“I didn’t know what accountants did’ – GGFL’s Deborah Bourchier reflects on a career well spent.
Teenage co-op student Deborah Bourchier arrived at GGFL in January 1980, recruited from the University of Waterloo where she was studying math and accounting, and where the campus population was significantly larger than the northern Ontario town of Mattawa where she was raised.
It was shortly before Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, just weeks before Pierre Trudeau defeated Joe Clark to become prime minister for the second time, and the year O Canada became our national anthem.
And Deborah (Debbie to her colleagues) was destined to make some history of her own: In 1994, she would become the firm’s first female partner and in 2008, its first female managing partner – one of just two or three female managing partners in Canada, and still a rarity in the world of accounting.
Debbie retires on December 31 after a 40-year career at GGFL – a departure long-planned but one robbed of the deserved, traditional farewell party by the social distancing demands of COVID.
START OF THE JOURNEY
Back in 1980, GGFL was known as Ginsberg Gluzman Fage & Levitz.
Partner Gerald Levitz recruited Debbie from Waterloo. She and another female student were the firm’s first co-ops.
“Gerry had come to GGFL from Peat-Marwick (now KPMG) in 1977,” she said. “He brought big firm ideas to our small firm and one of his ideas was to hire co-op students. And to this day, we still hire co-op students.
“I’m from a town of 2,500 people so was intimidated by a move to Toronto,” she added. “I was looking for a smaller firm where I could feel comfortable and was keen and eager to figure out what an accountant was because I didn’t know what business was or what accountants did.”
GGFL was a firm of 25 to 30 people in 1980 but for a teenager from a small town, who had never been in an office environment, it was a new and exciting world in a city she had never visited.
“There were no expectations of me because co-op students were new to the firm and I only had four months of university,” recalled Debbie. “I was able to learn at my own speed, and they just kept feeding me work. I think they were surprised that I could get things right. But I remember it as a really nice, warm, welcoming environment.”
Debbie was hired as a full-time employee in 1984, after her final exams.
She says her career has brought many memorable moments, including being named Ottawa’s 2015 Businesswoman of the Year and being awarded the prestigious honorary designation Fellow of the Charted Professional Accountants (FCPA) for outstanding achievements that include community leadership, bringing distinction to the accounting profession and serving as a role model.
And, of course, her appointment as Managing Partner, taking over from her mentor Gerry Levitz, the firm’s first managing partner.
“That was a really proud moment for me,” she said. “He’d been our managing partner for 25 years. He loved it and was justifiably proud of all the things he’d accomplished. So we had a kind of handing off, and made the announcement with a photograph of the two of us together.”
After 10 years as managing partner, and in the early phase of her retirement planning last year, Debbie passed the leadership baton to Josh Engel.
GGFL is going to miss her, says Josh.
“Debbie has an innate ability to bring a sense of calm, logic and reason to any issue or challenge that arises,” he said. “Whether servicing clients or overseeing the management of the firm, these attributes, along with her genuine care for people, set a tone of professionalism and instilled confidence for all those that had the privilege of interacting with her.”
“Her greatest success is that she made all those around her more successful, including clients, staff, colleagues and the firm” he added. “This is the true measure of a great leader and she did it with grace, compassion, humility and gentle good humour.”
Aside from her own personal achievements, Debbie said her greatest enjoyment has been seeing young employees develop their careers and move through the GGFL ranks. And as a parting gesture she’s been holding monthly ‘ask me anything’ meetings with a group of people – sharing her experiences and helping them to develop their own goals.
She has transitioned her clients to other GGFL partners and plans to take a year to ‘not being so busy’ before deciding what to do next. (Debbie and her husband Jim have a new granddaughter, Ellie Anne, and plan to see a little more of her).
“The time is right for me to retire,” she said. “It was really important to me that the leadership team at GGFL be in a good position to take over and I wouldn’t have left without properly transitioning my clients. So the timing for me is perfect. GGFL is in a good spot.
“I’ll be keeping in touch,’ she added. “You can’t work somewhere for all those years and not have special relationships and friendships with many people. And I’m so grateful for that.”