John Black is one of Canada's best CFOs. He has a knack for getting high-growth companies to the next level, whether that is through an acquisition, merger, or through IPO. During his illustrious career, Black was the CFO at Trimark Sportswear, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), and Protenergy Natural Foods, before wrapping up decades of success as the CFO of Canada Goose, where he took the company to a strong IPO on NYSE and TSX.
Passionate about all things financial management, Black is a Chartered Accountant who got his start at Ernst & Young in 1982 after completing his Bachelor of Commerce in Finance at the University of Ottawa, now officially titled the Telfer School of Management. Today, he is focused on giving back through philanthropy. In 2022, John generously gave a substantial donation to the 40th Class Campaign for experiential learning. This year, the Telfer School is proud to honour John Black with the R. Trudeau Medal, which we bestow upon our alumni who achieved remarkable success in their careers and give back to their community and alma mater.
The Key to a Successful CFO Career: Have a Vision
When Black started his education with a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Ottawa four decades ago, he already had an objective to become a businessman, finding accounting and finance in particular stimulating and enjoyable. A clear direction coupled with John’s drive and determination did the rest.
“In my 20s, I asked myself: ‘Where do I want to be when I’m 35?’ And I knew I wanted to be a senior financial executive or partner,” shares Black in an interview, “So the plan was straightforward: take courses, do as well as I can, then get a job at an accounting firm, complete articling for 3-4 years and then study to become a CPA.”
From the Ground Up: Climbing the Ranks of Financial Management to CFO
Looking back, Black feels satisfied with executing his plan to a T. After four years at Ernst & Young, following in the footsteps of his father who was a CPA, John continued learning as an Assistant Controller at Ford Glass Ltd., and a Comptroller at Slater Steel Inc., before moving into the roles of Controller at CAE Inc. (formerly Canadian Aviation Electronics) and then Vice President of Finance and Administration at Purolator Courier. Then came serial high-profile CFO roles.
He always approached his career with a future vision in mind — will this position fill in the experience gaps needed to move to the next step? Although he liked the work and the people wherever he went, it was this particular ability to keep his vision top-of-mind that led to a flourishing professional life wrapping up on a high note. He’s had many mentors in his career and was always learning from the leaders in the places he’s worked. The one thing that stayed constant was his vision.
“I really loved my work,” adds Black, who is now retired. “Especially the last fifteen years — it was fantastic; it wasn’t all simple but it worked out well.”
The Value of Education and Giving Back to Alma Mater
Completing his Bachelor of Commerce at uOttawa helped Black get a start in his career. He recalls enjoying his studies and gaining practical experience working as a consultant for a local business while still in school. Most of all, John is grateful for the lifelong friends he made at uOttawa who he sees to this day, although he hasn’t lived in the city for 35 years.
“When I was that young I didn’t have a detailed plan of what to do next,” he says, “But I had a vision. Then I graduated and executed it.” Now, John is helping the next generation of business leaders chase their dreams and visions through giving back, which he considers integral. “I feel I had a great career and even though there were ups and downs, my family supported me. I wouldn’t have what I have today without my education,” says Black. “That’s why it’s important for me to give back to uOttawa.”
John Black: “Stick to Your Education”
John’s advice for current students is to stick with their university education even when it gets challenging, be prepared to take risks when you get older and try and find where you want to be when you’re 35. Create your vision. What does it look like? Where are you now and how do you get to where you want to go? But the most important piece of advice the former CFO at Canada Goose gives is to learn as much as you can and to always keep learning.
Experiential Learning Opportunities in Education and the Workplace
Focusing his support of his alma mater on experiential learning specifically, John is a big advocate of the hands-on approach. In particular, experiential learning and networking opportunities can help you understand what someone in your dream role may do on a day-to-day basis: “If I had more exposure to a CFO or a CMO when I was that young, it’d be very helpful.” Today, John’s philanthropy allows Telfer students to participate in networking events and meet executives in different fields, propelling their careers forward with necessary connections.
Former Canada Goose CFO on Financial Management with a Vision
Since John worked as a CFO in different verticals, from sportswear to lottery and gaming, from natural food products to luxury outerwear, he has masterfully adapted his financial management skills to every company he’s served.
“You gradually get better at things and there is a commonality between Protenergy, Canada Goose, and Trimark — they are all high-growth companies. They do things differently thanks to experiencing constant change,” says Black. When a company would reach a specific stage of growth, John would be hired to execute a liquidity event, manage sales to strategic investors, and persuade large lenders and investors to join. Throughout it all, he always had a vision of where he wanted to be, from 35 to retirement: for example, when he wanted to gain more treasury experience he went to CAE, a large Canadian company with global operations in Mergers and Acquisitions. John would see a gap on his resume and find a suitable position to fill it.
“Before you start, spend a lot of time making sure it’s a good move,” advises Black. Before taking the role at Canada Goose, he spent six months meeting with the executives to ensure mutual benefit. Once John started in a new position, he worked with other members of the senior team to build a strategic plan to understand where the company has and has not been successful. He’d create a plan of what to change and a vision, this time for the company — where are we now? Where do we need to go? How do we fill the gaps? Black worked closely with HR since aggressive growth often required extensive hiring: when he started at Canada Goose, the company was under 500 employees, when he left, it was at 5,000.
Today, John Black is continuing his support of the Telfer School with generous philanthropy, opening doors for our next generation of business leaders, and spending time with his family and friends in retirement. We are proud to call John an alumnus of the School.