Harnessing the financial power of a tech startup: Profile on Zuzanna Wasyliw

Zuzanna Wasyliw, CPA, CA, is no stranger to change. Originally from Montreal, she moved to Vancouver after graduating from Queen’s University to join the industrial markets practice at KPMG LLP. In 2011, Zuzanna and her boyfriend (now-husband) crossed the Atlantic to complete a two-year secondment at the firm’s office in Geneva, Switzerland. When she returned from Europe, where she had worked mostly with oil and gas trading companies and some non-governmental organizations, Zuzanna transferred to KPMG’s technology, media, and telecom practice.

In 2017, Zuzanna was ready to spread her wings again. This time, as the director of finance for Vancouver-based e-learning company Thinkific. The company had gone viral in their early years and needed someone to take the helm of their finance department.

“I was gaining invaluable experience at KPMG,” she recalls, “but I wanted to widen my skill set by having the opportunity to focus on one company and directly influence its growth and strategy. The opportunity at Thinkific presented itself, and I loved the idea of joining a company that was growing so rapidly. I found the position very exciting.”

We recently chatted with Zuzanna about the versatility of the CPA designation and what it’s like to work at a fast-growing tech company.

How has the CPA program equipped you to be doing what you’re doing now?

I knew that getting my accounting designation would provide me with the professional experience I needed to lay a solid foundation for my career going forward (and it definitely has). While it goes without saying that I gained invaluable knowledge in accounting, tax, and finance early in my career, I was also fortunate to have worked on clients ranging from small private entities to multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporations.

However, I would say that the wide range of soft skills I gained was even more valuable. Working alongside experienced professionals, I was leading and managing teams and clients of various sizes, while simultaneously developing my skills in communication, delegation, and organization. Those are skills learned through practical experience and not just in a classroom setting.

What has been your proudest career moment?

Becoming a CPA is an obvious one, but I’m also very proud of what I have achieved at Thinkific in the last couple of years. I initially had to build the finance department from the ground up, and quickly, and now I am privileged to lead the development and execution of the finance strategy to support the continuous growth and scalability of the company. The benefit of working at a fast-growing company is that the dynamic is ever changing. We work as a team and regularly achieve milestones that we’re all proud of.

How would you describe your leadership style? As a leader, how do you keep your accounting and finance team engaged and motivated to achieve their best?

As I was thinking about how to answer this question, three main topics came to mind:

  • Working as a team;
  • Setting realistic expectations; and
  • Empowering employees.

I truly believe that team members are a company’s most valuable asset. I believe that people are motivated when they feel empowered, when they know that they have the ability to contribute to the final decision-making process. I always want to hear other people’s input as it helps me see things from different perspectives. I try to lead by example and make myself very approachable while providing guidance and leadership at the same time.

To the extent possible, I try to align people’s work with their interests and professional aspirations. This gives them the opportunity to continue learning while still giving them control over their own professional development.

What is your favourite quote and why?

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson

With today’s easy and instant access to mainstream media and the influence it can have, I believe it can be difficult to independently figure out who you are, what drives you, and what you want to accomplish. Through both personal and professional experiences, I’ve been able to realize, and accept, my strengths and my weaknesses and discover what’s truly important to me. I am confident about my strengths, and I learn from my past shortcomings to focus on what I want to accomplish in the future. Discovering these things about myself—and accepting them—has been liberating.

 

Check out our full profile on Thinkific and Zuzanna on CPABC’s Industry Update.