Jerry Patava is an unusual guy. Unlike many of his counterparts in the finance profession, Patava, the finance chief of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, did not take the familiar career path from C.P.A. to CFO. After earning an M.B.A. in finance from York University, Patava became a financial analyst at Consumers Gas, then the largest gas distribution utility in Ontario. In the spring of 1980, when Consumers Gas merged with Hiram Walker, a Canadian liquor company, Patava joined the treasury department of the new corporation, which was renamed Hiram Walker Consumers Home Ltd. For the next six years he worked his way up the treasury department to become assistant treasurer in 1986.
When the company was later acquired by Gulf Canada, an oil and gas subsidiary wholly owned by Olympia and York, Patava decided to make the leap to investment banking. He joined RBC Dominion Securities, Canada’s largest investment bank at the time. After four years at RBC, he was ready to go back to where he was most comfortable: the corporate world. Patava signed on as treasurer of Canadian Pacific Ltd., a large holding company with numerous subsidiaries in various sectors including railways, forest products, mining, and hospitality. At Canadian Pacific, he was responsible for the treasury functions at both the holding company as well as a number of its subsidiaries. In January 1998, after the holding company spun off its five subsidiaries, Patava became CFO of the hospitality business Canadian Pacific Hotels. That unit has since been renamed Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The company’s shares began trading publicly in New York and Toronto in October.
As if being CFO at North America’s largest luxury hotel management company weren’t enough, Patava is also CFO of a number of the company’s subsidiaries, including Legacy Hotels & Real Estate Investment Trust and Delta Hotels. The mother ship, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, owns and operates 77 luxury and first-class properties in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Bermuda, and Barbados. The company’s flagship properties are the Fairmont in San Francisco and The Plaza in New York.
Patava recently spoke with CFO.com about his career, the difficulties of working in the travel business at a time when few people are traveling, and the challenges of managing a number of businesses at once.
Unlike many chief financial officers, you opted to come up the ranks through the capital markets and corporate treasury side, rather than the CPA/audit firm route. What led you to make that choice, and what have been some of its benefits?
Indeed, I am not a C.A., which is the Canadian equivalent of a C.P.A. I came up the capital markets/treasury side as opposed to the internal accounting audit side. Working both within a corporation and as an investment dealer has given me a perspective of both sides of the financial markets –the issuer’s perspective and the investment banker’s perspective. As a CFO, more of my time is spent on capital market issues than it is on accounting and control type issues. They are both very important, but with a strong controller, I am able to devote more of my time to financial marker issues.