CFO of the Year: It takes more than number crunching

More than accounting acumen is needed to earn the coveted CFO of the Year award. “I work with numbers, but more importantly I work with people,” says Dean McCann, executive vice-president and CFO of Canadian Tire.

We should have seen this coming. At last fall’s CPA Ontario Conference, Canadian Tire’s CFO Dean McCann was credited with helping the IT department to innovate and grow. Now he’s the winner of the CFO of the Year award.

McCann has been with Canadian Tire, one of the country’s oldest and iconic corporations, for the past 19 years. He’s held the CFO position for the past three.

Award winners are highly qualified in six areas. McCann talked to us recently about three people skills required of CFOs.

ON LEADERSHIP

I think the CFO job has changed. In the past, we were thought of as Mr. No, the guy in control. Now we’re part of the discussion team. The job has broadened and we’re more a team member.

On-the-job examples

My job involves a lot of decision making. For example, the Canadian Tire real estate group is part of my group. We make decisions about new store development, capital allocation, where we target the balance sheet and how to grow the business organically. We decide our dividend policy and approach to share repurchases.

Advice for CPAs

If you’re not coming in trying to learn more, you’re not doing your job. Leadership is about taking the opportunities you’re given and having a voice in a room. Don’t assume that you’re the junior person in the room so nobody wants to hear from you. You’re doing your team a disservice if you have that attitude. By all means have humility and respect, but be heard if you have something to say.

ON INNOVATION

The old-school CFO was the gatekeeper, but the new job description includes innovation. We’re having discussions about innovating every day, be it digital strategy, ecommerce strategy or capital allocation. You have to understand what everyone’s trying to do. The days of analyzing by hindsight are gone: now you have to anticipate — that is, innovate — to stay in the market.

On-the-job examples

We’re doing leading-edge stuff with digital flyers. We’re getting rid of paper flyers and replacing them with digital versions, which are more interactive and targeted. We’re also using social media methodologies to identify customers. I’m not directly involved in these initiatives, but I support them and allocate resources to them.

Advice for CPAs

Don’t be afraid to learn and try something new. Ask questions if you don’t know.
You have to challenge yourself and take risks, and be prepared that everything won’t always work out. I think I’m pretty open to embracing change. Frankly, it’s how I’ve survived. Change is part of my DNA, and I try to surround myself with like-minded people. If you’re stuck in a mindset, surround yourself with other innovators. That will rub off on you.

ON MENTORING AND DEVELOPMENT

As you move through an organization, you eventually get opportunities to teach. I take pleasure in giving someone a stretch and maybe letting them bump around a bit. I try to give honest feedback.

On-the-job examples

I don’t formally mentor people in the sense of saying, “I’m going to make you an upper manager.” But I enjoy getting into a room with my people and batting things around with them. It’s a great way for all of us to learn. Teaching and learning are intertwined. When I teach, I also learn. It’s important to listen to what my “students” have to say.

Advice for CPAs

Never give someone something to do without telling them why. It may take some time to explain, but it’s worth it. If people know why they’re doing something, they’re more likely to do it well. As you put together a team of people who work with and for you, you learn how to motivate them.


Look for our in-depth profile of Dean McCann in the August 2015 issue of CPA Magazine.

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About the Author

Mara Gulens

Editor, Member News
Mara is the editor of CPA Canada’s Member News enewsletter and the Professional Matters section of CPA Magazine.

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