At Wilkinson we are extremely proud of our legacy as a training organization. Since first beginning in 1975, we have celebrated the success of over a hundred graduates. Some have stayed on at Wilkinson – in fact, eight of our partners today and many of our professional staff are alumni – while others have forged a new path to find remarkable careers outside the firm. Building on their Wilkinson experience, these graduates have become business and community leaders here in Eastern Ontario and across Canada, embodying the Wilkinson philosophy of integrity and honesty in all that they do. In the articles that follow we share just some of their incredible stories.
Michelle Chatten Fiedorec CPA, CA
Director, Taxation, Empire Life
It’s sometimes the briefest of encounters that can have a lasting impact. As a high school graduate unsure of what path to choose, Michelle Chatten Fiedorec remembers it was a conversation with Bob Robertson that ultimately decided the direction her career would take.
“I had a part-time job at QuintEssential and Bob came to the AGM to present the Auditors’ Report” recalls Michelle. “We started talking about accounting, what a CA does and I knew that was what I wanted to do. I went to Waterloo, began my BA in accounting and when it was time to do recruiting interviews for co-op placements, Bob remembered me and hired me! I ended up working at the firm for eight years in total, all of my CA-qualifying experience I got at Wilkinson.”
One of the biggest lessons Michelle learned while at Wilkinson was the value of teamwork. “When you work with a supportive team you can achieve great things together,” says Michelle. “People can trade off on their experience and expertise. Not everyone can operate at their top level all of the time, but as a team we can lift each other up to maintain a consistently high performance level.”
Wilkinson’s focus on teamwork meant that even new, less experienced accountants were interacting with senior staff, an experience that left a deep impression on Michelle.
“One of the things that resonates with me is the support that Wilkinson offered, especially at the partner level,” explains Michelle. “Jerry Silverthorn was a senior tax partner in the Trenton office and a huge influence. He helped me understand fairly complicated and technical tax strategies. He was very passionate about tax and a great motivator. He really highlighted how important it is to care about what you do and pass that on to the people you work with.”
And Michelle has certainly done that. Recently promoted to Director of Taxation at Empire Life, one of Canada’s top life insurance firms, she is proud of her accomplishments at Empire Life and her team. “I love what I do. And the people I work with,” says Michelle. “No one gets left behind. We support each other and exceed even our own expectations.”
Controller, McKeown Motor Sales
When your family has been running the same car business for over 80 years your career path is pretty much mapped out for you. And while there is comfort in job security, there is also the pressure of making sure you’re not the first family member to steer the company off course. Luckily, for Lianne Radocsay, Controller of McKeown Motor Sales, a six-year pit-stop at Wilkinson & Co. gave her the experience and confidence to help keep the family business running smoothly.
Lianne first joined Wilkinson as a co-op student from the University of Waterloo in 1991 then joined the firm fulltime in 1994, earning her CA designation while she was there. Wilkinson’s wide variety of clients gave Lianne the opportunity to see how different businesses operate and problem solve; when she moved to her current role at McKeown, she was equipped with the necessary tools to navigate the challenges the auto industry has faced over the past decade. What really left an impression however, was Wilkinson’s focus on customer service.
“Wilkinson always felt it was important that you put client needs first, no matter what type of business, no matter how big or how small. If you don’t have happy clients or customers you will not succeed,” says Lianne.
And, it just so happens that this is exactly how McKeown Motors runs its business. First established in 1933, McKeown Motors is a local success story, it is the second oldest Chrysler dealership in Ontario and probably the only one that sells Chrysler cars and Massey Ferguson tractors in the same building. With 37 employees, a tireless commitment to their local community and many loyal clients that span generations of one family, the company is a testament to the powers of superior customer service. “Like Wilkinson, we are fair and honest and we take care of each other,” Lianne says. “That’s key to any successful business.”
With a track record like McKeown Motors, it’s hard to argue. While Lianne’s parents Bill and Grace are still involved in the business, her brother Allan has taken over as President and with Lianne as their chartered accountant, that’s four generations of McKeown’s behind the wheel. Together, Lianne and her family have clocked more than 80 years of business – and it doesn’t look like they will be running out of gas anytime soon.
Karen Baker, MBA, CPA,CA, MA (Ed)
As an instructor and program coordinator in Accounting at Loyalist’s School of Business, Karen Baker likes to tell her students that even though she had a BA in Economics and an MBA from Queen’s, everything she knows about accounting she learned while working for Wilkinson & Company.
Karen spent just over 10 years with Wilkinson, first as a summer student, then as a full-time employee before leaving to take the position of CFO at Baybriar Management Services Limited, a group of companies with sales of approximately $70 million in the transportation, manufacturing, self-storage and real estate development and management sectors. Eight years later, she began teaching at Loyalist College and created Briar Ridge Limited, her own group of companies in the commercial and multi-tenant residential real estate sector.
Karen credits Wilkinson for giving her the opportunity to learn from senior staff and interact with business people in the community, two integral steps to building a successful career in accounting. The value of community engagement, so much a part of the Wilkinson philosophy, has become part of Karen’s life as well through the work she does for local organizations such as the Rotary Club of Belleville, Quinte Health Care and the Quinte Children’s Foundation.
Karen’s relationship with Wilkinson continues – not only as a client for her own business, but as a teacher and placement employer for students in the Accounting program, ensuring a new generation has access to Wilkinson’s invaluable expertise.
Carrie Gregoire, CGA
CFO QuintEssential Credit Union
When Carrie Gregoire takes the reins as CEO of QuintEssential Credit Union next January, it will be the pinnacle of a journey that she started as a CGA student at Wilkinson in 1999. Working full-time while studying was a challenge but Carrie succeeded, due in large part to the support she received from the managers and partners at Wilkinson who taught her what leadership truly meant.
Carrie was deeply affected by the work ethic and culture at Wilkinson; it was all about great expectations – of everyone, she explains. “Managers and partners didn’t expect more of the staff then they did of themselves. It was a great team environment because they knew if they took care of their staff and their clients, they in turn would take care of Wilkinson.”
“Any manager is only as good as the people under them,” says Carrie. “That is a lesson I learned at Wilkinson and one I carried with me throughout my career. I have yet to see it proven wrong.”
It was a lesson that has served Carrie well; she excelled in her first role at QuintEssential and quickly moved through the ranks – from financial services manager, to controller and then to CFO. Now, as CEO she is looking forward to guiding the company’s strategic vision so it perfectly aligns with the community and its members. “I remember Wilkinson was always a busy firm but they were never too busy to make sure they were involved in the community,” says Carrie. “As a credit union, giving back to the community is part of our roots; it’s our mandate, no matter what our time constraints. It goes back to what I learned at Wilkinson, if you take care of your staff and your clients, they will take care of you.”
Jennifer Kimball, CPA, CA
Wearing a hardhat and work boots while overseeing a large construction project isn’t usually in the job description for Chief Financial Officer. But that’s exactly what Jennifer Kimball loves about her job at Albert College, Canada’s oldest co-ed boarding and day school. “I started at Albert College after working with Wilkinson & Company for 9 years,” says Jennifer. “I learned so much while I was there. Wilkinson has such a huge variety of experience; all the partners and staff were always so willing to share their expertise. It really did prepare me for my job as CFO at Albert College, where attention to detail is just as important as being able to pick up something new and run with it.”
The College prides itself for its focus on the Albert A’s which include academics, athletics and the arts, but also active citizenship – a value that was instilled in Jennifer during her time at Wilkinson with its commitment to giving back to the community and supporting local organizations, whether they are clients are not.
“Wilkinson doesn’t just provide accounting services,” explains Jennifer. “It supports its community and offers advice, direction, succession planning – a number of different things that improve the lives of its clients. And it is exactly that value added philosophy that I always keep in mind in my role now at Albert College as we strive to provide a quality, well-rounded education that gives students the skills they need to survive in today’s world while at the same time creating responsible global citizens.”
David Rutherford, CGA
With a university degree in geography in 1979, David Rutherford found himself at a crossroads. Should he continue his studies, maybe even pursue a Masters? Law school was an option. Or should he find a job? Even in 1979, there weren’t that many jobs requiring geography majors, but David noticed there seemed to be plenty of accounting jobs. Eager to start a career he calculated the odds of landing an accounting job against the fact he had no business or accounting experience – turns out the odds were in his favor! Wilkinson partner Bob Robertson was always on the look out for people from different backgrounds and gave David the start he needed.
Recalling his time at the firm, first as a junior accountant, then as an auditing student, David says, “The atmosphere of team work and the relationships we were able to develop with clients out in the field offered an amazing experience. It truly helped develop my career down the road. It really was a great starting point.”
From Wilkinson, David moved to the Hastings County Board of Education where he started out as an accounting manager before eventually progressing to Chief Financial Officer. Surviving 30 years in the public sector was an achievement, says David. Dealing with multiple provincial governments who all have different educational initiatives and models for education presented many challenges, all of which David worked tirelessly to meet. Recently retired, David looks back on his career with pride, noting that under his stewardship the now amalgamated, Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, was able to renovate and renew a number of educational facilities that offer students state of the art 21st century learning facilities.
You could say that Wilkinson took a chance on a young, inexperienced recruit, but it certainly seems to have paid off. From a student with no accounting experience to CFO of a school board, David’s story is a testament to the power of what one person can achieve when given the right opportunity.
Mike Seeger, CPA, CA
With retirement on the horizon, Mike Seeger looks back on his 36 years in the accounting profession and sees a career that has come full circle. From his early years at Wilkinson where he earned his CA designation, to his current position as Director of Financial Services at Loyalist College where students are training for their futures, it’s all about life-long learning and grabbing the opportunities that come your way.
And there have been many opportunities for Mike over the course of his career, especially as the accounting profession rapidly modernized with the advent of technology. He still remembers the day in 1986 when his boss’s new desktop computer revolutionized the work day by replacing pencils! From that one machine exploded a network of systems all designed to streamline the industry, giving professionals more time to focus on analysis and forecasting, an area of special interest for Mike during his tenure at BGH, Hotel Dieu and Campbellford Hospital. Of course, the advent of technology comes with its own special risks as Mike discovered while spending New Years Eve 1999 on a narrow hospital bed. In charge of Y2K compliance at Campbellford Hospital he was awaiting disaster, a disaster that thankfully, never arrived.
As he prepares to leave the profession that has served him so well, Mike sees many parallels between Wilkinson and Loyalist, both have positive, energized environments, where people’s ambitions are supported and encouraged. There could be no better place to start a career than Wilkinson. And what better place to end one than at Loyalist College, where he has enjoyed the privilege of helping others launch towards professional fulfillment.