How a CPA approaches work-life balance: Bill Bakk

CPA Bill Bakk shares his perspective on achieving work-life balance.

  • Title: Deloitte & Touche (retired; former partner)
  • Location: Vancouver
  • Year joined firm: 1968
  • University grad year: 1968
  • Designation year:1972

Fitness and focus was the formula that helped Vancouver-based Bill Bakk achieve his work-life goals during his 40-year career with Deloitte & Touche. The now-retired partner believes exercise is fundamental to office and home-front success. He skis, golfs, windsurfs, jogs, lifts weights, shoots hoops and plays tennis.

As a dad who spent 10 years commuting regularly between the firm's Vancouver and Toronto offices as managing partner for Deloitte Canada's Financial Advisory Services, it was often challenging to live up to his own expectations as family man and ambitious professional.

During that same time, from 1992 to 2001, he regularly visited about a dozen other major office locations and, starting with the Asian financial crisis in 1997, travelled to Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore as the firm's global leader for Financial Institution Reorganization Services.

So how can work and family weigh in evenly when the two are often in different places? "Monday morning meetings in Toronto meant taking the red-eye from Vancouver," he says.

"The balance comes from effort, commitment and understanding of family. Included in all of this was a consistent focus on keeping fit, no matter where I was in the world."

Focus was paramount. "First," says the University of British Columbia grad, "you have to be totally focused on what you want to get done. Saturday basketball for me, or the kids' sports, meant getting up at 4:00 a.m. to do work. The biggest repercussion of scheduling like that is the wear-and-tear, plus making sure the mind is with the activity — watching the kids in their sports and not thinking about work."

On top of 50- to 60-hour work weeks, Bakk volunteered with the YMCA and other charities.

It was toughest in the early years when he was ascending. He admits he was often preoccupied by "professional issues" when his first two children were young. By the time his third came along in 2001, he could pay more attention.

"Later in my career, when the professional ladder was less of an issue, there was more physical and mental time. I always wanted to be there for dinner and the kids' bedtime though, and sometimes that meant working at strange early morning hours or staying up late." They always vacationed together to ski or enjoy water sports.

Now Bakk stays engaged with business and the profession, and continues to learn. He gets up early, and checks the markets and his business networks. He took Harvard University's Making Corporate Boards More Effective with an eye to joining some boards, and there are various possible projects and financial advisory roles in the offing.

On work-life balance, he advises, "If you're a leader in an organization that espouses work/life balance — and you're like me — you must spend time with your staff and tell them how you approach the issue so, first, they can make up their own minds on the right style for them and, second, you hopefully are seen as walking the talk even if it's not always apparent."

And for those who recently passed the Common Final Examination: "Set your priorities and live up to them. If you value your job and your personal life equally, be prepared to work twice as hard to get what you want."

— Lorie Murdoch