By Scott Sargent
The IABC/Calgary board has several new members this year, including a new director of finance, Christina Casallas. Vacating her chair after two years spent moving the Chapter finances from red to black, Shelly Nowroski knows the Chapter’s finances and members’ best interests will remain in capable hands. Christina already has one year under her belt as the manager of finance, an essential foundation built into the director of finance succession plan. Both are proud of the work they’ve done and Christina is now looking for the next manager of finance, who will succeed her on the 2020-2021 board.
For a bit of background on these two finance leaders, Shelly has a Bachelor of Commerce degree–a double major in marketing and management information systems, and originally started out in the tech industry, eventually shifting to marketing and communications. She spent seven years at Suncor and is a self-described ‘project whisperer’ who is now the principal at Illuminate Consulting Group.
Christina has a Bachelor of Commerce, specializing in marketing from UBC. She started her career working co-op jobs for the federal government and BC Hydro, then moved back to Calgary and worked in communication for a small non-profit conservation area, which eventually led to a communications position at the Calgary Parking Authority (and yes, I asked her about a parking ticket).
Now that the manager of finance position is open at IABC/Calgary, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with both Shelly and Christina for an enjoyable discussion about the importance of each role.
IABCYYC: Christina, would you say you learned a lot as manager of finance? That’s a really good transition.
Christina Casallas: YES! I learned a ton and the way it’s set up, you can get your feet wet and learn all the processes, and be set up for success when you take the director role instead of going in blind…you get to see and be a part of a lot of it.
IABCYYC: Shelly, tell me what is interesting about finance for you?
Shelly Nowroski: I like numbers, I like processes, understanding strategy and being part of the strategic discussion. So as the director of finance, you participate in the executive meetings which happen each month and have an eye on a larger organization. I’ve built it so anyone can step into the role, whether you like numbers or not…it’s actually been built for communicators to come in and sustain it.
IABCYYC: How does finance impact communications work?
SN: If a company has investors, it impacts the story you tell. In a tough economy, companies may look to cut overhead, which can be how communications <roles> are often seen, because business leaders don’t see a concrete ROI. It may be intangible, but it’s there.
IABCYYC: What repercussions could arise if finance is not considered?
SN: There can be hidden costs for decisions for events, for example catering costs for speakers and volunteers <complimentary tickets> and…every ticket that’s sold has transaction processing costs…those are hidden costs you have to account for or something you thought would be profitable will cost you money. There have been a couple of years of losses due to the economy, membership decline, etc., but this year we’re going to be in the black. And that’s been the effect of understanding the full ramifications of the finance portfolio.
IABCYYC: What has been a key learning from the financial perspective?
CC: There have been lots of little takeaways, but also the larger pieces like participating in the financial coaching and working with the board’s executives. This position was really neat in that I got to interact with the executive and other board members more than some other volunteer positions might. But also, to take that coaching role on, to provide that guidance and ask those questions so that people can understand the ‘why’ of what we’re doing on the financial side…and why it’s important.
IABCYYC: What was a big selling point of the position?
CC: It was truly a leadership and growth opportunity. The manager role is more tactical, but you get your feet wet, get to learn a lot, get to meet the board members, and then you grow into this leadership role as director with the manager supporting you, so it’s great.
Shelly’s challenge when she originally took on the role was to figure out what to do to build a sustainable future. Part of this was adding the position of finance manager. This past year is the first time they’ve implemented a manager position to take over for the director. A sound strategy for legacy planning. Both Shelly and Christina emphasize that a background in finance (or even a love of numbers) is not required to succeed in this role, and that there is a lot of support built in.
How well did they do this year? Well, it should also be mentioned that IABC/Calgary won a Chapter Management award of excellence for finance, the highest award given to a chapter.
The board also recognizes the over 100 volunteers that support the chapter. Christina recently won volunteer of the quarter for her efforts.