Q2 2018 Spotlight
FAYAZ SULEMAN, CFO (Burgundy Asset Management)
Fayaz received his Honours Bachelor of Business Administration Degree from Wilfrid Laurier University, completing his co-op terms at KPMG LLP. While working in the audit practice at KPMG LLP, Fayaz was focused on manufacturing, retail and distribution clients. He was then hired as an Assistant Controller by Vitran Corporation Inc., a publicly traded transportation and logistics company. He spent 11 years at Vitran in progressing roles with the last 3 years as Vitran’s Chief Financial Officer. Vitran was purchased by another larger public transportation company and Fayaz moved into a Chief Financial Officer role with a small natural food company named Green Space Brands. He was there for a short period of time and assisted the company in going public on the TSX Venture exchange. This brought him to his current role as Chief Financial Officer of Burgundy Asset Management; a role he has had for almost 4 years.
Fayaz is also involved with various not-for-profit initiatives. He was the former Director of Corporate Donors for the World Partnership Walk. He currently sits on the Board of Governors of Junior Achievement, Southern Ontario Region and is involved with various fundraising activities in our community.
What sparked your interest in the accounting and finance industry, particularly asset management?
I would say there were 3 main factors that caused me to think about accounting and finance and particularly getting my CA designation:
I started taking accounting and business courses in high school and realized first, that wow I liked these courses and second, I did really well at them. Especially, when you compared these marks to my chemistry and physics marks! It became apparent really quickly that I wasn’t going to be a doctor! I also had some really great teachers that gave me the opportunity to attend a business camp where students from across the Peel district got together and competed in case competitions.
Junior Achievement – in grade 11 I was selected to join the JA Company program where students got together to form a real life company, create a business plan and ultimately sell a product or service to earn a profit. I was the VP Finance for my company and really enjoyed this practical experience.
My dad was an accountant and of course had a huge impact on my career choice. I always looked to my dad for advice growing up. When it came down to it – it was a choice between pursuing a computer science/engineering degree or business degree. I’m pretty sure he looked at my calculus marks and said you better go the business route! He did have the foresight to say that a business degree on its own in the future won’t be good enough and that set me on the path towards a CA designation.
The asset management industry quite frankly, found me. I was very lucky that I was introduced to Burgundy by 2 board members at Vitran and the rest as they say is history. The lesson learned is that the skills learned as a CA are really very transferable across industries. I’ve been CFO of 3 companies in 3 different industries.
Having both worked in public and private practice, what would you say are key differences and similarities between the two?
The best way to put it is that in the public company space you have 2 bosses – one is your shareholder and one is your customer. Sometimes what’s in the best interest of one of those stakeholders is not for the other. You also tend to find that in public companies decision can be made for the short term profit at the expense of long-term sustainability. This of course is not true for all companies and management teams. There are a lot of great public companies and management teams that allocate capital extremely well. In contrast, in a private company you are able to take risks without being in the public eye and sometimes take a longer term approach to decisions. You are also able to work with clients that are like minded and have a similar philosophy to you. The main advantage is you are not completing quarterly reporting and those time and resources can be directed to making the business better for your clients.
The obvious similarity between both types of companies is that as a management team you are trying to maximize profit, cash flow but minimize income tax!
What are your thoughts on the “digital transformation of accounting and finance” in regards to artificial intelligence, blockchain and the use of robots to automate processes? How can accounting and finance professionals stay on top of these changing industry trends?
It is going to come at us hard and fast!! There is no doubt. I think we are seeing a trend towards AI and automated processes already. When I was in audit we would randomly select samples manually and goal was to get coverage over whatever accounting balance you were trying to audit. Today we see the auditors input the data into the “black box” select numerous variables and the output is your sample size and specific samples that need to be reviewed. You see the accounting firms at the forefront of developing AI tools and use cases for blockchain. The current focus seems to be on business processes and workflows but I think it is a matter of time before people start looking at accounting and finance processes. There are already tools out there for automating the recording of accounts payable and processing payments. I think we will all need to stay at the forefront of these new technologies and understand how we can use these to disrupt the status quo. Attending conferences and seminars and engaging with companies such as Google who are willing to work with you and assist you setting up AI tools is extremely important. Not all of us might be ready but you would at the very least understand what you need to start thinking about.