Female leaders in accounting: Nicola Young

CPA Nicola Young shares the path she took to become a leader in her field.

  • Title: Professor
  • Place of employment: Frank H. Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University (SMU), Halifax
  • University: Dalhousie University, B. Comm. (1966); MBA (1982)
  • Designation year: 1971
  • Fellowship designation year: 1990

“I think good instructors should be enthusiastic about learning as that’s transferrable to others,” says Professor Nicola Young, who has taught accounting at the Frank H. Sobey School of Business for almost 20 years. “They should be curious and enjoy investigative situations, and be good at explaining complex things in understandable ways.”

When Young graduated from Dalhousie University in 1966, being an accountant wasn’t even on her radar as a career. “Rolled up sleeves, high stools and a chain to a desk came to mind,” she laughs.

Her interest was piqued, however, by some external auditors who came to Canadian Pacific in Montreal where she worked after university, so she enrolled in accounting courses at Sir George Williams University. In 1971, she wrote the UFE while at Touche Ross in Halifax.

“In March 1969, Touche Ross took me on because it was tax season and they were short staffed. I began my professional career April 1. It was the best decision I ever made.”

In fact, she did so well on the UFE, she was asked by Saint Mary’s University faculty member David Hope to help out with the UFE preparation program for the next year.

She credits Hope — who went on to serve as an executive partner and CEO at Grant Thornton LLP, CEO of Grant Thornton Canada, and chair of the CICA — with outstanding support along the way.

“He supported my desire for excellence and through example showed such generosity in sharing materials, knowledge and experience,” she says. “He was always willing to listen and help.”

Young says the accounting profession was a bit of a risky undertaking for women in the ’60s because it was a profession dominated by men. Despite their equal expertise, women frequently were not readily accepted by senior staff, spouses of colleagues on out-of-town business trips and some clients.

In 1975, she left Touche Ross to stay home with her two young children. A year later, Hope contacted her to see if she would teach part-time at Saint Mary’s.

During the next 17 years — along with part-time teaching until 1981, five years of full-time teaching at SMU and three years at Mount Saint Vincent University — Young became active with ICANS, opened a small practice, worked with the Atlantic Provinces Association of Chartered Accountants (now ASCA), got her MBA, took a short foray into industry, and added another child.

In 1993, she became an associate professor at Saint Mary’s, and a full professor in 2001.

Since 1995, she has co-authored the Canadian Kieso textbook, sat on the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) and its task forces and recently worked on the conceptual framework project with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board.

Young deems the interaction of three ongoing activities most important to the success of her career:

  • involvement with the intermediate accounting text that requires her to stay ahead of the game
  • the classroom where she gets to explain the evolving nature of financial accounting and reporting
  • association with the PSAB where they apply conceptual issues in a public sector context

Her biggest challenge? “Balancing work and family.”

“I think what I’m most proud of in my career is a positive reputation and relationships with my students. I have attended most ICANS Convocations to help celebrate their UFE success. I maintain contact with students I had 30 years ago, and like to think I’ve made a small difference in their careers. I also take great pride in the success of the text book I’ve co-authored since the mid ‘90s.”

For those thinking about using their expertise to teach, Young advises to try it part-time first. “If you love it, research PhD programs and get qualified. Speak to academics who have come through different streams. Find a program to fit your interests and circumstances. And, good work experience pays big dividends in the classroom.”

These days when not in the office or fulfilling duties on committees and boards, Young enjoys the theatre, reading, hitting the gym regularly, gardening and quiet evenings with her husband.

“My biggest recent adventure was a side trip, after business meetings in Jakarta, to Melbourne, Australia, where I ‘assisted’ in the birth of my first grandchild,” she says.

Now 65, she expects to be teaching through 2013. “If you love your job, you never work a day in your life!”

Update 2013:

Professor Young is still teaching at Saint Mary’s University in a capacity that suits her perfectly. Not quite ready to retire, but preferring less responsibility and more free time, she arranged a “reduced duties” contract in September 2012 that allows her to keep her office and stay engaged with students and faculty.

Her scholarly activity and service commitments are reduced to 40 per cent, and she is required to teach only 40 per cent of the usual number of courses — two per year. She can decide year-to-year if this four-year arrangement still suits her.

This spring, she and her husband took a two-week river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.

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