How a CPA approaches work-life balance: Cheryl Hooper

CPA Cheryl Hooper discusses her career path and the importance of achieving work-life balance in the industry.

  • Title: Senior reviewer
  • Number of company employees: Canadian Public Accountability Board (CPAB), Toronto
  • University: BBA from Bishop’s in 1971, MBA in Arts Administration from York in 1975
  • Designation year: 1974

"Seize the day," says Cheryl Hooper, who walks the talk having hiked the Great Wall of China, camped in the Gobi Desert and now divides her lifestyle between homes in Toronto and Mushaboom, Nova Scotia. A master of balancing her time, the senior reviewer at the Canadian Public Accountability Board (CPAB) has been working up to her current lifestyle for a while.

She graduated from Bishop's University in 1971 and started her career with Montreal's Clarkson Gordon, earning her designation in 1974. She moved to The Shaw Festival for two years after getting an MBA in Arts Administration from York University in 1975. After a few years of teaching at Bishop's University and three years with Toronto's Clarkson Gordon, Hooper settled in at Olympia & York (O & Y) in 1983. Thirteen years later, her priorities took a turn.

"I decided I needed more time for me," she says on the phone from Mushaboom. So she left her COO position at O & Y for a management company, Organix Corporation where, as president, she arranged to work only 1,000 hours a year in a variety of businesses and locations. Telecommuting often allowed her to enjoy her ocean-front home from June until October. After seven years, however, the travel got tiring and she took nine months off.

In late 2004, a former classmate introduced her to the Canadian Public Accountability Board (CPAB). There, she negotiated an arrangement to suit her work-life goals: five weeks paid vacation and two months unpaid time off. She then sold the century home she had bought on the coast in 1988 and had her current one built nearby.

As senior reviewer at CPAB, she puts in nine-hour days starting at 8:00 a.m. after a 35-minute public-transit commute, and rarely works weekends. She leads and works with teams that review audit working papers of public companies and the systems of quality control within the firms that audit them. This takes her across the country and when working down east, she lingers for the weekend at her second home.

Her time off is spent there during lobster season, again in August and September, and at least once more "for a special event or some peace." She does put in a morning hour at her desk but after that, life in the Mushaboom time zone goes off track. Hooper hikes, gardens, bakes, reads, swims and partakes in frequent dinner parties. Friends drop in and Toronto visitors come calling. "My family and friends are my highest priority," she says. "When I made my life changes, it was to make more time for them."

The Montreal native has always found time to serve on arts boards, and put in a decade as trustee and treasurer for The Camargo Foundation, a scholarly residential and cultural centre in the south of France. Now, she works mostly with smaller one-off philanthropic efforts.

Hoping to be retired in five years, Hooper expects to still be involved in business, teaching or philanthropy.

She advises young professionals to make time for a social life. "While it's important to have intellectually stimulating work and provide value to your employer, don't postpone a meaningful personal life. And," she says, "don't ever burn your bridges. Often your past opens up new opportunities."

- Lorie Murdoch