Multiple Listing Service market updates for their customers. “When we put the data out there, there was nothing else like it at the time,” says MacDougall.  

CPA philosophy

At Unbounce, MacDougall’s role is more than just analyzing and working with numbers. When MacDougall joined Unbounce, he brought together various departmental groups, including IT and data, and turned them into a whole team. In essence, he took these groups, created a mission statement for the company and aligned them. “From my perspective, it really speaks to how somebody at my level can bring groups together to accomplish something versus focusing entirely on finance.” MacDougall says his CPA business philosophy is based around being open and respectful to other people. His leadership style is very hands-on, and he’s always looking for new insights through analysis and, of course, strong financial management. “I think a lot of people are looking for the finance guy to give them the straight goods, but also to give them solutions and then to give them some level of confidence that that solution is going to bring them to where they want to go.”