Female leaders in accounting: Nancy Walker

CPA Nancy Walker shares the career path she took to become a leader in the accounting field.

  • Title: Vice-president, Finance and Administration, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Number of company employees: 650 employees within VP Finance & Administration portfolio (total university employees 1200)
  • University: 1982, University of Lethbridge, Bachelor of Management; 1999, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, MBA
  • Designation year: 1985, Young Parkyn McNab & Co., Lethbridge, Alberta

Nancy Walker credits her accounting designation, hard work and experience with propelling her to her current post.

“I believe my credentials certainly made me qualified for the role and I had demonstrated that I was willing to work hard. My previous experience as controller at Lethbridge Broadcasting also contributed,” she says from her office at Lethbridge University where she started out as financial systems analyst in January 1990.

Her first official leadership role came unexpectedly when she was appointed controller after only a few months at the university. The position was suddenly vacated and she was asked to step in. There were big shoes to fill and she was faced not only with the work but also the more elusive task of gaining the department’s confidence.

Despite initial qualms, she pulled it off with “hard work” and, undoubtedly, one of her outstanding leadership skills: steadiness. She has even garnered the title “Steady Eddie” from her professional musician husband. “That means I methodically work at tasks, stay calm in difficult situations — or at least appear to — don’t get rattled easily, and keep at it until it’s done,” she says.

She held the controller job in conjunction with director, Financial Services until June 1997 when she became associate VP Administrative Services. Two summers later she moved on to her current position and also graduated with an MBA, earned through online studying with Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

One of the most significant lessons Walker has learned along the way is to listen to her instincts and try not to be swayed by mass opinion when her gut tells her otherwise. It may be hard to stand up to a committee majority but having the spunk to take a stand can pay off in the end.

The biggest challenge of being in a top spot is dealing with all of the personalities that come along.

“Accounting functions are usually straight forward but there is no predictability in dealing with the countless personalities you run into throughout the day. No two situations or personalities are the same so there are not any easy answers to personnel problems that come up,” she says. “On the other hand, that part can be the most rewarding.”

To novice CPAs looking up, Walker advises to work and be prepared. “People will respect you and listen if they feel you are willing to do the work to achieve the goals.” And, admit it when you’ve made a mistake.

“Mistakes are inevitable. It’s not the mistake that will define you, but your response. And never blame anyone else,” she stresses.

Off the grid, the mother of one son away at university is a member of the Lethbridge Big Band and the Lethbridge Community Band, playing the clarinet and sax. She also volunteers in about a dozen capacities, including being a member of the executive committee that put on the 2012 Alberta Summer Games.

Walker’s future looks mapped out with the university.

“Five or 10 years down the road, I’m likely to remain in the university environment,” she says. “And hopefully still contribute to its success.”

Giving back

Professional associations

  • 2005 — 2008: Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO): President and Executive Committee
  • 2008 — present: CAUBO Faculty Bargaining Services: Executive Committee
  • 1994 — 2008: CAUBO Financial Reporting Committee
  • 2010 — present: Canadian University Reciprocal Insurance Exchange (CURIE): Executive Committee
  • 2003 — present: Universities Academic Pension Plan: Board of Trustees

Volunteering

  • 1999 — present: Rotarian
  • 1985 — present: Treasurer and Member of the Lethbridge Big Band
  • 1983 — 1990: Corporate Secretary, Lethbridge Symphony Association
  • 1983 — 1989: CGIT leader
  • 2010 — 2013: Executive Committee Member for 2012 Alberta Summer Games
  • 2010 — 2013: Lethbridge Community Band Member and Auditor

Resume

  • April 1982 — October 1987: CA student and staff CA, Young Parkyn McNab & Co. Chartered Accountants, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • November 1987 — December 1989: Controller, Lethbridge Broadcasting Company, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • January 1990 — September 1990: Financial Systems Analyst, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • January 1990 — September 1990: Financial Systems Analyst, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • July 1997 — June 1999: Associate Vice-President (Administrative Services), University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • July 1999 — present: Vice-President (Finance & Administrative Services, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta

Highlights

Gain practical organizational insights and learn from industry experts at this annual event for not-for-profit financial leaders.