C-suite savvy: Cineplex Canada’s Gord Nelson is CFO of the Year

Gord Nelson, CPA, CA and chief financial officer of Cineplex Inc., has been named Canada’s CFO of the Year for 2016. Nelson chats about his multifaceted job and the need to anticipate, rather than react to, the changes in how people want to see movies.

“I received the call while on vacation, and I assumed there was a problem back at the office that needed my attention,” says Nelson.

Instead, he learned he had been named Canada’s CFO of the Year. FEI Canada, which sponsors the award, praised Nelson for his commitment to innovation and willingness to disrupt the status quo. His outstanding leadership didn’t hurt, either.

Now in his 28th year at Cineplex and his 13th year as CFO, Nelson intends to keep on keeping on. His hectic schedule gives him little time for R&R, but he was kind enough to chat with CPA Canada about his job and the skills required for the climb. Hint: a flair for figures is only the beginning.


When you were starting out, did you ever think you would become a CFO, let alone Canada’s CFO of the Year?

A photograph of the 2016 CFO of the Year, Gord Nelson Chief Financial Officer of Cineplex Inc. My natural goal from the start was to be CFO. I had a good aptitude for numbers and my parents had me record my purchases in a ledger book, so you might say I was groomed for finance. Being named Canada’s CFO of the Year took me by surprise and was a great honour. I only wish my mother were still alive so I could share the news with her.

My job requires a fairly broad skill set. I provide executive oversight to numerous departments including the risk-management and business-development groups. A big part of my role is assessing new opportunities quickly, before the company decides to dedicate resources to them. I sometimes say no to an opportunity, but it’s part of my philosophy of disciplined risk taking. Fortunately, I have a strong team under me.

How important are data analytics in your decision making?

Capturing data is incredibly important to us. It helps us understand how to schedule, predict the popularity of films that haven’t been released yet, and understand the impact of weather on movie-going patterns, to name just a few variables. Thanks to our loyalty programs, we know the buying habits of our six million members and we can customize our offerings.

People always ask me how I can stay in one organization for such a long time, and I answer that Cineplex has been many organizations. When I started, it was diversified into a number of non-theatre businesses. I spent the first 10 years selling off non-core assets. We restructured early in the new millennium and have been on an upward trajectory since then.

When we restructured, we made a conscious decision to start a culture of innovation and put together a new management team with innovation in its DNA. The key to successful innovation is to manage risk with the right level of analysis. For example, we bought an eSports company because all the indicators suggested a tremendous potential for success, even though the company was losing money.

How do you create value for shareholders?

A photograph of the 2016 CFO of the Year, Gord Nelson Chief Financial Officer of Cineplex Inc. We have a five-to-10-year strategy and a disciplined approach that we communicate to our investors. They understand and support our strategy, which extends our strengths and our brand into related markets that make sense. A good example is our digital signage initiative. We made three acquisitions in that space, so now we can provide menu boards and other digital signage for such brands as McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Rogers Stores.

How would you advise CPAs on making decisions?

I’ve worked in cultures where people are nervous about making decisions. You can analyze stuff to death until a competitor gets the jump. You need a strong financial sense, but gut is just as important. As long as you’re not betting the farm, taking risks in a measured way is how you keep an organization healthy.

How does a CPA show leadership in a manner appropriate to his or her position?

It’s important to get on a project team and become a contributor. Other members will speak for you, and your reputation will get a boost.

Canada’s CFO of the Year Award is presented annually by Financial Executives International Canada (FEI Canada), PwC Canada and Robert Half. CPA Canada is a sponsor. A profile of Gord Nelson will run in the August 2016 issue of CPA Magazine. Nelson will also deliver a keynote speech at The ONE conference in Vancouver in September 2016.

Editor’s note
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