Female leaders in accounting: Michelyn Sciannella

CPA Michelyn Sciannella shares her perspective on work-life balance and the career path she took to become a leader in the accounting field.

  • Organization: Business & Personal Accounting Services; Sole Proprietor, Brantford, Ontario
  • Year started: January 2008
  • University grad year: 1992; Wilfrid Laurier, Waterloo, Ontario
  • Designation year: 1995; Millard, Rouse & Rosebrugh LLP, Brantford, Ontario

On her 41st birthday, Michelyn Sciannella got up at 3:00 a.m. to head for the starting line of her first ever ½ marathon. The independent accountant, photographer and world gallivanter had taken a break from her home base in Brantford, Ontario and flown to Florida’s Disney World for the big event.

She credits the flexibility of the accounting profession with allowing her the work-life balance to fulfil other passions in her life, including motherhood.

“My girls are the reason I am self employed,” says the now single mother of two, ages 11 and 13, from her home office in Brantford where she also has a photography studio.

Her first employer, Aitken Motors Ltd. in Simcoe, Ontario, where she worked from 1995 to 2003, allowed a four-day work week after the arrival of her first daughter. There was also, initially, some flexibility at Port Dover’s Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. until the structure of the business changed and made that option impractical.

“I am so happy I made the leap to self employment,” she says. “I enjoy picking up my girls from school and being there when they need me. I can make my own hours. Some days I go to my clients’ locations. I really enjoy the diversity of the businesses, and they are all very understanding about my situation and don’t mind if I have to reschedule.”

In a week, she will put in about 30 hours — more during tax time — and gets in four or five hours of running. “I often work late or on weekends when the girls are with their dad so I can have more free time when they’re here,” she says.

“I’m always working on my routine. I’ve found that you really need to be organized and set goals and deadlines or the work piles up. Going out to clients helps me stay organized. I create schedules and do my best to meet deadlines I set.”

She is also trying to improve her time management, attempting to schedule shut-down hours for her phone and computer to improve quality time with her girls.

Exceptional backup goes a long way in achieving balance between family and work, too. “I have been fortunate to have the most amazing family and babysitter ever,” says Sciannella. “And, the babysitter comes on all of our family trips.” Those holidays include March Break getaways, long weekends and her marathons.

Solo vacations during the past five years have included a couple of Mediterranean cruises and sojourns to a few Caribbean islands, several U.S. destinations — New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles — and most major cities in Canada.

On her travels, Sciannella got into photography and splurged on a new Canon camera. A volunteer shoot at one of her mother’s business functions led to a paid family-photo assignment and several other jobs since then. Now, with several courses under her belt, she plans to turn her “artistic side” into an additional business venture.

Occasionally, she has been on the other side of the lens modelling for Jack Astor's restaurant promotions and fashion features in the Hamilton Spectator.

“I may not be taking the typical life route [of an accounting professional] but it has allowed me to pursue my dreams, seize the moment and ‘just do it’ while maintaining my accounting business,” she says.

Update 2013:

Sciannella, still self employed, ran her first full marathon on her 42nd birthday at Disney World in January 2012. Also in 2012, she photographed a friend’s wedding in Punta Cana but has decided to keep the enchantment of the camera to hobby status, and 2012 marked the end of her modelling career. She decided to enrol her children with the agency and put that posing time into her business.

Looking for “something more fulfilling” on her travels, Sciannella has signed up to go on a mission trip to Ecuador in November. As far as scheduled electronic “shut down hours” go, she is still working on that.