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From Pivot Magazine

Why innovation is the key to sustainable growth 

CPA Canada president Charles-Antoine St-Jean on an important CPA milestone and how the profession can guide the future of business   

Coworkers discussing a project in an officeCPAs have the power and responsibility to guide businesses beyond the bottom line and to create social benefit and sustainable growth (Getty Images/Thomas Barwick)

Professional accountants across Canada are coming to a historic moment: The CPA designation will soon turn 10 years old. Bravo to our profession and bravo to each and every one of you who display Canada’s foremost professional designation with pride!

It’s important to remember, however, that while the CPA is just 10 years old, it is built upon the hundreds of years of collective history in our legacy designations. That rarefied history is vital and a key part of what informs our decisions and animates our discussions as we look forward. 

We are as comfortable in the C-suite as we are in small- or medium-sized companies, and our intensive training and education ensures that we are the best people to both assess risk and ensure accuracy while also being leaders in anticipating change.

It’s that last part that could be the most important aspect of our profession. Armed with unparalleled standards, history, experience and training, we are among the few serving the global economic engine able to see minute details as easily as the whole picture. In preparing for the future, and ensuring all our members fit this lofty goal, we’ve recently revamped and future-proofed our competency map for 2022. It’s one thing to say we’re prepared, it’s an entirely different thing to be prepared.

In our advisory role, we have the power and responsibility to guide businesses to go beyond the bottom line and to create social benefit and sustainable growth. We can have the most distinguished designation in the world, but it won’t matter if the powers we serve or lead—world governments, good business, economic engines and society itself—collapse. 

That is where innovation comes into play. We cannot stay the course with all the issues currently facing our world. In our position—from the executive in the C-Suite to the sole proprietor—we need to anticipate and accept change, and then champion innovation. Two Canadian companies come to mind as paragons of this virtue. 

SHOPIFY

In 2020, Shopify beat RBC to become Canada’s most valuable company. While RBC retook the crown in May 2021, Shopify was still well-positioned leading into the pandemic and was ready to help countless people and businesses when the world called on them.

Now, comparing the two based solely on shareholder value ignores some of the other important things that we hold dear as it relates to our Canadian Ideal of Good Business—CPA Canada’s purpose statement championing social and economic development that adds value, delivers profit and succeeds long term. However, Shopify’s story is something special. Based in Ottawa, the company started as an online snowboarding store. It wasn’t the “shredding” gear that took off, however—it was the e-commerce infrastructure they built to power the endeavour. Seeing a gap in what was offered, they built their own system, which is now used by millions of businesses around the world. Innovation is not only a key to creating a better world, it can also drive wealth creation and create opportunities to employ more Canadians. To see what Shopify has done in just over 15 years has me excited to see how they, and other unicorns in Canada, adapt and grow in the future.

ABCELLERA

Beyond creating wealth and making our lives easier, innovation is also the engine that brings about social benefit and—as our next Canadian success story exemplifies—advances medicine. AbCellera is a biotechnology firm working to identify antibodies to help treat human disease. Based in Vancouver, it is Canada’s most valuable biotech company, thanks to a record-breaking IPO. Advancing medicine is especially alluring and represents perhaps the most important sector for innovation to thrive because it boils down to the one concern that we all share: our health.

As a global company headquartered in Canada, AbCellera provides jobs and opportunities in both science and business to Canadians. I was recently talking to AbCellera CFO Andrew Booth and it’s clear that they are keenly focused on giving back to Canada and providing the chance for young Canadians to excel. They are an exemplar of the Canadian Ideal of Good Business and a pioneer of innovation; it’s heartening to see a Canadian company, with an international footprint, gain so much success while staying true to our values.

Beyond the immediacy of these two examples, I’m reminded of an anecdote in a story I recently read. In the 1970s, Xerox created a rudimentary messaging platform to allow its repair technicians to connect more easily to one another and share their knowledge. Simple move, yes, but it also presaged many aspects of our current society—including and most importantly social media; 50 years later and many times removed a small shift changed the world. This brings me back to our 10-year anniversary: Before 2012, our profession was splintered and we were weaker because of it. In just 10 years, we’ve grown into a global sustainability, standards, financial literacy and tax policy powerhouse, as well as one of the largest and influential professional designations in the world. Now, I have faith that through unification, we will face any challenges on stronger footing—and perhaps make some waves like AbCellera and Shopify.

As we close out 2021, one of the most tumultuous years so far this century, take a moment to remember what your designation means to you, and what you can do to lead Canada into the future. As we saw with those Xerox technicians, sometimes brilliant solutions come from mundane problems and everyday conversations—and sometimes those solutions can be revolutionary. 

GO FURTHER

To learn more about the Canadian Ideal of Good Business, read the full purpose paper. Plus, take a look at CPA Canada’s new brand campaign that encourages clients to “Lean on us, lead with us,” as they recover from the pandemic.

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