Darlene Dasent

CFOs today must look well beyond the numbers as financial leaders to remain relevant, up-to-speed and on course with business objectives, believes The One National Conference speaker, Darlene Dasent. (Courtesy of Darlene Dasent)

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Hey CFOs! “Listen, learn and see beyond the numbers,” advises University Health Network’s Darlene Dasent

New skills, innovative thought and adaptability are key for today’s financial leaders, says The ONE National Conference speaker

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CFOs today must look well beyond the numbers as financial leaders to remain relevant, up-to-speed and on course with business objectives, believes The One National Conference speaker, Darlene Dasent

As VP and CFO of the world-renowned University Health Network (UHN), Dasent points to technological innovation, the access to—and handling of—complex data, as key factors pushing the focus away from just figures.  

“One of those things that I’ve come to appreciate over the years is the real value and importance of actually listening, learning and seeing well beyond the numbers,” Dasent shared in an interview with CPA Canada. 

For up-and-comers to the C-suite, Dasent speaks to CFOs—as valued business partners and key enablers—being able to nurture creativity, support innovation and embrace technology, while managing risk for non-traditional business models, as ways to keep perspective and navigate an ever-changing professional environment.

“I started my career in finance over 20 years ago. Since that time, the world around us has changed significantly requiring many professions to change along the way,” she says. “It’s about understanding the pulse of the business and how the external environment is changing around you, and you need to stay one step ahead of that.”

“At UHN, non-traditional backgrounds such as science, engineering and the arts have already strengthened our finance ranks.”

These changes have prompted a need for a different skill set, with a new mix of professionals entering the finance industry. Newcomers, Dasent adds, offer insights from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) perspective, enabling the interpretation and understanding of data now on hand.

“At UHN, non-traditional backgrounds such as science, engineering and the arts have already strengthened our finance ranks,” she says. “Armed with their undergraduate degrees, plus their CPAs or MBAs, these individuals bring a wealth of knowledge to the finance field and often a new way of looking at data and finance.”   

One focus that remains unchanged is the CFO’s responsibility to see the organization—and the impact of its decisions—from a wide vantage point. Effectively communicating this across the organization (and the soft skills required to do so) are more important than ever given the constant shifts organizations are moving through.

“Finance has always occupied an enviable vantage point as we view the entire organization,” Dasent says. “Strong communication combined with insight, execution, and the ability to be heard and understood by operational leaders is paramount to becoming an influential member of a leadership team.”

 “As we live longer and age differently, we will view both health and health care differently.”

From the health-care sector perspective, Dasent identifies ways a CFO’s role differs from the private, profit-driven sector. Though core business functions and challenges may be aligned, the approach is separate, particularly from a funding perspective. With accountability to patients and funders (i.e. government/taxpayers), shifting to a more profitable line of business isn’t always possible. The service delivered is first and foremost.

“Health care faces many of the same fiscal and business challenges that other organizations have. However, we cannot divest a line of business if the revenue streams and costs are not aligned,” explains Dasent. “Instead, we have to find creative and sustainable solutions to ensure that the needs of our patients come first.”   

Moving forward, Dasent sees her role in health care as an ongoing opportunity to learn and grow in an industry that will continue to adapt and change based on the needs of the population and environment. 

“As we live longer and age differently, we will view both health and health care differently and require that they change to meet our needs,” she says. “I am motivated to do my part to support health care in Canada as it has both a local and global impact.”   

Be in the know with CPA Canada

Darlene Dasent is leading the session, The Evolving Financial Professional—alongside Michael Lemmer, president of ML6—at The ONE National Conference on Oct. 2. To stay up-to-date on hot topics impacting the industry today, browse through CPA Canada’s upcoming events and conferences.