Digging to the Top Finance Job: Ernest Cleave, CFO (Pt. 2)

finance team

What was it like to immigrate and enter the Canadian job market?
Before immigrating I had visited Canada and noticed that it is a real “live and let live” society  that feels safe and good for a family.   At the same time, anyone who has immigrated will identify the following conflicting mindset:  ”Do I leave behind my extended family, my hard work and my reputation to start over in a new place all for the promise of something that might be better?”   During the entire process my wife and I went from being successful professionals to an unknown quantity and that is scary.   The reality is that you enter the country and immediately are perceived as a rung below a similarly qualified local candidate with local credentials.   The Canadian market places significant stock in accreditation and designations and generally you need to have a local CA, CMA, CGA or another credential to be considered, especially at organizations with substantial and influential human resources departments.

During the entire process my wife and I went from being successful professionals to an unknown quantity and that is scary.

Before leaving South Africa, I had been working for a regional subsidiary of a Canadian holding company and  I realized that it would be difficult to find a role in Canada despite this connection. Knowing that my search for an accounting career may take some time I did what many people do upon arrival in Canada, I took the first job that I could find to help support us.   It was a difficult role as I was asked to manage the winding down and closure of a large manufacturing organization.  The job involved letting people know that they would no longer have a place to work and I will say that was an incredibly difficult role.   I identified with the people and their families as I was in a similar situation, not knowing what the future held.

Knowing that my search for an accounting career may take some time I did what many people do upon arrival in Canada, I took the first job that I could find to help support us.

All the while I kept looking for my chance to get into an accounting job and managed to find myself in the right place at the right time and with a strong personal referral.   The position was as a Manager of Financial Reporting for a Canadian Mining company and I remember going through a week-long battery of intellectual, aptitude and personality tests as they tried to discern whether I was the right fit for the position.

The job was offered to me and I gladly accepted it without thinking about the fact it was junior compared to other roles I had worked in – I was content with just getting started.  I really did see this as the start of my career in Canada as I now had “Canadian experience” as a Manager of Financial Planning and Analysis.  That organization was good to me and they gave me a chance to run a global compliance project and I was happy to take on the challenge.

That organization was good to me and they gave me a chance to run a global compliance project and I was happy to take on the challenge.

What was the most unexpected thing for you in your career so far?

 

Great question, I would have to say that it was the moment when I came to realize that there is very little job security in this world now.  The idea that I could join an organization and be a part of it for decades was shattered when my new role as a Manager of Financial Reporting was eliminated after a merger and the office moved to another province.   I was looking down the road at another potential bout of job hunting when I had the good fortune of being contacted by a headhunter after my colleague had referred my name.   After a face to face meeting, the headhunter worked with me for over a week and was able to place me in a contract position at a large mining company.

You invested the time in becoming a designated CMA in Canada – why?  It aligned well with my previous education and provided excellent exposure in business strategy combined with financial management and additionally augmented much of what I had already touched on in my MBA.  I also realized that it was necessary to get my designation in Canada.

I really do believe that getting my CMA in Canada exposed me more fully to the Canadian accounting community and opportunities therein.  As much as some people believe that it shouldn’t be necessary, the market expects it more and more and I recommend where practically possible getting a local designation.

I really do believe that getting my CMA in Canada exposed me more fully to the Canadian accounting community and opportunities therein.

Any final words or moments of clarity that you’d like to share?

 

The key thing that I’ve learned is to keep putting yourself out there and make sure that you are getting exposed to opportunities.  Be humble along the way so that you are able to take steps back before moving forward but at the same time stand your ground on the important things.