How a CPA approaches work-life balance: Rob Holley

CPA Rob Holley talks about the challenges of achieving work/life balance.

  • Organization: Edge Training & Consulting, Vancouver
  • Year joined firm: 2005
  • University grad year: 1979
  • Designation year: 1980
  • Number of children: 2

Rob Holley has some simple words on how to achieve work-life balance.

"Choose your balance, and be flexible about how you achieve it," advises Rob Holley, who joined Edge Consulting three years ago. "And don't live your life by anyone else's standards. There are many different measures of success — consider them all and then decide which are most important to you."

To meet his own definition of success, the dad of two daughters strives to be both accountable and proactive in balancing his commitments and priorities.

"When weighing the decisions and choices available to me, I try to apply the triple bottom line approach," he explains. "I consider the environmental and social consequences, as well as the financial impact. For example, is having a big house, a summer cottage or a cabin at a ski resort a priority? These decisions will help determine the choices I make in my career, my transportation impact and how much time and energy I have to devote to my family, and to social and environmental activities."

The University of Waterloo grad, who spent many years at Arthur Andersen & Co. and Andersen Consulting in Vancouver, says adjusting his financial needs has enabled him to find a work-life balance that maximizes the quality of his life overall.

"The old cliché still applies that there are two ways to be wealthy: a) earn more or b) need less," he says. "One beautiful evening this summer, while watching the sun set from a quiet beachside in the Gulf Islands, my wife Barb said, 'You know, we don't have to own this to enjoy it.' That sums up our philosophy perfectly."

An emphasis on family is part of the couple's shared philosophy. To be actively involved in their children's lives, Holley and his wife have both worked reduced schedules since daughters Kate, 16, and Erin, 14, were toddlers. For his part, he first negotiated a reduced schedule while working as a senior manager in the business consulting division of a national accounting firm. At that time, flexible work arrangements were uncommon, and work-life balance was not an issue readily discussed.

"Flexibility was the key to ensuring success with this arrangement," he says. "I worked a 60 per cent work schedule without my clients or the majority of my colleagues even knowing or being affected by it.

"Barb and I had a rotational schedule in our home (two days on, two days off, and one day shared). 'On' days included taking the children to and from school, and spending time with them in the afternoons — and dinner duty, of course. 'Off' days were at the discretion of the individual, and often included work and personal time. And of course, 'shared' days involved the sharing of family duties."

They've continued with this arrangement as the girls have grown, even as they both changed jobs. As a consultant, Holley continues to work a flexible schedule that's responsive to deadlines.

"Barb and I still try to ensure that one of us is home when the girls get home," he says.

Together, they're demonstrating big-picture thinking to their daughters.

"We frequently opt to do local recreational activities instead of travelling to costly or remote destinations for once-a-year holidays," he says. "This enables us to do more activities throughout the year and helps us reduce our family's carbon footprint. It's just one example of how balance in the financial aspect of your life can lead to balance in the others."

The environmental aspect of his life is very important. As a volunteer on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for the city of Vancouver, Holley has cycled to work for many years. Commuting in this way not only helps him reduce his impact on the environment, but also provides some much needed time for reflection.

"That transition between home and work is my alone time," he explains. "It's my opportunity to slow down and savour the journey rather than focusing solely on reaching the destination."

— Taj Haer, CA, Director of Advisory Services, and Michelle McRae, Editor

Holley’s 2014 update: “One of our daughters graduated and the other is partway through engineering at McGill. Barb and I have just returned from two months of bicycle camping in Europe, and continue to work on temporary or part-time contracts. We find that this lets us maintain our professional skills and stay engaged, keep the books in the black and still have time for personal and volunteer interests.”

The original version of this profile appeared in "Making It Work: How Three CAs Approach the Work/Life Challenge," featured in the November 2008 issue of Beyond Numbers, published by the Chartered Accountants of BC. It is reprinted here with permission.