Although we're still early on in 2020, this year has already been full of positive change and growth at Paradox. In February, we introduced you to our new VP Business Development, Michael Ford. Now, we're celebrating the well-deserved appointment of Neil Sheehan as Paradox's new Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Neil originally joined the Paradox family in 2017 as our Financial Controller and was promoted to CFO in January 2020. We recently sat down with Neil to learn more about his history, professional journey, and guiding principles and motivations.
How did you get into finance?
Finance was never an interesting subject for me, but it was purposeful. I found it valuable knowledge to have, especially for business.
Understanding the importance of how finance and accounting impact the overall success of businesses led me to the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where I majored in finance and accounting. I saw this as a stepping-stone that would ultimately propel me into management, particularly within the construction industry.
Once I was out of university, I began a very competitive process to find the right firm to article with. I started my career with KPMG in Edmonton, where I articled and earned my CA (CPA) accounting designation, stayed with the firm long enough to earn a management position before joining Paradox.
Were there ever any other career ideas you had in mind?
I've always been quite pragmatic about career ambitions — even as a kid. There were four boys who played hockey in my family, and even then, I never found myself dreaming of a career as a professional athlete.
As a kid, I wanted to be a farmer. The lifestyle and ownership of such a pursuit seemed very real — very tangible, and hands-on. I had a lot of significant role models who led very rewarding lives that way, so naturally I began to envision my life taking that path, too.
Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up on hog and grain farm outside of Edmonton in a large family of six. My dad was a carpenter and a farmer, and my mom was a nurse. Growing up in a small-town community, I was surrounded by many blue-collared entrepreneurs. A lot of people in the area — my friends included — were self-employed, and their influences inspired me to the point where it became a goal of mine to eventually have a business of my own.
How did you find the transition from the corporate setting of KPMG to the industrial environment at Paradox?
It didn’t really phase me. Having grown up in the small town that I did, I was constantly surrounded by tradespeople, oil and gas workers, and any other hands on job you could think of... it was a very blue-collar community. Growing up in that environment has helped me relate to the Paradox family in a more laid-back way.
What drives you?
Getting information to make more informed decisions, like taking financial information to make plans for budgeting or new business ventures. I get a lot of fulfillment out of being able to use my expertise to help our executive and management teams make more informed decisions. It’s rewarding to help them understand how their decisions impact the business on a financial level.
Coming into this role as CFO, what excites you the most?
What excites me the most, is being the main point of contact for the management team. I’m the go-to person for problem-solving and I have a bigger area of influence. I've really enjoyed developing deeper relationships with our employees and senior level management.
As CFO, you manage a team of various direct reports and many others seeking your assistance. What tactics do you use to manage various personalities?
With a variety of personalities at Paradox, being calm, relating on a personal level, and getting staff input on changes management wishes to make is very important. I'm a firm believer in getting employee buy-in before directing.
When I'm making decisions that are going to impact how our staff perform their day-to-day tasks, I make a point of taking their considerations to heart and ensuring their voices are heard.
What are you passionate about in your personal life? What intrigues and inspires you?
Sports, typically anything outdoors like hunting and fishing — especially hunting. It's something I've really come to enjoy.
My wife and I also enjoy hiking and camping together with our dog, Tucker. We like to include him on all of our adventures to the lake or to the mountains. We both love and enjoy nature, so we'll do basically anything active that gets us outside.
Ultimately, for me, it’s not about hitting the gym — I’d rather lead an active lifestyle.
What are the biggest challenges ahead of you this year as the company is experiencing unprecedented growth?
Despite the harsh market conditions, we are currently faced with, I see a lot of opportunity for growth. In my role, it’s about reinvesting our hard-earned revenue in the right places.
What are three tips you’d give people entering finance or accounting?
First, don’t be too proud to ask questions. Embrace learning curves and allow yourself to learn from others. Even when you may technically be in a position of power over people — you can always learn from them.
Second, be mindful that early on in your career, it’s a grind. But there is light at the end of the tunnel! Big opportunities await if you put in your time and learn everything you can.
Finally, take time to figure out where you want your career to take you. Whether you want to stay in public practice or move to an industry role, don’t let other people’s opinions sway you. It's important to get various perspectives — just make sure that you take that information and make an educated decision for yourself.