AlumniElise Rees

Course studied: BA(Hons) Organisation Behaviour, 1979

Position at time of writing: Independent Director (Enmax Corporation; Artemis Gold Inc., K-Bro Linen Services Inc. and Armstrong Group Holdings)

Tell us about your background

For generations, my family ran retail businesses in the West of Scotland and I grew up helping, especially at Christmas. I have two sisters and a brother, two of whom are also Strathclyders. 

When I graduated, I decided to become a Chartered Accountant and was offered an apprenticeship at Deloitte Haskins and Sells in London. Later, my husband had an opportunity to move to Vancouver with Deloitte, and I decided to continue my Chartered Accountant designation in Canada. I moved to Clarkson Gordon which is a predecessor firm to Ernst & Young EY, and spent 35 years in public accounting, first in audit, then tax, then transaction tax where I had various leadership roles building the British Columbia integrated transaction practice.  

I also had the privilege of working on the initial Canadian Task Force for the Retention of Women at EY Canada, and ultimately worked on the Americas Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion. I am extremely proud of the firm's work in Canada, and globally, to address diversity, challenge systemic barriers and build a work environment to ensure all people have opportunities to excel and meet their full potential. I was also encouraged to be involved in community leadership where I was exposed to non-for profit boards, foundations and the Vancouver Board of Trade. Finally, as part of my professional development I was involved in the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants Tax Training Programs, first as a Tutor and ultimately as a lecturer at various levels of In-depth Tax Training.  

Why did you choose Strathclyde?

My mother encouraged me to apply to university and I chose Strathclyde, originally for Pharmacy, but decided I preferred the Arts and Social Sciences. Strathclyde offered a lot of flexibility and in particular encouraged Arts students to take Business School classes. The flexibility to explore different subjects was very attractive as I was unsure what I wanted to do with my career.  

Where are you now? 

I now live in Canada and I have two sons, two lovely daughters-in-law, a five month old grandson, and a couple of family golden retrievers! I was very lucky to marry a Welshman and fellow CA / CPA who was super supportive as we brought up our family and kept our careers growing. In 2016 I took advantage of the Partner early retirement program at EY to pursue an opportunity to develop as an Independent Director on private and public company boards.

This was a natural opportunity for me to be focussed on strategic value while utilizing all of the skills I developed as a Chartered Professional Accountant. I continue to learn about new industries; the energy transition through Enmax and how to build a mine from scratch at Artemis Gold. I am also a member of the Board of Directors of K-Bro Linen Systems Inc, which has a wholly owned subsidiary (Fishers) with their main plant in my home town of Coatbridge. These Board positions are a terrific way to be active in business, utilizing the diverse business experience gained through my career at EY, while allowing me the flexibility to pursue travel, golf and skiing.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

It is difficult to pick a highlight as I've had many opportunities. Moving into a specialization in transaction tax was pivotal as I was able to work on several multi-billion dollar acquisitions and divestitures. For me, the divestiture tax work was always special because it was working with entrepreneurs who had built businesses often from an idea to a stage where they were looking for the next transition stage of professionalising the business or accessing growth capital. In my view entrepreneurs are the backbone of business development, growth and innovation.

However, I balance that with the amazing opportunities to work in non for profit organizations, particularly supporting the mental and physical health of women and families. Having come from a matriarchal background, it was always clear to me that if women have access to good health and education then generally we should be able to develop stronger communities.

Receiving my Fellowship Chartered Accountant was a great highlight as it is a recognition by my business peers of my career and community leadership, of course until I received the Strathclyde Executive Leadership Award.

I really love where I am at now in my career and I would love to continue to add value to governance in the Independent Board Arena for the next few years. You never know what opportunities may open up. I am also thrilled to support other people in their careers. In addition I am looking forward to doing some fun activities with our new grandson.

As an experienced Director, what are the benefits of serving on a board, and how did you get your start?

I got started back in 1985 and since then, thanks to continued exposure to governance together with networking to let people know I am open to Board Directorship opportunities, I have been interviewed and shortlisted for various boards.

Continual learning and development are a major benefit as well as diversity of thought. You learn about different industries, assess and grow different management teams, look at non-organic growth opportunities presented by management and try to assess if these are in the best interest of the corporation. You also have the challenging role of assessing the quality and leadership skills of the CEO. Exposure to different opinions and points of view regarding business opportunities, challenges and staff development allows me to grow as an individual.