How a CPA approaches work-life balance: CoraLee Baerg

CPA CoraLee Baerg discusses her career path and the challenges of work-life balance.

  • Title: Partner, Continuity, Saskatoon; co-owner Booster Juice, Saskatoon
  • Number of employees: Continuity: 3; Booster Juice: 12
  • University: University of Saskatchewan, Bachelor of Commerce with Great Distinction, 2007
  • Designation year: 2010, KPMG, Saskatoon

At 18 years of age, CoraLee Baerg took her Crew Chief management job at McDonald’s restaurant in stride. “It seemed so inconsequential at the time,” she says from her Continuity office in Saskatoon where she is partner in the succession and estate planning firm. “Now, I realize it was probably the first time I was in charge of a number of employees — many older than me — and had to figure out how to manage different people effectively.”

She credits an education that offered future options, “working hard when no one was looking,” and working well with people got her where she is today. “When your superiors trust you’ll get a job done, they naturally assign more significant work, which leads to progression,” she says.

After graduating from university in 2007, Baerg joined KPMG where she got her designation and did the CASB program. “Getting CASB assignments done on top of overtime was probably the most challenging stage of my career so far,” she says. “It was tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

In June 2010, the door opened at Continuity and she jumped at the chance to join a small firm where she could be her own boss and have flexible hours for a more manageable work-life balance. With world travel being her favourite hobby — hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011 and exploring Macchu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle in May — that symmetry is important.

“I’m lucky to have been able to risk leaving a consistent pay cheque and move to a job where my income is dependent on the activity my business partner and I produce,” she says. “The independence allows me to pursue other opportunities.” These include opportunities such as co-owning a Booster Juice franchise with her husband, also a CPA, and his two brothers. “I oversee that along with one brother-in-law,” says the budding entrepreneur, who grew up in the town of Winkler, Manitoba, and in Saskatoon.

Success to her is no longer defined as reaching a certain level of status in the profession, but rather the day-to-day enjoyment of her career, work-life balance, and investing in herself to become an even better leader. She is part of a Leader Impact Group that meets weekly for breakfast and recently tackled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell and Dr. Henry Cloud’s Integrity. “I believe integrity, patience and kindness are as important as having the technical knowledge to do my job well and get ahead,” she says.

Her days include client meetings, research, marketing and taking care of operations, such as payroll and banking. Most challenging is wearing all of those different hats, and staying on top of tax rules and legislation changes. She really likes helping clients put their fears to rest by coaching them about how their businesses will carry on successfully without them, and she is often inspired by their stories of struggles and triumphs.

In five years, she predicts she will be “desperately” trying to maintain a work-life balance while raising a young family and still volunteering. In Kenya two years ago, she and her husband helped dig a well at an orphanage so they could expand their garden, made grilled cheese sandwiches over a fire for the children and trekked to a nearby market with a staff member to buy chickens for a special treat. “I’m just not used to holding live chickens upside down by their feet!” she says with a laugh. But, yes, she would do it again.