2019 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

CPAs can be found in every industry, being experts at more than numbers – and they’re great with those, too.

Every month, CPA Manitoba spotlights the diverse and dedicated professionals that prove CPA is more than a designation. 

To be honoured by a peer group that is full of very talented and dedicated professionals is a tremendously humbling experience.

Located 15 minutes west of Brandon, Manitoba on the Trans-Canada Highway is Alexander -- a quiet rural community that can trace its origins back to 1882 when a post office was built for settlers and migrants heading west.

“It’s where I grew up,” recalls Rick MacKay, FCPA, FCA, 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. “And it was a great place to be. The farm was busy of course, but there was plenty for us to do in town too. Hockey and curling in the winter and baseball in the summer. I developed a real sense of community and I continue to carry those foundational values today,” he adds.

MacKay attended Neelin High School in Brandon before setting his sights on a future career in law.

“I made the big move,” he said with a laugh referring to his choice to reside in Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba. “I really enjoyed my time at the U of M. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in political studies and a minor in economics. At that time, I was actually thinking about law school.”

Before he could make good on his plan however, he experienced what he considers a stroke of fate and very good luck.

“I happened to see a poster advertising that an accounting firm called Touche Ross & Co (now Deloitte) would be on campus that afternoon holding job interviews.”

MacKay readily admits he didn’t know a credit from a debit at the time, but his curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see what the firm had to offer.

“All I remember is putting on my best cords, a white t-shirt and saying, ‘I’m good to go!’

Of course, when I got there everyone else was dressed in three-piece suits and the like.” He quickly realized he was slightly underdressed.

Undeterred, he decided to stay for the interview and that decision would ultimately be responsible for a remarkable career which MacKay fondly describes as a great adventure.

“Ken Houssin, the partner that interviewed me could have told me to come back when I was more serious, or after I took a Bachelor of Commerce degree, but he didn’t. I told him I really wasn’t there for a job but rather just wanted to learn about what an accountant did. We talked for an hour about all kinds of things and I thanked him for his time.”

A few days later, MacKay was surprised when he was called back for a more formal interview at the firm’s downtown office. He went on to accept a role with the organization that day.

“Looking back, I learned a lot from that experience. The importance of listening and not judging a person at first glance. That you are wise to get to know someone and if you can understand what motivates them you can better work together. I was afforded a life-changing opportunity when I could have easily been told, ‘no thank you’ and I have tried to keep that broader perspective throughout my life,” MacKay shares.

After several years of night school and hard work, MacKay earned his accounting designation in 1981.

“I worked with the Audit and Accounting group and right from the start I was very comfortable with the firm and found that my values aligned. The firm never took shortcuts or did anything that was not fundamentally the right thing to do. It’s one of the main reasons I’m honoured to be a retired Deloitte partner and I wear that badge very proudly,” MacKay explains.

He made partner in 1987 with the objective of helping the firm develop its independent business group, which offered professional services to organizations of all sizes.

“It was a very exciting time in my career and allowed for a lot of entrepreneurial thinking. We had a great team that worked hard and together we enjoyed lasting success. I like to think back to all the interesting times we had and all the great clients we worked with -- every day was different.”

MacKay’s influence at the firm grew and he took on the role of Human Resources Partner where he was responsible for hiring hundreds of new graduates over the years. The position kept him in close contact with the Asper School of Business and afforded him the opportunity to be a builder and mentor of people at the firm – a fact he takes great pride in. 

Although he worked for the same organization over the course of his 36-year career, MacKay doesn’t quite look at it like that. In the late 90s, he began what he considers his third career at the company.

“I changed roles to look after some of the largest publicly traded companies based in Winnipeg. It was absolutely a change of career path. There was a lot of new learnings and a substantial investment of time. The dynamic and the nature of the businesses are different. It was challenging but also very rewarding,” he remembers.

Through it all, MacKay has given back to the accounting profession and community from the very start. In the early 80s, he volunteered as a UFE (now Common Final Exam or CFE) marker and participated on Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba (ICAM) committees such as High School Awards and Student Recruitment. In the community, he chaired the Economic Development Committee for the Pan-American Games which concerned itself with ensuring that Winnipeg businesses received the greatest possible economic benefit from the two-week multi-sport event. 

By 2005, he had become a reliable source of knowledge, leadership and technical expertise for the boards he served on including the Manitoba Museum, Heart and Stroke Foundation and the United Way.

“I have always been interested in being part of organizations that do positive things. I was happy to have been able to provide value and I enjoyed meeting so many people of like mindset. They were there because they wanted to be there, and it was inspiring to work for the betterment of our community.”

MacKay also played a major role in the merger of the legacy accounting bodies. He was Chair of ICAM’s Council in 2012 and 2013 and a member of the CPA Transition Steering Committee.

“It took a lot of time and energy but was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. There was a whole team of us that were tasked with trying to merge three very established accounting bodies into one organization. We were also dealing with the provincial government on legislative changes as well as identifying a CEO and bringing together different professional leaders. At the end of the day, I think the team created a very powerful organization and I’m proud of that work.”

Throughout his career MacKay maintained close contact with the University of Manitoba and served as a Board Member (2005 – 2017) and Chair (2015 – 2016) of The Associates – a leading group of business, community and social leaders whose mandate is to support the future of business education at the Asper School of Business.

“I believe the future of Manitoba will be significantly impacted by the strength of the business students that come out of the Asper School of Business. I would put the grads that come out of the school against any business program across the country,” he said, before adding “no matter what professional stream they gravitate towards.”

MacKay also took some time to reflect on what it means to be named the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

“To be honoured by a peer group that is full of very talented and dedicated professionals is a tremendously humbling experience. I was so grateful to receive consideration. This is something I’ll cherish forever. I want to thank my colleagues, friends and everyone who I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years. I certainly wouldn’t have accomplished what I have without incredible support from everyone.” He paused a moment, before adding “and most importantly, I need to thank my wife Merril, who has been my partner throughout this journey. She was always there for me. Without her, or the support of my children, my career would not have been possible. My family is most important to me, and above all, I share this award with them.”

CPA Manitoba is proud to recognize the excellence of its members and their remarkable contribution to the visibility of the profession and commitment to community. The CPA Manitoba Member Recognition Program exists to acknowledge these contributions. To learn more or attend the Member Recognition Gala, visit our website.