By Majd Steitieh
It’s the morning of the 29th of August and I hastily get ready for my interview with Vince Spadafora, a senior manager at Deloitte. It’s already 8 am and the possibility that I may be late for my 10:30 am meeting at Place Ville Marie starts to become more and more likely. Why you ask? (or not) I haven’t decided on what to wear yet! I narrow my options down to two outfits: A black formal suit or a smart t-shirt with jeans. After a while I decide to go with both! I take the blazer from the suit and wear it with the shirt and jeans; casual yet professional. Perfect! And with that I’m out the door.
It’s just past 9:30 am (yes it took over an hour to decide on what to wear) and I exhale a sigh of relief that I still have an hour to spare. As a newbie in Montreal I had no idea where Place Ville Marie was. As I walked down Peel Street I figure it may be a good idea to consolidate my maps application on my phone. With another sigh of relief I turn left and walk east on boul. René Lévesque.
With a blink of an eye I was there! And with another blink of an eye I realized I should’ve worn the formal suit. (I make a mental note for next time). Behind a small group of well-dressed businessmen, I spot a woman sitting behind an information desk and head straight towards her. Our meeting was agreed to take place at the food court and after taking the escalator down to the lower floor, turning left and continuing straight as the woman advised, I was there.
I look at my watch. It’s 10 am; I still have time. I start getting myself ready for the interview. Questions? Check. Pen? Check. Recorder? Check. Phone on silent? Check. Perfect! I spend the rest of the time wondering what Mr. Spadafora will be like. Is he going to be easy to talk to? Is he the serious type, or is he the easy going type? Suddenly I remember this meeting was supposed to take place yesterday and Mr. Spadafora had to postpone it due to unforeseen circumstances. It dawns on me that a senior manager’s time, especially at a firm like Deloitte, is very valuable and that he won’t be able to stay forever. With only a few minutes to go I revise my questions and remove any that weren’t that crucial.
I wait patiently till it’s 10:30 am feeling happy that Mr. Spadafora made time in his crazy busy schedule for this interview. And when I later found out he was also involved in the accounting recruitment process and must be way busier than I ever imagined possible, I get even more excited! At 10:25 am Mr. Spadafora appears looking very sharp in his business suit (Always wear the suit!) We chat a bit about anything but accounting and I quickly realize he’s the easy going, incredibly easy to talk to type (Phew!) After checking the recorder was ready, we start the interview:
What is your morning routine like as a Senior Manager at Deloitte?
“It’s interesting because what I went through this morning is actually a perfect example of what my morning routine is like. I start by making a to do list in my head of what I think I need to get done for the day; things I need to follow up on with my teams. Especially when you’re senior manager, you walk in the door, you check your emails, check your voice mails and something new always seems to pop up! It’s good and bad in a way but the good part is that you never have a routine per say because every day there’s something new that needs to be done; something your clients need, you may have new responsibilities. So every day is almost a surprised mystery. But what’s certain is that every day you have deliverables, you need to check in with your team to make sure everything is going according to plan yet at the same time there almost is no plan in our line of work. Basically, at the start of the day you’ll have a list of 10 things you want to do and that list ends up expanding to thirty and you’re lucky if you get through 15 of them! So my routine is there is no routine.”
What do you do after a long day at the office?
After all the craziness is over, I go home and my girlfriend is usually home before me because she works in a different industry.I just sit down, have supper, relax for a few hours and then maybe I’ll play a sport. I play hockey and soccer twice a week; I meet up with my friends to do that. If it’s not a sports night, I’ll probably go for a coffee with my girlfriend or go out for supper; something very simple just to get my mind off things. My job’s the kind of job that’s very demanding on the mind in a sense that you’re thinking continually so you need to let go of that and just try to forget about it all. Of course you can’t really ignore it because it’s impossible but just being in a differ environment, a more social environment surrounded by friends, family and my girlfriend makes all the difference.
You studied health sciences in CEGEP. What attracted you to the accounting profession?
I was really attracted to the sciences after high school, that’s why I went into health sciences in CEGEP, but after my third semester I came across a class called organic chemistry and that’s when I realized sciences was no longer for me! And I remember by just speaking with friends in CEGEP and in university, I realized I didn’t have that much of a business acumen; I was always in sciences my whole life I didn’t really understand business as much as my friends that had taken the business stream in CEGEP did. I had a passion for accounting just because I liked numbers, I’ve always liked numbers. Also at McGill University you don’t have to chose a major till the end of your first year, so I had that full first year to confirm that I really liked accounting over anything else; so that’s basically it there was no more discussion; I always liked numbers and my first year at McGill confirmed that and here we are. I couldn’t see myself in a lab for the rest of my life.
What extracurriculars were you involved in at McGill?
I was not that involved during my first two years because I was working 30 hours a week full time while I was going to school. But during my third year, I decided to get more involved because I was starting to get that feeling of regret that I hadn’t gotten myself that involved and that I really should get involved in something. I ran in the elections of MAS (Management Accounting Society) and I actually won. I was president in my third year so that was my major involvement. I was kind of not that well known on campus before because of my lack of involvement and all of the sudden I was the president of MAS and I got to meet people from other groups as well and so I got involved with other MUS activities; and it was very interesting too. September was a busy month in terms of working with the accounting firms for all the cocktails and events and such. Dealing with the firms was the most interesting part because even though I had already interned, I got to see the different HR strategies from the firms’ perspective because you learn a lot form them by the way they deal with you throughout the process so that was a lot of fun to see first hand.
What was your greatest accomplishment at McGill?
While I was at school? Being president of MAS and just the fact that graduating from the CA program. You feel a lot of pride after going through that; and passing the UFE would be my greatest academic achievement. But of course in terms of school life it would be being president of MAS.
What was the UFE like for you?
I’m not the type to get nervous for exams and I never usually did, even exams at McGill I didn’t get nervous I was always more of the confident type maybe; it’s just that I’m not a person that gets easily stressed. When stressful situations come up people tell me “Oh you seem to be calm cool and collected all the time.” It’s just my nature I guess I’m like that. So I was never really stressed for exams. Up until the build up for the UFE I was fine but the morning of the UFE the butterflies started in the stomach. It really felt weird it was the first time I felt that way but that was just on the way to the UFE and when I was sitting down. Before the UFE, they pass out the exams and put them facedown on your desk and you have to wait till 9 o’clock so u can start and at 9 o’clock it was just instantaneous as soon as it was time to start and turn over the paper it was like I was in the zone and I forgot about my nervousness. I was lucky because the stress didn’t continue throughout the exam as soon as I started reading I was in the zone.
After day one was over weren’t you worried about days two and three?
No I think the experience of day 1 helped a lot; it was awkward even for day 2 and 3 more than any other exam I’ve taken before but because I knew I got through day 1 I was less worried and I came out of the exam having the feeling that, and maybe it sounds smug, but I knew I passed. But having said that, you still have to wait 2 months till you get your results so as time passes you start doubting yourself a little bit. I was very confident after day 1 but the day of the results I was obviously very very worried because as time passes the more u start thinking and the more u think the more u start worrying.
Are there any celebrations organized by Deloitte after you pass the UFE?
Yes! You get the results on a Thursday evening (which is the same these days as well) and on the Friday there was a big lunch organized at Deloitte at the Bell Center and all the partners were there and everybody is invited. They hold a little celebration and then each person’s name is called and you go up and you receive a prize from the firm so it was really a lot of fun! Obviously there was the party on Thursday night organized by the young CA organization of Montreal and it was just really fun to see everyone and all the people and friends and colleagues that have passed and its really a lot of fun and the party continues throughout the weekend with your own friends and family and then back to work on Monday! Back to the real world.
Can you get the Friday off?
People that get the results Thursday night can have the Friday off. They can take the Thursday off if they please; on most of the audit teams that you work with everybody’s been through it before so managers and seniors will let you take the day off because they know it’s important for you to relax. Some people though prefer to work because they get distracted but I don’t know how you won’t get distracted it’s impossible to forget about it. You can be the most calm person and you’ll still be freaking out on that day!
If you didn’t study accounting what would you be doing now?
Well originally I was in science, so I wanted to be a doctor and I tried that science route and it didn’t work out. I finished my degree in health sciences in CEGEP but I just felt it wasn’t for me so I guess if I had to switch I would’ve stayed in sciences and would’ve well I’m not sure if I would’ve become a doctor but maybe done some sort of physiotherapy because that’s what I was thinking about before, before I made the switch to accounting. I don’t know its hard, I haven’t really thought about that. I guess I would’ve stayed in sciences and I like people so I probably would’ve worked in a hospital maybe not as a doctor but as a physiotherapist. I like sports a lot too so maybe I would’ve been an athletic trainer or something like that that’s probably where I would’ve ended up!
What was your recruitment process like? How did you feel at the recruitment cocktails?
I was never the most extroverted individual so I was a little shy. At first it was a little difficult to get comfortable at the cocktail, it was a really new process for me as it is for most people that go through it. I mean think about it, you’re 20, 22 years old and you’re meeting all these grownups, sophisticated individuals from the accounting firms so it can be intimidating at first but it quickly gets better! And I think that’s what I liked about the accounting profession and confirmed that I wanted to work in it. It’s the type of individuals that you meet at these events. Everyone was very down to earth and made you feel very comfortable. That’s the experience I had whether it was at Deloitte or any of the other firms. I never felt our of place in discussions with the people. Although I was a bit apprehensive at first as time passed on it really became a piece of cake. The advice I give to students is to just be yourself. There’s no need to put on a show, no need to feel intimated. Just be yourself and we don’t bite we’re people like anybody else we’re just looking for fun conversation at the end of the day we’re not going to be testing your accounting knowledge at a cocktail conversation so it’s more of having a pleasant conversation, having and asking 2 or 3 target questions and that’s it.
What do you do when there’s one recruiter surrounded by eight or nine students at an event. How do you overcome that obstacle as a student?
That was hard but I noticed afterwards when I was on the other side and I’m the recruiter, when there’s a big group like that they try to stay away. When I have about eight or nine students in front of me during the process it’s kind of hard for anybody to stand out so you end up kind of forgetting what goes in during the conversation and the students won’t stick out as much for you. And I kind of felt the same way as a student. I felt like if I’m in this big group why’s the recruiter going to remember me? And if you’re in a group of eight or nine there’s always going to be one or two more influential or more dominating individuals in the group and if you’re not that person it’s a bit of a waste I find. I never liked the group thing too much whether I was a student or a now as a recruiter because as a recruiter I don’t get to speak to everybody in the proportion that I need to understand or to see or asses whether or not they’d be a good fit or not. I’m not a fan of the big groups so keep that in mind. If you see someone’s occupied with 2 or 3 individuals already, stay away, comeback the next time when the person is more available because the groups end up being formed and you know it’s not good. It also becomes uncomfortable especially for the recruiter. He’s trying to give everyone the same attention but it gets complicated, he forgets names and the whole situation is not as delusive I find to proper networking.
How has the recruitment process changed over the time when you were recruited until now?
It really hasn’t changed much, the formula is still the same, there’s less events now in the past I think that’s was an initiative put in my the CA order to limit the strain on the students because there’s just a lot going on. It is a very restrained amount of time, I think its more tight now in terms of time I remember the CACEE forms being due around mid-October, now its due on the 20th of September. There are less events but again I think its to respond to the concern of the students; midterms come up a lot faster than people realize so it gets complicated to attend as many events without sacrificing school but apart form that and the amount of students in accounting nothing’s changed much. My day especially at McGill, we had honors program accounting so there were less people, I guess the word “honors” scared people from taking it. I think by changing it from an honors to a major, they increased the number of students in accounting so I think there’s more students in the process. But its one of those processes that hasn’t changed much in terms of the context but in terms of the goal. That formula hasn’t changed much bit its just a tighter time frame, more students and less events.
What exactly does a Senior Manager at Deloitte do?
We do everything! Everything the partners don’t want to do! We’re responsible for planning and supervising and reviewing the work that our audit teams undertake. Another big role we have is maintaining our client relationships and dealing with the higher level issues. Like for a lot of the staff, the client is a client they’re staffed on for 2/4 weeks out of the year but for a manager that’s our client for 52 weeks out of the year. So its not just while the audit fieldwork is going on your clients are going to be calling you whenever they have an accounting issue to deal with or a business issue to deal with sometime throughout the year so u have to be available. It’s all about client service so a big part of our role as senior manager is to maintain that client relationship and to provide the best client service possible. Our clients are paying good money so they except very high quality service; so resolving accounting issues, making sure the audit is going well and your team is working well and your teams are providing a good service. I think maintaining the client relationship is very important and it’s very helpful for the partners as well because at the end of the day the partners are reasonable for not losing a client or hurting a client relationship which could eventually hurt the profitability of the firm so it’s an all encompassing role. A lot of technical and people skills are needed. That’s what’s fun about accounting, its not just another number to deal with it’s about relationships too.
What’s the culture like at Deloitte?
The culture is very diverse. Its very much like the Montreal culture I find. We have an open door policy, people are very friendly, people are very open to other ideas and that’s what drew me to Deloitte, you never feel like u can’t share your opinion, you can’t voice your opinion. We have a lot of processes in place for people that may be a bit shy to provide their feedback by other means than just standing up in a room and talking and saying something face to face even though it’s a very dynamic environment. We look for a lot of leadership qualities in people so that’s kind of what we end up getting we have a lot of leaders so it’s a great way to foster the ideas and foster new relationships. So the culture is very young , very dynamic, very open and that’s the way I would summarize it.
What was your experience like as an intern at Deloitte?
A lot of learning! Especially the first two years while you’re going to school at the same time to write your UFE! It’s a learning environment, it was a lot of fun. I worked on a lot of small and bigger clients; I got a good mix. I got to work with a lot of different mangers and partners so that was very exciting as well and it was fun because even as a junior you can get to deal with the partners and senior managers and that’s the aspect of Deloitte that’s great; its very open, collaborative, you always have access to the people at the top. So as a junior I felt that and that really helped me a lot in my development because I was able to discuss an issue with somebody that’s 6 or 7 or 10 years more experienced that me.
Why did you choose to pursue the CA path?
For me it was just for the experience you get on the way there. I’ve always aimed for the top, not to say that CMA or CGA is not the top but the CA takes more experience and it’s a longer path and more defined path. Not to mention the opportunities that are available are endless! I think that’s why I chose that path and its true I see it now; I’ve been at the firm for nine years and I’ve stayed in audit and I really enjoy audit but a lot of my colleagues went to different departments in the firm whether it was financial advisory, tax or even consulting but also in industry. There are so many opportunities that become available to them not just in accounting but in finance positions, marketing and positions and strategy positions. I think the CA prepares you very well for varied careers. I’m not saying become a CA and all of a sudden you can work in a finance department at a bank, there’s obviously different training to that, but the basis is there and the employers realize that. So I think for me the opportunities that would become available is what drew me to the CA path. But now we’re all the CPA’s or CPA – CA for now.
What are your feelings about CPA?
I guess I have mixed feelings. I think it’s probably a good thing for the accounting profession; we should see if it ends up being done across Canada because now it’s only in Quebec, I think that is the plan. I think that the old designations CA, CMA CGA still have a place in the sense that during the transition phase you’ll still be able to use both titles; so I think the transition’s being done diligently I think overall the objective was to merge and have one voice for all accountants so from that perspective it’s good but I think its just a question of managing the transition well and making sure people don’t feel slighted throughout the process. That’s going to be the biggest challenge for the new order.
What’s your favorite thing about Deloitte?
My favorite thing about Deloitte, is the flexibility of my job. I truly enjoy the flexibility; it’s not necessarily a 9 to 5 environment. You work overtime at times and it becomes 9 to 8 or 9 to 9 it is what it is, but then there are opportunities to be flexible with your time; at the end of the day we all have our deliverable we all have to get the job done, we all have to serve our clients and our clients are all paying top dollar. But you do have flexibility in terms oh how you go about managing your time and I think that for me that’s very valuable to have the autonomy to decide when I can do work and if I want to do it from home one day. Obviously we are serving clients so we have to be as available to our clients as possible so its not always 100% flexibility; you’re on your clients schedule as well but you do have it and I think it exists more at Deloitte than in industry per say. So I guess it’s the open and dynamic environment and I guess if I can name a third one, you’re always learning! It’s continual learning from junior up to partner. You have 100 hours of training per year that are mandatory and its necessary especially in our environment when things change every day. So that’s what I love about Deloitte: The learning, the collaborative environment and just the open environment and the fact that you’re never bored. In a nutshell; you’re never bored!
I place the piece of paper with all the questions down and hesitate stopping the recorder. Throughout the entire interview my eyes were fixated on a bandage on Mr. Spadafora’s finger. I just had to know why it was there. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked the question:
What happened to your finger?
Was it a paper cut? No; basically my finger got jammed in a door. It’s nothing serious it’ll go away. Will be gone by September hopefully. I got a few days only so maybe in a few weeks it’ll be fine.
Now I asked all my questions! With that I stop the recorder, shake hands with Mr. Spadafora, thank him for his time and make my way out of the building; asking myself why I chose not to wear a suit…