By Ken Jacobsen
As a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) with more than 25 years’ experience in financial and corporate roles, I had many of the necessary skills when I became a franchisee with Ledgers, an accounting service provider to small businesses, in 2014. It was still a big risk, however, since I’d never run my own business before.
An army brat
I was born in Botwood, N.L. My dad, Aubrey, is from Red Deer, Alta., and he met my mom, Madge, was he was stationed with the military at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gander, about one hour away from Botwood. I also have a sister who was born three years before me when they were stationed near Pembroke, Ont.
Due to my dad’s work, we travelled a lot and lived in different parts of Canada and the U.S. One activity I loved was curling. It was always popular on base and I found it relatively easy to get onto a team wherever we were. It was a real ‘army brat’ lifestyle for us and I made lots of friends with whom I still keep in touch through Facebook.
My most formative years were when we lived at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station St. Margarets, near Chatham, N.B., and about an hour or so from Moncton. I went to grades 8, 9 and 10 on base and in Chatham and was a bit of a rebellious kid. You have to live by certain rules on base and my dad was an officer, so everybody there knew about everything I did. I tried to get outside that world as much as possible.
Nevertheless, after a year in Florida and graduating from high school back in Newfoundland, I went to Collège Militaire Royal (CMR) de Saint-Jean, just south of Montreal. I didn’t have much of a clue yet as to what I wanted to do with my life, so I tried their preparatory year, knowing that if I stayed on, it would be a five-year commitment. I studied engineering and learned a lot of French in that one year, but the military wasn’t what I was looking for.
By that point, my dad was stationed in Winnipeg and I went there to study math and sciences at the University of Manitoba. I enjoyed the freedom after the strict nature of military college, but when my dad got transferred to North Bay, Ont., and I couldn’t afford to stay in Winnipeg on my own, I went to North Bay too. That was where I got my first exposure to accounting while studying at Canadore College.
I had met my future wife, Holly, in Winnipeg. After my dad retired and left North Bay, I moved back to Winnipeg to rekindle our relationship and enrolled again at the University of Manitoba. That was when I really started to get serious about my career.
After graduating in 1985, I joined the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in downtown Winnipeg, working as a loans officer.
My career in banking
Working for RBC turned out to be a bit like my dad’s career in the military, as I got transferred to a number of different places. This was very different from what Holly was used to, since she’d lived most of her life to that point in Winnipeg. We knew we wouldn’t want to keep moving around once we started a family.
While I was working in a supervisory role up north for three years in Thompson, Man., we saved up so we could buy a house when we came back down south. During that time, I learned a lot about lending and realized I enjoyed leading a team. As I started to look at a future in management, I knew I wanted to go farther than my arts and economics degree would take me, so I started to take my CMA courses in Winnipeg.
By chance, an RBC manager from Vancouver dropped into our offices and was looking for an assistant manager for the Visa collection centre. We didn’t have kids yet, so we made the move out west, where I continued my CMA studies. Both of our sons were born in British Columbia, but we returned to Winnipeg—where I worked for RBC’s merchant services group—before I got my CMA designation in 1999.
That was right when RBC was toying with spinning off its merchant services group, which it did the following year as Moneris, in a joint venture with the Bank of Montreal (BMO). I was asked to help with organizing the new sales group in Toronto. That was the last big move for my family—and a huge career change for me, since I had to leave RBC to work only for Moneris.
I had already led a number of sales groups and wanted to put my CMA designation to work within the finance group proper. So, I spoke to the chief financial officer (CFO) about making this transition and started to work in a business advisory capacity in the controller’s group, analyzing revenues and expenses. It was a tremendous training ground in terms of business planning and forecasting.
As for my family, we bought a house in Mississauga, Ont., before moving a little farther west to Milton. Moneris’ head office was in Etobicoke, in the west end of Toronto, so we were close by.
I was with Moneris from 2000 to 2014, during which time I handled commercial lending for merchants, financial analysis and human resources (HR) with a focus on executive compensation. I became pretty astute at understanding financial risks.
Holly’s career was more varied. She also worked in banking with RBC and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) before running a daycare at our home and then moving into clothing retail, first with Reitmans and now Cleo, for whom she is an assistant store manager in Oakville.