Calian’s Jacqueline Gauthier named Ottawa’s 2019 CFO of the Year

Gauthier
Jacqueline Gauthier (centre) is named the 2019 CFO of the Year at the Ottawa Economic Outlook on Nov. 5, 2019. Photo by Mark Holleron

When asked to describe her role at Calian, Jacqueline Gauthier replies with a chuckle: “Jack of all trades.”

And as Gauthier’s peers will tell you, she’s mastered many of them as well. In a career at Calian that’s spanned nearly two decades, the Gatineau native has served with distinction in a variety of capacities ​– most notably as chief financial officer.

Gauthier spent 17 years as the Kanata-based services firm’s CFO, stepping aside last March to move into a new role as senior vice-president of corporate development. In her long and eventful tenure as chief number-cruncher, Gauthier was one of the principal architects of Calian’s aggressive M&A strategy that has seen the firm acquire nine companies in the past nine years.

Analysts grew accustomed to hearing good news on a lot of fronts during their quarterly conference calls with the former CFO. With Gauthier in charge of the books, Calian posted an impressive run of 69 consecutive profitable quarters ​– a streak that’s since stretched to 71. The company cracked the $300-million mark in annual revenues in her final full year on the job and has secured a place as one of Ottawa’s premier publicly traded companies.

In recognition of her myriad of contributions to Calian’s success, Gauthier is OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade’s 2019 CFO of the Year.

Pretty heady stuff for someone who concedes she “kind of fell into accounting” after switching from her original course of study at CEGEP, computer science.

“For me, it’s been a lot of fun,” the 54-year-old says. “I grew up at Calian. The first part of my career was about learning the job, learning what a CFO does, learning the business. Through the years, I’ve become more of an expert. It’s like, ‘OK, now I can really help. I can really be strategic and be part of that vision to move things forward.’ It’s been a very nice evolution for me.”

Gauthier’s road to the C-suite began after she graduated from the Université du Québec in Hull with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1987. She followed up a five-year stint at KPMG with an eight-year run as a corporate comptroller at pulp and paper giant E.B. Eddy, where her work caught the attention of CFO Brian Aitken. When Aitken moved into the same role at Calian in 2000, Gauthier was among his first hires.

It didn’t take long for her to make an impression at Calian, which was then primarily known as an IT staffing firm. Within a year, Gauthier was promoted to vice-president of finance, and when Aitken departed for a job at NAV Canada in early 2002, his former prot​ég​é was named his successor.

Guiding Calian's growth

As Gauthier grew into her role, Calian matured as a company. 

Kevin Ford’s arrival in 2010 signalled a new era. Ford, a former executive at IBM, quickly launched an aggressive plan to grow Calian’s product and service lines through acquisitions. He also embarked on a tireless effort to spread the gospel of Calian, hitting the road with Gauthier to speak with “every investor who wanted to talk with us,” as he put it in 2017.

The role of corporate evangelist did not come naturally to the CFO, but she embraced it with characteristic enthusiasm. 

“I like challenges,” says Gauthier. “I’ve always put myself forward to do new things. I don’t shy away from looking at something I’ve never done before or that is totally foreign to me.”

For the past decade, she and Ford have been a dynamic duo, mapping out the firm’s M&A playbook and charting a course that’s seen the company add more than a thousand employees to its payroll.

“I really love working with Kevin,” Gauthier says of Ford, who was promoted to chief executive in 2015 and was named Ottawa's CEO of the Year two years later. “I think that’s a great thing that Kevin has done in terms of raising our profile, especially in Ottawa, but also in our investor community. We’re known by so many more investors now, and that’s reflected in our share price as well.”

Ford says his low-key colleague’s time in the spotlight is “long overdue,” and he credits Gauthier with much of Calian’s rise during his tenure as CEO. 

“I have had the privilege of working with Jacqueline for more than eight years and, since day one, she has been an invaluable resource and partner who has helped grow Calian and educate the investor community about the great strides made by this company,” he says. 

“She has been an example of a CFO who can handle the complexities of a diverse, publicly traded company while serving as a key contributor to our transformation and growth agenda.”

Spearheading M&A strategy

Since handing over the CFO duties to Patrick Houston last spring, Gauthier has taken on the challenge of orchestrating Calian’s next wave of acquisitions. It’s a complex job that requires a mix of financial savvy, strategic vision and good old-fashioned intuition, and Gauthier is loving it.

“It’s a team effort,” she explains. “We make sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of where we’re at, where we’re going and what we want to accomplish out of the acquisition.

“We are picky. We take a lot of time to know the owner and the management team before we get too serious. We make sure that what we’re seeing is actually what’s there.”

Her old office is in very good hands with Houston, she says happily, while her new job gives her more time to devote to community causes. For the past four years, Gauthier has chaired the local board of Dress for Success, a charity aimed at assisting women business professionals, and she recently joined the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s board of directors.

A former figure skater, Gauthier also heads up Skate Canada’s finance committee and last year became a certified skating judge.

But Gauthier won’t hesitate to tell you her most important role is being a proud mom of three to Hugo, 25, Chlo​é, 22, and Jacob, 19. 

“You’re always torn between your kids and working,” says Gauthier, who lives in Gatineau with her husband, local businessman Alain Louis Seize. “But for me, my family’s been the priority. Every time I make decisions about my time and where I spend it, it’s always been about them first.” 

Gauthier will be honoured as the 2019 CFO of the Year at the Best Ottawa Business Awards, held Nov. 22.