At Clarity, when we come across great career stories, especially those that seem like large leaps and even slightly illogical on the surface, we can’t help but write about it. Enter Craig Hudson, an authentic West Coaster with a curious career journey that has taken him from a Big 4 accountant to start-up CFO.The Early CPA Years at KPMGAfter graduating from UBC, Craig began his career at KPMG where he earned his CA and CFA shortly thereafter. Midway through his 7 years in Audit, he jumped at the chance to work in the UK to gain much desired international experience. He then moved back “over the pond” to Toronto and into Transaction Advisory performing M&A financial due diligence for KPMG’s Private Equity clients. In this role, he got to dig into target acquisition files to discover any accounting nuggets that could impact valuations and make or break deals.
At his 10-year mark with KPMG, Craig looked around and reflected that “everyone looks pretty much like me in terms of their experience set and how they think about things. I’m feeling great about what I’ve done to date, but not particularly special.” His mentor at the time countered back that “you’re analyzing incredibly large amounts of data, deriving relevant and valuable insights, then presenting it back to your client in a digestible story. Not everyone can do that.” It was this “nugget” of advice which led him over to Indigo to begin a new chapter of his career story in Business Intelligence and Operations.Running To or Running From?Craig jokes that he was “running away from Accounting at the time” when he joined Indigo as a Manager in Business Intelligence in 2009 in Operations, not Finance. His aim was to expand his skill set and breadth of knowledge, and his bet paid off. His role focused on using data to weigh in on every decision that needed to be made around Indigo’s eCommerce business at the time, such as “should we run this marketing campaign?” or “should we invest in this feature on the website?” This was in the pre-eCommerce boom so he was really left to his own devices to deliver valuable insights and decisions in any way that he could. He came to understand how all parts of the business were connected and was soon promoted to Director, then to Head of BI, and ultimately to VP Digital Operations, where he stayed for 5 years owning and/or influencing Analytics, Supply Chain, IT, Product and Customer Service.
Craig was thought of as the “CFO of the Digital Business” but without all the accounting. He was running all the numbers to ensure the P&L was running smoothly and investments were being made in the right places. Where did Craig go next armed with such powerful analytical and operational experience from his 8-year tenure at Indigo? Back into Finance of course, as CFO at Lift & Co.Fundraising and Going Public at Lift & CoWith a track record of being a top performer and a learner who can adapt, organize information, and apply it to business, Craig jumped at the chance to become CFO in 2017 at Lift & Co, a growing technology start-up in the cannabis space. Lift doesn’t actually touch the plant, but can be thought of as the “Trip Advisor’ connecting the online cannabis community through reviews, industry news, and a place to discover strains that may make you giddy, sad or paranoid (to name a few). Craig quickly learned to navigate in a new industry and in a start-up culture. He was responsible for Accounting, Finance, Investor Relations, Legal, HR, Customer Service and Facilities. In the early days, he would also call Rogers to troubleshoot the internet and restock the fridge.
The company needed funds to grow. As CFO, Craig became the financially-minded, responsible presence alongside the CEO as they fundraised through venture capital and high net worth individuals. When asked what fundraising is like, Craig explained the challenges: “Investors really want to get the story and know management first and foremost, financials are secondary, but you need to know your numbers. You need a charismatic person to tell the story in a way that is responsible and not overpromise what can be achieved.” Another key learning was that “you really need to sign up a lead investor, someone that the other investors trust to do the due diligence and legwork necessary to invest.” The result? They found their lead investor and successfully raised $10M to fund growth.
Many cannabis companies are going public and having a public “paper” is perceived to make acquisitions that much easier. Lift & Co was no exception, and Craig led the charge on making it happen through a reverse IPO (RTO) in 2018. He recalls it as, “a whole lot of work that is time sensitive and requires organization, but it’s manageable, assuming you have good advisors in place and the information is presented in the way the regulators need to see it.” Going public has opened many doors for Lift & Co, however, operating a public company adds significant complexity as you’ve constantly got the public eyes on you and need to answer to questions like “why are you changing your plans?” and fulfill reporting and regulatory requirements. This can be distracting in a start-up culture that thrives on being nimble and agile.
The $10M fundraise and going public enabled the company to hyper-scale from 15 to 60 people and increase revenues at a greater clip. But that’s not all, it turns out these activities weren’t the hardest (or most rewarding) part of what Craig has taken away from his experience at Lift & Co. It is common for Administrative functions report into the CFO, HR was one of those functions for Craig. As startups scale in size and scope, it becomes more of an art rather than a science to preserve the company culture and keep employees engaged. This challenge was particularly rewarding for Craig. He addressed it by applying his “quantitative mind” in creative ways to increase employee engagement, which was well reflected in quarter-over-quarter employee NPS scores.A “CA” Who Took RisksCraig’s career story spans geographies, industries, designations, big companies and startups, and from Accounting to Operations and back. We see this as a compelling example of a “CA” who has taken calculated risks and has been well rewarded in his career progression, life experiences and a vast array of skills.
Watch his episode of Behind the Numbers for more about his career journey.
Are you a CPA who followed a similar or different career trajectory as Craig? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below.
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