President & CEO of Chartered Professional Accountants of New Brunswick
Mylène Lapierre, President & CEO of the Chartered Professional Accountants of New Brunswick (CPA NB), heads the professional organization representing more than 3,000 professional advisors from one of the world’s most respected designations. But forget the stereotypes of pocket protectors and adding machines. A Chartered Professional Accountant is more than just a number-cruncher.
“A CPA is a crucial part of your team: a business partner that can run audits and tax planning, certainly, but who can also offer future casting, process improvements, and business valuations, to name but a few services,” says Lapierre. “I like to call my members ‘superstar’ accountants.”
Despite their small size, Lapierre’s passion and dynamism have driven her to empower her team to become role models for other CPA organizations across the country. “I only have seven staff members, but they are nimble and efficient, thus we deliver great value for our members,” Lapierre says. “I encourage an innovative mindset and give my staff support to try new things, so we are evolving the organization into a go-to resource for business and community leaders.”
From policing the rules to forging a path
CPA NB oversees the regulatory regime protecting the public interest, and regulation will always be a core value. But Lapierre’s determination to raise the profile of her members means the organization’s advocacy activities are ensuring government departments and businesses increasingly consult them on economic issues.
Culture change is a tricky thing, and it needs a strong leader. In her two years at the helm of CPA NB, Lapierre has led the organization from regulatory-focused and rigid to innovative and collaborative. “From languishing in obscurity we’re becoming better known in our province, regionally, and nationally,” Lapierre confirms. “I’ve come through two years of challenge, where many choices had to be made. But I believe there are always more than two options. It’s not just a binary choice between good and bad. Often the best option lies somewhere in the middle. Thus, the importance of listening to all opinions: you never know where inspiration will come from.”
The cost and challenge of leadership
When she was named President & CEO, Lapierre was studying for two designations while working full-time and raising two young children. What did she have to sacrifice to make it work? “Sleep!” laughs Lapierre. “Everyone has 24 hours in a day: the important thing is how you prioritize your time. It takes a ton of planning to structure my time to fit it all in. But, never at the price of my health. I listened to my body, and I took a step back when needed. I had enough energy to do it because I’m driven by a passion for excellence and creating greater awareness of the CPA designation.”
Time management wasn’t the only challenge she faced, however. Lapierre bumped up against institutional mindsets and stereotypes that only childless women could be successful in senior leadership. Her positivity led her to find solutions and prove her worth. “At the beginning, I experienced bias because of my age. There wasn’t much willingness to let me try, because I didn’t have decades of experience behind me. But it’s not just experience that counts: it’s attitude,” Lapierre affirms. “To change those negative mindsets, I had to let go of insecurity and embarrassment. I read, researched, and consulted with others to learn my field in-depth. I took inspiration from everything and everyone around me. I proved that considered risk-taking based on logical decisions leads to success.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re alone struggling to make changes for the better, but that relentless determination to keep moving things forward will pay off.”
Advice to succeed as a woman leader
Lapierre exemplifies the best of the fact-based decision-making that CPAs are known for. Her choices are well-researched, though she cautions that best practices are guidelines rather than absolutes: it is essential to adapt them to an organization’s needs and culture.
Another key to her success is continuous learning. Like all CPAs, Lapierre needs to complete professional development hours every year to maintain her designation. In addition to keeping up-to-date on the latest standards, she’s always seeking learning opportunities to expand her knowledge base, whether that be through earning a formal designation, attending a free webinar, or networking with peers. “You will never regret deepening your knowledge,” says Lapierre. “I offer all my staff training opportunities, as well.”
Being a female leader, Lapierre might approach things differently, but she sees this as a strength. “Be kind. This is very important, no matter what your role, but it’s particularly important as a leader,” Lapierre says. “My employees are all people that have value, and I treat them as such. It’s not about being a stern dictator that hands down decisions from on high. Instead, listen to others and consider their advice, but then go away and reflect and make your own decision. I have had no regrets with this approach. And of course, I always keep the best interests of my members at heart.”
It’s not only her members that Lapierre wants to serve. “We are trusted business advisors who are ready and available to advance the socio-economic well-being of everyone. That’s why CPAs are so involved in volunteering: providing free tax clinics and financial literacy education sessions. CPA NB is here to move our businesses and communities forward.”