Why I moved to GGFL — Chad Saikaley, CPA, CA, TEP
GGFL partner Chad Saikaley came from the sprawling, multi-national accountancy world. He understands the lure of the Big 4, especially for graduates, and he has friends who are happily forging careers with those firms. But, after eight years between two of these firms, Chad decided he wanted a change. He found his true professional home at GGFL, and, in the process, discovered there was a real competitive advantage with a locally owned and managed mid-market firm. He would like graduates, and those in mid and late career, to understand why.
Chad Saikaley graduated from the University of Ottawa with an award for highest academic standing in the accounting program, and, like most accountancy students, he left university laser focused on a successful career at one of the Big 4. He interviewed with KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young, and chose Ernst & Young before switching to Deloitte in 2005 to specialize in tax. He was one of about 400 employees at Deloitte’s Ottawa office, and, despite being on the partner track, he left to start his own business. Demands on his new business soon grew to the point where he needed the support of a mid-market firm. Enter GGFL.
We’ll let Chad, father of two young children, tell the rest of the story:
“I thought that if I wanted to be the best, I had to be with the best; and, at university, we were made to believe that the best was one of the Big 4. I hadn’t heard of GGFL and never considered working at a mid-market firm.
At GGFL, and probably other mid-market firms, the partners know each other personally. It’s personal and local. In a large firm, decisions are made at head office in Toronto or New York and trickle down to the local office. It’s all about individual performance. I expected the same at GGFL, but people were so pleasant, and it took several months for me to understand that they genuinely wanted to help me succeed. That was a huge eye-opener, and helped me feel very comfortable with my new team.
Each partner brings a unique perspective, and this plays out at our meetings and benefits our decision making. We welcome constructive discussion, knowing that once we come to an agreement on what is best for the firm we leave the room united. The partners are as supportive of each other as they are of the staff. Another unexpected but welcoming fact.
The GGFL partners are also family people. One of the partners I had previously worked with once told me he could count on one hand the number of times he had dinner with his family. It was almost like a badge of honour. At GGFL, employees and partners put their families first. The firm is not just about business. So, when people get hired here, it isn’t solely on the basis of high marks or previous performance, it’s about whether they will be a good fit.
Another shock for me when I came to GGFL was working with colleagues to decide who would work on my clients’ files. They kept saying ‘co-op’ and ‘new hire’ or ‘first-year,’ and I was thinking it should be someone with at least two years’ experience. Where I came from, co-ops and first-years, after co-ops, worked on only a few sections of files and would do the same work for months. Here, at GGFL, they get to experience and learn by working on the whole file under the careful guidance of their manager and coach.
I want to communicate to students that they aren’t closing doors coming to a mid-market firm, they’re opening them, as they get to see the big picture and apply not only accounting or tax skills, but also business skills, which is just as important.
Trust and Support
And, here is my fundamental message about GGFL: All our decision makers are here in Ottawa. If I have an idea, I take it to the partners; and, if it makes sense, it gets done. Everyone, no matter their role, is encouraged to share their ideas and knows that they will be heard. The culture at GGFL is that we’re all in it together. The individual’s success is the firm’s success. The message to me from day one has been, “we support you and we trust you.” And to this day, I’ve never had anyone pressure me, and no one has ever said, ‘You’re not working hard enough. You’re not bringing in enough.’
In the first six months, while I was learning to understand and appreciate the GGFL culture, I probably had the lowest billable hours of anyone in the firm. I was waiting for Debbie (Managing Partner Deborah Bourchier) to come knocking on my door. I had a good reason, because I was trying to make the transition of my old client base successful, and I was working to bring in new clients. So, I had my response ready in case Debbie came to ask me why my billings were so low. I waited and waited, but she didn’t come. So, I went to her.
I said, ‘Debbie, you’re probably wondering why my billable hours are low?’
She said, ‘No, I’m not.’
I said, ‘I have a good answer for you!’
She said, ‘It’s okay. I know why.’
It’s also important to know that, while GGFL is a local firm rooted in Ottawa, we have national and international reach through our memberships in DFK Canada and DFK International. Through the DFK network, we not only have access to expertise and resources throughout Canada, North America, and the world, it helps us keep our fingers on the pulse of Canadian and global trends in accountancy. GGFL is not a Big 4, but we have important national and global reach.
The Bottom Line
And, let’s talk about the bottom line. I always thought that if you went to a Big 4 firm, you would automatically earn more. Accountants working at GGFL will earn as much or more than some of those working in equivalent positions at a Big 4. They will work, but they will also have fun doing it.
And, yes, since I’ve been at GGFL, I can count on one hand the number of times I have missed dinner with my family.”