In 1984, just six years after getting her CA designation, 30-year-old Marion Kirsh went on her first business trip abroad. The married mom of a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son was off to do a treasury audit at RBC Financial Group’s Paris capital/markets treasury branch.
“I was bilingual, so I got to go to Paris,” she says from her downtown Toronto office at the Ontario Securities Commission where she is now Associate Chief Accountant. Two months after that, another treasury audit in Brussels and, in ’85, one in New York.
Kirsh had joined Montreal’s RBC as Audit Development Officer in October 1983 after starting out at Thorne Riddell in June 1976. “I was the first CA in the Montreal office of Thorne Riddell to have a child,” she says. “I took a full year off and went back to the same clients. It was tiring but fulfilling.”
In 1985, RBC moved the family to Toronto where she joined Royal Bank Treasury as Assistant Manager, Accounting Control & Procedures. Assignments there took her to London and Tokyo. “My boss in Treasury was very supportive of women in leadership roles,” she says, “and was a great mentor.”
During the next 20 years, Kirsh’s expertise was put to work in many divisions of the bank, including Comptroller, Management Accounting at Royal Trust when RBC acquired it in 1993. Three years later, she became Vice-President and CFO of Royal Trust/Wealth Management. In 1999, she accepted a new challenge at RBC Insurance in Mississauga as Senior VP Finance and CFO. She was fortunate to be mentored by two RBC CFOs.
“As CFO, I participated in several acquisitions, travelled in private planes to the U.S., and enjoyed business trips to Barbados,” she recalls.
Next step: Chief Accountant. “That was one of my favourite jobs. It was hugely motivating when RBC won the CICA’s Corporate Reporting Awards my first year. There was fantastic teamwork. The work in complex technical accounting and reporting was extremely challenging and interesting.”
In 2005, the bank restructured and offered Kirsh an 18-month secondment to the Canadian Bankers Association. She took it.
“My secondment was incredibly timely,” she says. “One week after I got there, on February 10, 2005, the Canadian Accounting Standards Board published its Draft Strategic Plan to move from Canadian Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to IFRS. I became the banks’ advocate for the IFRS journey. That also led to my role here at the Ontario Securities Commission.”
Her advisory role of Associate Chief Accountant makes “every day different” with lots of multi-tasking, internal and external networking, and mentoring opportunities. Most interesting is policy development, technical accounting and auditing, IFRS training, giving presentations, and the variety of work with other accountants and lawyers. She also enjoys a balanced work-family-personal life in this “second phase” of her career.
The biggest challenge she faces is achieving successful outcomes for significant securities regulatory issues at the Canadian Securities Administrators.
She believes her key to success has been continual learning and curiosity, networking, and forward thinking.
Kirsh’s advice for new CAs is to welcome opportunities and the chance to learn − and “network, network, network. Let them know what career opportunities interest you and make sure you acquire the competencies for those roles,” she says. “And never be afraid to ask questions.”
For 12 years she has volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society, where she is now chair of the National Audit & Finance Committee and on the National board. She has led two CEO board searches for CCS at Ontario Division.
At 58, she is preparing for the “third phase” of her career: corporate board work to go along with her not-for-profit board work. She offers an extensive knowledge of financial services, securities regulation, IFRS, and financial reporting and auditing. “I just did a Deloitte televised panel discussion for corporate directors on 2011 year-end reporting which was great fun. Doing more of that would be perfect. I’m very excited about this next phase!”
~ Lorie Murdoch