I must start by saying this has been a difficult blog to post.
What has mostly been on my mind during these surreal times is the well-being of family and friends, vulnerable peoples in our communities and those serving on the front-lines.
I had it on my project plan to share a bit about my journey into entrepreneurship a few weeks ago but, as the pandemic took hold, I felt it was awkward timing so put it off. Now that we’re a good six weeks into strict social distancing and at least a few weeks away from such measures being gradually lifted, I realize it will almost never be the right timing. And I’ve learned that you never know exactly how sharing your story may impact others so here we go.
My family immigrated to Canada over thirty years ago and, as is typical for many newcomers with no Canadian experience, building a business is one of the only viable options to put food on the table. I remember literally growing up in our various family businesses and seeing firsthand the effort it took to make ends meet. Like many business owners, my parents focused on serving their clients and often grappled with keeping on top of their financial position. I remember thinking as a 12-year old: I wish they had someone who could advise them on the financial stuff.
Fast forward to age 16: I created a set of life goals and high on the list was “start a successful business”. I also aspired to be a professional athlete but…let’s not go there 😊
Then, in mid-2019, as I was exploring with a couple of mentors my career aspirations, I was drawn back to my passion for entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, the piece of paper with the goals I had written down at the age of 16 surfaced again. At the same time, I started advising several small businesses in my network on finance, accounting and tax matters. This led to an “ah ha” moment: I realized I was now providing the type of advice I had desired for my parents to have and I was really enjoying it.
As I dug deeper into ways I could help this small group of clients succeed, I came across the concept of cloud accounting. This was a game-changer. Cloud accounting, in the broadest sense, is an ecosystem of internet-based applications that connect to each other, automating many traditionally manual tasks across the accounting workflow, including data capture, reconciliation, analysis and reporting. As we implemented cloud accounting “tech stacks” for a few of our clients (and ourselves), the benefits were clear: business owners received timelier financial information to make better business decisions, and we spent a lot more time providing advice than entering and checking data. I was sold. I decided it was the right time to take the leap and pursue my entrepreneurial dream 🚀
Leaving a great company and group of colleagues is never easy. But, as I reflected on difficult decisions I’ve had to make in the past, one common theme emerged: stepping outside my comfort zone when it didn’t necessarily seem like the ‘right move’ has without fail resulted in immense personal growth and opportunities I could not have fathomed at the time. A couple of examples come to mind. In 2007, I had just taken on a new role within Deloitte’s Financial Advisory practice in Toronto when an opportunity arose to head to London, UK to support a bribery and corruption investigation. Although some colleagues advised against taking this ‘step sideways’, in retrospect, the year-long stint remains one of my most memorable life experiences (being introduced to my now better half, Naz, at a Nando’s in Central London might have had something to do with it 🤷♂️).
A similar story a couple of years later. As I was settling back in Toronto, an opportunity arose to embark on a capacity building volunteer engagement with the Aga Khan Development Network in Egypt and Syria. It meant leaving behind a salary and likely delaying a promotion. With the support of Deloitte’s leadership, I decided to go for it. For the next 7 months, Naz taught children at a non-profit in Cairo while I saw how microfinance made a real impact in the lives of those less fortunate. A year later, Egypt and Syria faced revolutions and daily life was not to return to normal for some time. We feel very fortunate to this day for the chance to have experienced those countries when we did.
As I look ahead to what is inevitably the biggest step outside my comfort zone yet, I am excited but admittedly pretty terrified too. I have seen from a young age that building a business from the ground up is hard, hard work. But, it can also be immensely rewarding when the people and communities you serve flourish. To this end, I believe with conviction in our purpose: helping our clients and colleagues realize their full potential while making sustainable contributions to our communities. I have this statement along with our values of empathy, integrity, diversity and innovation, on my vision board to keep us grounded yet always looking to build for the future.
Although we have much to learn and develop to get to our target state, one of the first things we did several months ago was to set-up as a fully remote working firm. This has fortunately allowed us to continue serving our clients without disruption during this difficult time. We’ve begun working with several small and mid-size organizations for whom we act as a virtual Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”), advising on strategic and financial matters as well as managing their accounting functions end to end.
Over the past couple of weeks in particular, we’ve been advising clients on eligibility and access for the various pandemic-specific subsidy, credit and relief programs and, as importantly, thinking through how their business models will need to be adapted to come out stronger on the other side of this crisis.
I will share periodically about the journey that lies ahead (ups and downs!).
In the meantime, wishing you all good health and togetherness in the weeks ahead as we move towards what is hopefully a “better normal”.
p.s. sharing a couple of pictures that reflect a time of deep learning for me that would not have happened if it wasn’t for ‘taking a leap when it didn’t seem like the ‘right move’.
Field visit to meet low-income borrowers near Mansheya Nasir, Cairo (2009)
Visiting with farmers facing devastating losses as a result of the severe drought in Syria (2009).