Donna de Winter remembers vividly the first dollar that came into her father’s general store. “We held it up and kissed it, and then pinned it to the wall,” recalls the CFO of Canadian software firm Geac.
It was an important dollar for the 13-year-old and her five brothers and sisters, who had just been forced to move permanently to their summer home in tiny Big Pond, Nova Scotia (“200 people in the winter, 1,500 in the summer,” says de Winter). Her father had sold their house and his commercial painting business in a nearby city after his arm was shattered in a car accident — an accident that also crushed her mother’s throat, ending her teaching career. “We went from two incomes to nothing pretty quickly,” de Winter remembers.
The Big Pond general store boasted a gas station out front and pool tables, pinball machines, and a jukebox. To make ends meet, de Winter and her siblings worked long hours when they were not in school, opening the store at 6 a.m., when the first truckers headed past, and closing it at 10 p.m. “I did tire plugs, checked and topped up oil, pumped gas, and cleaned windows and all that stuff,” she says.
Ultimately, says de Winter, her father made “a good living,” ceding more responsibility for the store to his children as he neared retirement (at which point he took up driving the Big Pond school bus). The store stayed in the family for 30 years, and was only recently sold by one of de Winter’s brothers.
It’s Called Work
Two years ago, when we asked CFOs who the influences were in their careers, most pointed to their parents. So, with Father’s Day upon us, it seemed only fitting to ask a few CFOs what their dads did, and how that shaped their own work lives.
For de Winter, her father’s store introduced her to the mechanics of finance: bank reconciliations, deposits, and inventory counts — even loss leaders — and convinced her that she would some day be in business. But seeing firsthand the financial risk and instability inherent in a sole proprietorship quashed any desire to follow in her father’s entrepreneurial footsteps.
“I don’t know if watching him convinced me I never wanted to have my own business, or [demonstrated] that every entrepreneur needs a strong second-in-command,” she muses. At 18, she left for Ontario, eventually earning her professional accounting designation and MBA while working full-time.
Similarly, Allen P. Maltz, CFO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, says his path was shaped, rather than set, by his father’s example. A World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, Maltz’s father worked in the “rag trade” — selling specialty items like braid, yarns, and sequins in New York’s garment district. At the end of the day, he would work another two hours selling subscriptions for the New York Times’s circulation department. And his diligence, says Maltz, “instilled in me the belief that you have to work for a living; nobody gives you a free ride.”