Female leaders in accounting: Elise Rees

CPA Elise Rees shares the career path she took to become a leader in the accounting field.

  • Title: Transaction Tax Partner, BC Market Leader Transaction Advisory Services, Ernst & Young, Vancouver
  • Number of company employees: 450
  • University: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; ICABC
  • Designation year: 1985, Ernst & Young
  • Fellowship awarded: 2008

July 2013 was all about trains and bikes and planes for Elise Rees and her husband as they vacationed in England and France. “We went to a wedding in Cambridge, then to the final of the 100th Tour de France in Paris before doing some cycling in the Languedoc,” says Ernst & Young’s transaction tax partner, via e-mail from a fast-service train bound for Perpignan.

When Rees came to Canada from London, England in 1981 at 22 years old, she didn’t plan to stay. After graduating from the University of Strathclyde in her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, she had gone to London and was one year into the CA program at Deloitte Haskins & Sells when her future husband persuaded her to join him on his two-year stint with the firm in Vancouver. Rees joined Ernst & Young (EY) and the couple planned to return to Britain after she got her designation.

Thirty-three years later, they’re still in the west coast city. “We fell in love with Vancouver and B.C.,” she says. Lucky for us. Since getting her designation in 1985, Rees has helped change the landscape for women during her career at EY.

“As a young senior manager, I worked on the first Canadian environmental analysis initiated to explore the loss of talented women between the levels of manager and young senior managers,” says the mother of two sons in their 20s. “It was the catalyst for things like paid maternity benefits, training on diversity for all staff, looking at assessment systems, finding ways to create parity and flexible work arrangements.”

She has also taken mentoring a step farther and pushed for sponsorship by the firm to help potential leaders achieve a goal, and she was a founding member and chair of GoNetworking Society for B.C. Women from 2006 to 2013. She received the Rosemarie Meschi Award for supporting the professional development and advancement of women at EY in 2006, and the Influential Women in Business Award in 2007.

Starting out, she advanced her credentials as a tax practitioner through teaching, preparing and presenting information on technical topics and writing articles for the Canadian tax journal. She also built a personal brand and network of contacts and got involved in community initiatives such as the B.C. Space Sciences Society and grabbed opportunities to volunteer within the firm.

Since becoming transaction tax partner, Leader B.C. Market, in 2006, Rees is in charge of corporate acquisitions, divestitures and reorganizations. “In this business [Tax Accounting Services], you never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “Our practice is diverse. We range from business valuations through to corporations needing financing and restructuring.”

She believes it is that diverse experience she gained through her partnership and volunteering that earned her the 2013 Peak Award for Community Legacy.

“I firmly believe our role as good leaders is to find ways to leverage our personal spheres of influence to help others achieve certain goals. When we work with a diverse group of friends and colleagues, we get to see the world from different perspectives and that leads to decisions being made that might be considered outside the box.”

In five years, she will be retired from EY, likely pursuing other business opportunities, working with boards, perfecting her road biking skills, skiing, reading, travelling and watching rugby, the sport that brought her and her husband together.

For novices, she echoes a partner’s insight that enlightened her years ago: “The way to differentiate yourself is to work the extra mile. Look at your career as a journey and run it like the marathon it is.”

Resume

  • 1980 — 1981: Staff Accountant, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, London, England
  • 1981 — 1998: Staff Accountant through to Senior Manager in Assurance, and then Tax Practice, Ernst & Young, Vancouver
  • 1998 — present: Transaction Tax Partner, Leader British Columbia Market, Ernst & Young, Vancouver

Giving back

  • 1982 — 2000: West Vancouver United Church, Sunday School teacher; Investment Committee member for Church Endowment Fund
  • 1986 — 1994: BC Space Sciences Society, Treasurer, then Board Chair
  • 1995 — 2005: Family Services of the North Shore, Treasurer, Secretary and President
  • 2002 — 2013: Minerva Foundation’s Life in Balance Workshop, Board member, Chair of Patrons Circle
  • 2003 — June 2013: B.C. Women’s Hospital Foundation, Treasurer, Board member
  • 2005 — 2007: Minerva Foundation, Board member
  • 2005 — 2012: Vancouver Board of Trade, Government Budget and Finance Committee Chair
  • 2006 — 2013: GoNetworking Society for BC Women, Founding member and Chair
  • 2012 — 2013: Vancouver Board of Trade, Board Director
  • 2012 — 2013: Board of EasyPark, Parking Corporation of Vancouver, Chair Finance Committee and Treasurer
  • 2013: Easy Park, Chair Finance Committee

Award Nominations

  • 2007: YWCA Woman of Distinction Award

Awards

  • 2006: Rosemarie Meschi Award (for supporting the professional development and advancement of women at EY)
  • 2007: Influential Women in Business Award from Business in Vancouver
  • 2009: FCA
  • 2013: Peak Award for Community Legacy