Feeding the Fire Within: Rikesh Shah, Director of Finance for the Canadian Olympic Committee Pt.1

Rikesh Shah, CA, is the Director of Finance for the Canadian Olympic Committee, the organization dedicated to fostering excellence in our exceptional Canadian Olympic athletes. As a not for profit finance professional, Rikesh speaks about how his journey to becoming Director of Finance was made possible by his focus on growing his skillset, and heeding some important advice from a friend. In the process he learned that sometimes letting go of preconceived ideas of your own limitations is the path to feeding the fire within.

1) Why did you choose accounting and finance as a career?
My family played a large part in choosing a professional career. Their influence helped to shape my drive to succeed. I truly believe that where you come from has a huge impact on where you decide to go. Initially though, I was interested in marketing, but I had a friend who outlined all the benefits of being a CA and told me that I could be quite successful in finance. I thought carefully about what she said and decided that the stability of being a CA with the accompanying financial security was quite appealing. After I got my CA, however, I was unsure of what direction to pursue and felt a bit lost. I had a conversation with one of my friends who told me, “You have to take responsibility for what you have chosen to do and understand the value of it.” I didn’t want to be an auditor and I didn’t realize the value of the skillset that accounting gave me. That conversation put me in a healthy head space and I was able to move forward with my career. My goal is to continue to grow and expand my skills so that I can keep taking on new challenges.

You have to take responsibility for what you have chosen to do and understand the value of it.

2) You have made some interesting career choices along the way. Why did you leave your job with the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation in Montreal and move to Toronto?
I had promised myself that as soon as I felt myself stagnating in a career, that I would see it as an opportunity to do something new. I never wanted to say ‘what if’. I was conducting a job search and a recruiter was helping me with that process. I asked if they were hiring (laugh) and the recruiter I was working with told me they were. I applied and got the job, so I moved to Toronto and worked as a recruiter for a year. I enjoyed the challenge of doing something different and stretching myself.

I moved to Toronto and worked as a recruiter for a year. I enjoyed the challenge of doing something different and stretching myself.

3) How did your sales and client service background help you in your career?
I used the skills I learned in recruiting to help me get the job at the Canadian Olympic Committee as a contractor. I was able to speak to my business development and sales background and how I planned on creating a financial system that supported the needs of our internal and external clients. Sales helped me describe to the Canadian Olympic Committee’s hiring agents that I understood the needs and challenges that a client-focused team faces and how I could help. The business development background makes you better able to identify opportunities. Today, I have opportunities to expand my experience into IT, marketing, HR and anything else that is a part of our business, something I find fascinating and have always enjoyed.

The business development background makes you better able to identify opportunities.

4) Why did you choose to work for the Canadian Olympic Committee?
I took a short term contract with them during a period of change while the organization reoriented itself for its next big push. I handled all of the tough stuff for them and took it seriously. I took care of all of their problems and made sure that I fixed what was wrong. There were programs that needed some analysis and recommendations and I worked through them. The role was not just finance-focused, so I had the chance to play a key role putting systems and processes in place that impacted many other parts of the business. I think that the people here saw me as someone that would work hard and they ended up offering me a permanent role.

I took care of all of their problems and made sure that I fixed what was wrong.

5) You have worked for 2 not for profits. Are they similar to one another?
They are night and day. The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation performs fundraising events to raise money so they can fund research grants to successful applicants. The majority of their fundraising does not derive from the corporate partnership world. The COC, on the other hand, forges partnerships and understands that it is a business, with all the attendant risks of revenue generation. Unlike the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, our core revenue stream does not come from donations. At COC, sponsorship contributes a significant portion of our overall operating budget. We have an exceptional CEO and he is pretty ambitious on growing the organization. He looks at different ways to create relationships and partnerships that help us keep our support base strong. It has been a long and worthwhile process to define our role in the sports system.

The COC, on the other hand, forges partnerships and understands that it is a business, with all the attendant risks of revenue generation.

Read Part 2 of Rikesh’s story on Friday and learn about the key choices he made and what it takes to be a part of an “Athlete Driven Organization” like the COC.