Building a Solid Foundation

How experiences in real estate and construction have helped Bouygues Energies & ServicesJatinder Heer in his role of CFO

IMG_0073d_cropJatinder Heer is a man of impressive duality, with an understanding of construction and real estate from both the financial side and from the hands-on experience of building his own home—more than once. An admitted lifelong learner, he loves to be around intelligent people so that he can absorb as much knowledge as possible, and here he reveals how that approach led him to his CFO position at Bouygues Energies & Services, where he’s helping the company pursue its goals.

Advantage: Talk a little about Bouygues Energies & Services and its work.
Jatinder Heer: A division of Bouygues Construction, Bouygues Energies & Services is headquartered in France and has 12,000 employees in 25 countries. We are working on a number of long-term P3 projects [public-private partnerships]. Bouygues Energies & Services handles infrastructure, facility management, process, and M&E and HVAC engineering. In Canada, we are primarily engaged in facilities management in the P3 and non-P3 markets. For example, we’re working with the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care & Surgery Centre as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police E Division Headquarters. We’re doing facilities and life-cycle management at both of these facilities and traditional facilities management at the Kelowna International Airport. Life-cycle management means that at the end of the contract—say, in 30 years—we have to turn the building over in a predetermined condition. If the roof needs to be replaced or the walls need painting, we do it. The risk is on us.

What makes your company unique?
First, it’s the complementary segments that Bouygues is involved in worldwide: construction, facility management, communications and TV, transport and grid, and civil works. That knowledge and expertise allow us to provide added value to our customers. Second, we have a very consistent approach to process and risk management. To me, as an accountant, that’s a major advantage. And, finally, it’s the corporate culture. This company truly puts the people first. They want us to succeed. Even though it’s a global corporation, it feels like a family.

Tell me about your role.
My title is CFO of Bouygues Energies & Services Canada. I oversee financial, reporting, treasury, insurance, and IT for the company. I am also responsible for corporate governance, making sure we meet high standards from an ethical, statutory, environmental, and social perspective. I love the variety of individuals and issues I deal with. I may be doing finance in the morning and insurance in the afternoon or talking to someone in Paris or Vietnam on the same day.

What are your goals for Bouygues Energies & Services?
We have been in Canada since 2008. We want to grow geographically—have a national presence—and expand our current service offerings. We recently acquired Plan Group, a mechanical and electrical installation and maintenance company based in Toronto, which will now help us reach our expansion and growth goals.

Tell us about your career path and how it led you here.
I received a bachelor’s of business administration, with a concentration in accounting. After graduation, I was bored with accounting, so I got a job as an immigration officer at a Canadian border crossing—a job that showed me I wouldn’t be happy with a career in the public sector. So I started working toward my CGA designation while working for the government and then landed a job with the Canada Revenue Agency, working in corporate tax assessing. I then moved on to PwC, where I fell in love with accounting and business again. I worked with high-net-worth clients with real estate holdings, which sparked my interest in real estate. My next move was to TREZ Capital, a nonbank commercial lender, as the accounting manager. I dealt with secondary loans and mezzanine financing. When my mentor, the CFO, left for the Beedie Group—the largest private industrial landowner, developer, and landlord in metro Vancouver—I followed. At first, it was a difficult environment to work in. The old offices functioned poorly, and morale wasn’t great. But then a move to a beautiful new space served as the catalyst for change in the corporate culture.

I decided I wanted to take on the top financial role in a company, so I took on the role of director of finance at Weststone Properties, a multifamily residential developer. Unfortunately, the real estate market started to decline, and sources of revenue dried up. I was soon unemployed for the first time in my professional career. I eventually took a controller
role with a small general contractor. After seven months, I was offered my current job, and I’ve been here almost three years.

Describe your hands-on experience with construction and real estate.
My wife and I were looking for a home. I realized it would be cheaper to build one, and so I did, working with subcontractors that I hired. I would get the quotes, book the inspections, deal with the banks, coordinate the trades. The house turned out so great that one day someone knocked on our door and asked to buy it. So we sold it and started again with a new house. Later, when I was unemployed, I became licensed as a residential builder and started building homes again while I worked on finding another job.

What advice do you have for other CFOs?
Make sure you’re creating an environment [and] culture in which people enjoy coming to work. A great culture attracts great people, and that’s sure to have a positive impact on the bottom line. Also, it’s important to keep your mind and body fit for the daily rigours. If you do, you’ll have significantly more energy and be a better decision maker.