Female leaders in accounting: Gail Edwards

CPA Gail Edwards describes her career path.

  • Title: President, JH Investments Inc., Vancouver
  • Number of company employees: 100+
  • University: University of Western Ontario, BSc. Mathematics
  • Designation year: 1979, Ernst and Young

Gail Edwards has worked on five different continents with her financial structuring expertise, enabling products ranging from the introduction of megaplex movie theatres in Argentina and Chile, to cuisine services at Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

The cinema project came during her six years with GC Companies Inc. in Boston when she was President and COO from 1996 to 2002. “I enjoyed seeing the impact of bringing the hi-tech megaplex to those countries,” she says from her current office at JH Investments in Vancouver. “South Americans love the movies!”

The Australia trip was just one of many sojourns she took to that country as vice president of Finance at Delaware North Companies, a world leader in hospitality and food services management in Buffalo, New York. “One of the best times in Australia — I went there about four times a year — was when we catered the Melbourne Cup, their prestigious thoroughbred racing event,” she says. Europe and the Far East were also on her agenda. However, she cites the most exciting project of her career so far as being the lead on Delaware North’s development, construction and financing of the new arena for the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, which opened in 1995 and was officially named TD Garden in 2009. “It involved negotiating with the State of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the City of Boston, the sports teams, numerous banks and a host of other players,” she says.

Her biggest deal to date, though, came with JH Investments, where she has been President since 2009. In 2011, they led the approximately $1 billion acquisition of Taylor Morrison/Monarch Homes, one of North America’s largest home builders, with their partners TPG and Oaktree Capital.

JH Investments develops residential real estate in Vancouver and Toronto and in the U.S. from Seattle to Los Angeles; invests in and manages resort real estate from Hawaii to the Caribbean; and develops alternative energy projects both here and in the States. Edwards focuses on acquisitions and potential investments, and oversees and gets involved in structuring financing for all of the JH companies. “I enjoy getting to understand a new business and structuring the deal to maximize our returns.”

The Montreal native grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario and started out at Ernst & Young in Hamilton, where she got her designation in 1979. She then built experience at CIBC, Merchant Banking Group, as Senior Manager from 1981 to 1989, during which time she structured the $400-million Toronto Skydome transaction.

As a leader in this profession, Edwards thinks it’s vital to step back from financials and spreadsheets and take the time to understand your company. “When I ran the theatre business, I had every new employee spend their first week in one of our cinemas so they could see what drove the business. It makes a great deal of difference when the leader has a passion for the business,” she says.

Her success and accomplishments have not gone unrewarded. In 2012, she was a recipient of the Women’s Executive Network’s Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award. This year, she won the AWF Peak Award for Excellence in the Private Sector.

Away from work, Edwards spends time with her firefighter husband of 29 years and enjoys golfing, skiing and kayaking.

Retirement plans? “In 10 years, my goal is to be adding value on corporate boards in Canada and U.S.,” she says. For now, she will continue to empower the development of future landmarks.

Resume

  • 2009 — present: JH Investments, Vancouver, President
  • 2005 — 2009: Ciminelli Development Company Inc., Williamsville, NY, COO
  • 2003 — 2004: Independent Consultant, Sarasota, F
  • 1996 — 2002: GC Companies Inc., Boston, MA, President & COO
  • 1989 — 1996: Delaware North Companies Inc., Buffalo, NY, Vice President Finance
  • 1981 — 1989: CIBC, Merchant Banking Group, Toronto, Senior Manager
  • 1979 — 1981: Price Waterhouse; Toronto, Tax Supervisor

Giving back

  • 2007 — 2013: Member, Real Estate Advisory Committee (REAC) of the $160 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund
  • 2007 — 2013: Volunteer, Joe’s Team (cancer research fundraising)
  • 2007 — 2009: Board Member, Buffalo Niagara Partnership
  • 2008 — 2009: Board Member, Shea’s Performing Arts Center
  • 2003 — 2006: Volunteer & fundraising, CNIB Lake Joseph Centre

Highlights

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