To the Middle East and Back Again

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Accounting is one of the foundations of what a CFO does day-to-day and I believe it is a very important skill set to have.

The path to becoming a CPA has taken Stuart Henrickson, CPA, CMA, CFA around the world and back again. After carving up an impressive career Canada and in the Middle East, Henrickson came back to his old stomping grounds in Winnipeg to help Bold Commerce with their expansion and strategic direction.

It all started at the University of Manitoba where Henrickson graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1985. From there, he went to work at Merrill Lynch as a Financial Consultant, while also working towards his MBA in Finance at the University of Calgary. After the completion of his master’s, Henrickson moved to Toronto to work in corporate banking with CIBC.

“I just fell in love with finance and investments. It was a great opportunity to learn and grow and later they moved me back to the Calgary office to work in oil and gas as I had previous experience in that sector,” said Henrickson.

Later, Henrickson would join Koch Canada as their CFO and VP of Capital Services. He was in charge of managing the oil and gas market leader’s 500-person Canadian operation.

“At the time, Koch Industries was the second largest private company in North America. Later, we watched oil go from about $24 a barrel to around $9,” explained Henrickson.

This drop hit the oil market hard and Koch Industries made the decision to centralize all of their global CFOs. They asked Henrickson to move to their head office in Wichita, Kansas but coincidentally, he had also just received another offer.

“I had to make a decision by the end of the week whether I was going to uproot my family and go down to Wichita. But, at the same time I was emailing somebody I’d just met at a conference and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got this crazy opportunity. Would you consider moving to the Middle East?’, Henrickson said with a laugh.

“My wife and I talked about it and we decided we would go there for two years. We stayed a little bit longer than that,” he added.

Henrickson and his family moved halfway around the world to Saudi Arabia and he accepted his new role as the Director of Project Finance for a state-owned entity managed by the Chase Manhattan Bank. Henrickson was then approached by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to become their new Managing Director of Investment Banking.

“It was a great opportunity and since I understood the region and both investment and corporate banking, it was a nice fit. I just happened to get to Abu Dhabi at exactly the right time, as the oil markets were going up and all this money was coming in from Asia and Europe. Abu Dhabi was going crazy like it was boom town,” he explained.

Over his time spent at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Henrickson grew the bank from three to 30 employees and helped increased the revenue from just under $1 million to over $75 million.

His final job in the Middle East, down the road in neighbouring Dubai, came as the CEO of Standard Bank’s (South Africa’s largest bank) Middle East and North Africa region.

“At the time, Standard Bank was small in the region, but they wanted to grow. It was my first time with an international bank, and I was in charge of spearheading the growth in 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa regions,” Henrickson explained.

Three children and 11 years later (nine more than they originally planned), Henrickson and his wife decided it was time to come home.

“A big reason why we moved back to Winnipeg is because we wanted our kids to grow up and experience a regular Canadian life, just as my wife and I did,” he added.

When Henrickson came back to Winnipeg, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to consult and help businesses. That’s when he got the idea of starting his own company called Red Leaf Capital.

During this time, Henrickson also decided to pursue an accounting designation.

“I always thought about becoming a professional accountant, but working overseas makes it difficult. When I got back to Canada the challenge presented itself and even though I had some knowledge about the Canadian GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), US GAAP and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), sometimes a high-level knowledge is not good enough,” he said. “Accounting is one of the foundations of what a CFO does day-to-day and I believe it is a very important skill set to have. CPAs are highly respected in Canada and around the world.”

After consulting for many companies across the country, Bold Commerce made the first move and approached Henrickson about becoming their CFO.

“I knew about many of the tech companies in the city, but I didn’t know a whole lot about Bold other than they were growing quickly. I met with the four founders and we just hit it off. They had what I was looking for, a fast-growing company that wanted to go from North American to global markets and I had what they were looking for, experience raising capital and IPOs (Initial Public Offering),” he explained.

As CFO at Bold, Henrickson is in-charge of many different facets of the company. Whether it’s the finances, accounting, risk management or big picture strategy, Henrickson’s got a hand in it.

“I have accounting and governance covered alongside our chief accountant and legal team. Right now, about 60% of my time is spent on the growth strategy, budgeting and risk management side as we’re going into different global markets,” said Henrickson.

On top of his work at Bold, Henrickson is also involved with the North Forge Technology Exchange as Board Chair for the past four years. North Forge is an innovation-based economic development agency providing entrepreneurs with mentors, experts and other supports.

“When I joined the board, we decided to merge three like-minded initiatives (Eureka Project, Start-Up Manitoba and AssentWorks) into North Forge. I’m proud to say we were successful, and the end result is better support for entrepreneurs. I have always felt that success is really about drive and passion, so to mentor and work with some of Manitoba’s top business minds is an honour,” he said.

When it comes to accounting, Henrickson sees it as one of the foundations to a successful career.

“CPA and accounting knowledge provide a very strong base. I believe in today’s workforce you need to have experience in finance, accounting, tax, investor relations and treasury to be a strong CFO. I’ve always viewed accounting as one of the main pillars of this job. Look at me, I didn’t become a CPA until I was around 50 years old, and that’s not typical,” Henrickson said with a chuckle.

He also took some time to share some career advice for people considering the CPA designation.

“My advice is to never stop learning and to work in an area that you are passionate about. I am very lucky. Over a career of more than 30 years, I still do not feel I have ever had a ‘real job’. I love what I do and when you love your job you are often successful at it,” he added.

Finally, out of all the places, milestones and achievements so far, what has stuck out as truly memorable?

“I think I am blessed in that I have been able to use my skills to do business all over the world. I have had the opportunity to travel to over 50 countries, many in a business capacity. The understanding of how different cultures live and do business has truly been the most rewarding.”

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