Holding Steady

How Deborah Starkman kept GMP Capital balanced while helping steer the company through successful mergers and international expansion

“There’s a time to roll up your sleeves and a time for a lighter atmosphere. A leader needs to strike the appropriate balance between hard work and laughter.” —Deborah Starkman, CFO
“There’s a time to roll up your sleeves and a time for a lighter atmosphere. A leader needs to strike the appropriate balance between hard work and laughter.” —Deborah Starkman, CFO (Photo: Joel Benard)

She has always liked numbers, but Deborah Starkman didn’t always want to be an accountant. Her father challenged her to list 10 reasons why she wanted to be a lawyer, but when she could only come up with eight, she changed her plans. Following her father’s advice to be independent while leading others, Starkman now serves as CFO and secretary of GMP Capital Inc., an independent, diversified financial-services firm working with corporate, institutional, and individual investors in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.

As anyone in the financial industry can tell you, these past few years haven’t made for smooth sailing. In fact, the cover of GMP’s annual report shows a ship cutting through choppy seas. But despite challenging and uncertain markets, Starkman has found ways to contribute to GMP’s continued global success, including helping move the company toward the fixed-income market, managing successful relationships, and maintaining financial growth.

DOs & DON’Ts

Overseeing Mergers and Acquisitions

DO

Look for opportunities for strategic collaboration. Give everyone an equal voice, encourage participation, and foster an office culture that supports teamwork.

Look for complementary cultures and values. Effectively communicating a clear vision of success will strengthen and support the transition.

Make time for laughter. Taking breaks will help build strong relationships and will energize your team members.

DON’T

Do everything by yourself. Build a supportive team, and reward hard work.

Expect a transition to happen overnight. You can’t expect everything to be wrapped up after a couple of all-nighters.

After nearly a decade leading the finance team at a major Canadian financial institution, Starkman was ready for a new challenge. She joined GMP in 2006 as the head of regulatory reporting and risk management. “In every role, no matter the level of seniority, there’s an opportunity to advance knowledge,” Starkman says. Seven years later, her knowledge and experience proved powerful enough to carry her into the CFO position.

Before she stepped into her new role, GMP merged its wealth-management business with Richardson Partners Financial Limited in 2009, creating Richardson GMP Limited. According to Starkman, the two firms were ideally matched because both shared a culture based on partnership, ownership, and a strong commitment to clients. Throughout the 10-month transaction, Starkman addressed accounting, regulatory, and tax issues while working closely with legal counsel and external auditors. The merger required many long nights managing complex financial, compliance, and legal issues, but Starkman found the right temperament for the job.

“There’s a time to roll up your sleeves and a time for a lighter atmosphere,” she says. “A leader needs to strike the appropriate balance between hard work and laughter. Laughter is a good distraction.”

In September 2011, Starkman helped oversee GMP’s successful entry into the fixed-income market when it acquired GMP Securities, LLC (formerly Miller Tabak Roberts Securities, LLC). She worked hard to motivate the due diligence and integration teams, bringing a fresh and energized approach.

Offering a number of financial tools, GMP Capital has made a name for itself in Toronto as a leading independent investment dealer. (Photo: Brian Pieters)
Offering a number of financial tools, GMP Capital has made a name for itself in Toronto as a leading independent investment dealer. (Photo: Brian Pieters)

In 2012, as CFO, Starkman had the opportunity to play a crucial role in a large-scale operational review aimed at optimizing GMP’s operations, and it resulted in significant and sustainable fixed-cost savings. Today, she oversees 30 employees in the finance department, manages all regulatory filings and audits, oversees performance management and risk management, and also serves as corporate secretary.

Moving forward, Starkman intends to look for new opportunities and areas of efficiency as she implements a new general ledger system focusing on prudent expense and capital management. She’ll also continue to serve on the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada’s capital committee, as one of the Investment Industry Association of Canada’s 14 elected board members, and as treasurer for the Centennial Infant Child Centre. She is looking forward to maintaining strong collaboration across the global platform while weathering economic headwinds, positioning GMP Capital for continued success.