Meet Caroline De Silva, a savvy financial leader working on juggling it all

It’s a perfect case study on how to build a successful career in finance when you didn’t start out in finance.  But Caroline De Silva always had the goods – a competitive spirit from a childhood of playing basketball for school teams and a readiness to roll up her sleeves for the grind.

After finishing her undergraduate in biology and an MBA, Caroline worked at large retail and consumer packaged goods companies gathering a wealth of experience providing finance support to areas like loyalty, marketing, merchandising, distribution centres and operations. She also found the time to add a few letters to her name –  the CPA designation

She is now Senior Director of Enterprise Loyalty Finance at Loblaw. Her team provides planning & reporting support to all Loblaw divisions, supports strategic initiatives and drives standardization of financial processes across the enterprise.  

YOU HAVE A STRATEGY YOU FOLLOW IN WORK AND LIFE CALLED THE DOMINO EFFECT. TELL US MORE. 

There is a tendency in life and work to focus on yourself.  But in very few things are we truly alone and disconnected. We need to assess how we and the decisions we make fit into the bigger picture. Who will it impact? Who will need to be included in the decision making process? Who will need to be sold on the idea? Not only does this give you a higher chance of success with the initiative, this also allows you to amplify an idea – since more people are aware of it and invested in it.

WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR PEOPLE STARTING OUT IN THE FIELD?

My advice for new finance professionals is to understand the bigger picture and your part in it.  While it’s easy to get stuck in the daily grind and mastering your current role, the ability to tie your work to the broader business demonstrates your abilities and potential. 
My ability to shift my mindset from understanding the micro-level details, to understanding the larger processes and the key indicators for success was instrumental in helping me move into senior leadership roles.

Throughout my career, I have noticed a few other key attributes that can open up opportunities: a positive attitude, the ability to take initiative, getting involved in committees and joining sports team. Yes, sports teams. These help you build a network of relationships with peers and leaders. 

The connections you make are personal since you get to know each other outside of normal work parameters

WHY DO DESIGNATIONS LIKE THE CPA MATTER?

The CPA designation is like a passport that enables access to many destinations.  It gets you on the path to leadership faster. As a leader, I focus on building a strong bench who can become future leaders. I prefer CPAs, particularly for junior roles, because of their strong applied knowledge base in accounting and financial analysis, as well as their strategic approach to problem solving.  

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO NOW?

I love managing a high functioning, savvy and experienced team. I love working in a key strategic area of the company. I enjoy challenges. 

WHAT’S YOUR TYPICAL MORNING LIKE?

Mornings are a generally a struggle for me as I’m not a morning person and I need to get two young kids up and out to school before heading into work.

Planning matters. When I wake up, I review my bullet journal to ensure I’m focused on what I have to deliver that day. 

After I drop the kids off at school, I try to connect with my mom, husband or friends on my morning commute. I check in with my staff when I arrive, and it’s then off to the races. My wind-down at the end of the day includes reviewing my calendar, and understanding what I need  to accomplish the next day.  

THE BEST CAREER DEVELOPMENT OR LEADERSHIP BOOK YOU’VE READ?

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When it comes to books for career development, my current favourite is The Myth of the Nice Girl by Fran Hauser.  It’s a playbook on navigating your career as a “nice” girl and balancing what may seem like diverging demands, for example, being ambitious and being likeable.  I appreciated the author’s practical approach to common situations like networking, negotiating, managing staff and building relationships.  My big takeaway was the importance of setting personal priorities and using them as boundaries on your commitments.  I’ve put this into practice since reading this book a few months ago and I’m seeing progress.