Leading from the Back

“It’s true what they say about hiring people smarter than you: it always works out.” —Brad Cruickshank, CFO

Brad Cruickshank, CFO of Dueck Auto Group, shares some mindful management strategies

The common stereotype of chief financial officers everywhere holds that they only care about the bottom line. As CFO of Dueck Auto Group, though, Brad Cruickshank is proving there’s a more holistic type of finance leader—one who sees beyond the numbers to the people juggling them, who sees how the numbers benefit community efforts. Cruickshank recently spoke with Advantage to explain his people-focused leadership philosophy in detail.

Advantage: What makes your job most enjoyable?
Brad Cruickshank: The people. I’m not the type of person who could work at home. It’s so rewarding to help people succeed; so many people did the same thing for me, and it’s a chance for me to pay it forward. Each person is like a project to work with, seeing them rise up in their career.

I also enjoy working with a variety of businesses in different industries. I work for one of the leading entrepreneurs in Vancouver, with three dealerships. We also build recreational facilities for sports teams. In Chilliwack, British Columbia, we partnered with the provincial and municipal governments to build a community ice rink and arena, and we also own the hockey team that plays in that rink. We have also built other recreational facilities in Langley, British Columbia, and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

What are the key qualities for successful leadership today?
Openness is a key quality—openness to change and openness to one’s staff. Leaders need to be good listeners and to trust in their teams. I think people respond well to that.

Also, being able to get out of the way. The best thing leaders can do for their team is to lead from the back. Put people in an environment to succeed, and they will. I was influenced a lot by Jim Collins’s Good to Great and his ideas about “Level 5 leadership,” getting the right people “on the bus” and “facing the brutal facts.” It’s about matching people’s skills to the roles and facing the facts to ensure you’re solving the right problem.

I see these qualities in Dueck Auto Group’s owner. He created this business himself, so he has a lot of pride, ownership, and is a hands-on leader; but when you earn his trust, he leads from the back.

Brad Cruickshank’s
Career Milestones

1993
Earns a bachelor of business administration degree from Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON

1993–1999
Works as an accounting manager at Futureshop

1999–2008
Starts as a controller before getting promoted to CFO at Hub International TOS

2000
Earns his Certified Management Accountant designation in British Columbia

2005
Becomes a member of Financial Executives International

2008
Joins Dueck Auto Group as the company’s CFO

2013
Begins serving as treasurer of the Tapestry Foundation

How will the automotive resale industry continue to change, and how will you keep up in the coming years?
Cars are always something we’re going to have to drive first before purchasing. People want more of an experience now—it’s an emotional relationship with a car—so we are trying to bring that.

The Internet has had a huge influence. There is so much information available [that] customers are sometimes more educated than our sales force. Our sales team’s product knowledge needs to be top-notch, not just of our own fleet, but of our competitors’ products as well. We’ve also embraced social media to monitor and respond to our customers’ needs.

We’re also trying different ways to reach out to our service customers—with quick-lube lanes and tire rotation—to respond to fast-paced lifestyles.

What would your team members say if asked how you support them?
I think they would say that I’m enthusiastic and type A, but I try to keep levity in my job. It’s important to work hard when we have to and take the foot off the gas as well. Work-life balance is very important. If you can have fun once in a while and really listen to what they need, people will want to succeed.

I have an entrepreneurial philosophy. I’m not interested in managing my team’s day-to-day. I want to offer my team support for doing the right thing and help them make decisions like it’s their own business. I’ve never met anyone who wants to fail. I support with a philosophy of freedom and independence for my team.

How would you describe the composition of your team?
We are 21 people in the accounting department, with a good mix. It’s true what they say about hiring people smarter than you: it always works out.
In an effort to bring our team closer together, I initiated a “Secret Santa” to help us learn something about someone else on the team. We also made a few personnel changes that needed to happen, so we are pretty close-knit now. There are two people outside my window right now, working something out together. That’s what I like to see.

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The Bottom Line

Job title
CFO

Industry
Automotive

Years in the Business
21.

Where did you start your career?
At Futureshop as an accounting manager.

Describe yourself in three words
Leader, enthusiastic, open.

Advice to those just starting in finance
Don’t expect everything overnight. Believe in yourself, and stay positive. Find a great mentor.