Robert Inglis is Chief Financial Officer of First National. As such, he is responsible for all financial reporting and financial planning, and heads up our shareholder relations program. In this interview, we ask Robert to elaborate on his role and how it supports the Company’s success.
You graduated with a commerce degree from Queen’s University in 1988 and obtained your Chartered Professional Accountant designation in 1991. How did you get your career started?
During my time at Queen’s, a recruiter from what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers came on campus and I was fortunate enough to graduate with a job. I could have chosen to go into PwC’s large audit practice, but instead I thought it would be more rewarding to work with smaller, owner-managed companies, so I began in the Independent Business Services division. In retrospect, this was ideal training for my initial role at First National.
How have you found the experience of working at First National?
Extremely rewarding. This is not like a typical financial institution where it is so large that you are stuck performing one specific role. Here, it’s very entrepreneurial and the growth we’ve achieved has made my job progressively more challenging. When I joined, it was a pretty simple ‘cash business’ and I was the chief bottler washer. If it had stayed that way, perhaps I would have left after a couple of years. But it didn’t. We grew from making about $1 million a year to now when we make more than $200 million on revenues of over $1 billion. So it’s a lot more complex, a lot more interesting but still a very dynamic and entrepreneurial place to work. The most rewarding and challenging aspect of my role is creating financial information that helps senior management determine First National’s future development.
As CFO, do you have a guiding philosophy?
I suppose one principle I have is to let the entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs. In other words, to support operations but let the business operators take on risks to grow the value of the franchise. Another guiding principle in my role is to give meaning to the numbers we produce in our financial statements.
Why is that important?
Accounting today is sometimes very complex and getting more so as time goes by. As a result, a public company’s financial statements can be difficult to comprehend. My job is to help both First National’s management and our shareholders understand the meaning behind the numbers.
First National is a lot larger than it was when you joined and yet it doesn’t sound like the entrepreneurial mindset has changed.
No, it hasn’t. And one of the good things about our business is that our management team recognizes the importance of investing in the business and incurring costs in support of growth. Sometimes it’s hard, when it’s your own money, to stay committed to growth. Growth costs money and if the vision is not clear, it can be daunting to make such large investments. In the financial services industry, there’s an advantage to being a large company like we are, especially in economies of scale. The danger is growing too ‘institutional’. We’re large but we’re not an ocean liner that cannot turn and adjust course quickly. Our corporate history is filled with examples of quick and nimble decision making.