A Leap of Faith

Prophix controller Norman Son Kee discusses his journey from South Africa to Canada and how it has informed his work at the software company

Norman Son Kee travelled farther than most—more than 9,000 miles—for his chance at a finance career with Mississauga-based Prophix Software Inc. The journey began when he and his wife, Debbie, left South Africa nearly three decades ago, but the challenges they faced along the way were more than matters of mere distance. During their first year in Canada, for example, as they adjusted to unfamiliar new surroundings, they lived largely off of Debbie’s salary as a computer programmer because Son Kee couldn’t find any work that required his public-accounting experience. Once he got a foothold, though, his climb was steady, and today he’s Prophix’s controller. Here, the certified management consultant and management accountant discusses his role, his enjoyment of challenges, and the experience of working for a high-growth company.

Advantage: Political controversy is a frequent talking point when South Africa is mentioned in North America. Did politics play a role in your choice to immigrate to Canada?
Norman Son Kee: It was partially political but also because we had two young kids. My wife and I had stable jobs, but when we came to Canada on vacation, we just decided to take this leap of faith because it looked like a nice country. It took us about three years to get in, and when we arrived here, we were both unemployed, but it was a challenge we wanted to experience.

Do you think those initial struggles have made you better at your current job?
I think so. It’s a matter of perseverance. Coming here, I was in a position where I could not turn away any job in order to support my family. I found that I really enjoyed working in challenging, changing environments. And I got experience working in multiple divisions, becoming hands-on with different ERP systems in operational and services environments.

How did you end up at Prophix?
I researched Prophix. They had won numerous business awards and were a high-growth company, so that appealed to me. I connected with the senior management on LinkedIn and eventually was introduced to the CEO, Paul Barber.

What do you think sets the company apart?
Prophix is completely self-funded. This has allowed Prophix to remain true to its core mission: to deliver value. Our priority is to deliver a return to our customers. Without having to provide a return to investors, we can do that.

As controller, what are your major responsibilities?
I manage 10 employees, including two accounting managers and a human resources manager. I am hands-on but allow my managers to work autonomously. I report directly to the CEO and am responsible for the preparation of the annual budget and attainment of operational metrics tied to the budget—as well as cash-flow forecasts to assist with decision-making and allow management to plan ahead. Also, I take care of the monthly group financial statements and consolidation.

Norman Son Kee’s
Career Milestones

1989
Works as the plant accountant for a multinational, public remanufacturer of electrical parts

1991
Gets promoted to plant controller

1995
Lands a job as controller at a tech company

1997
Is promoted to CFO of the tech company

2001
Graduates from Ottawa University with an executive MBA in finance and strategy

2009
Becomes a certified management consultant

2003–2008
Works as a management consultant for high-growth companies

2009–2012
Works as a management consultant for automotive and manufacturing companies

2012
Is hired as the controller for Prophix Software Inc.

What’s most challenging about your role?
I manage the annual plan closely and then realign it before the end of the first six months. I reorganized the finance department and set up the HR department and now manage both the finance and administration departments, which support our employees across North America, the UK, Europe, and Brazil. The strategic direction is handled largely by Mr. Paul Barber, who is the master of his domain, with Mr. Robert Walker, the CTO and backbone of our software-development department. I work alongside Alok Ajmera, VP of operations, who is a key member of the executive team and has been with Prophix for more than 10 years.

You’ve worked in a variety of industries, including manufacturing and automotive. How do they compare?
Overall, my approach is the same. But the roles in automotive and manufacturing were in divisions of larger multinational corporations whereas, at Prophix, I have complete accountability and the ability to provide 100 percent visibility to the executive team. This is very rewarding, as I can see changes made at the executive level resonate through the entire organization and the bottom line.

What in particular about the software-development industry keeps you excited?
While the industry is driven by sales and marketing, to continue to be competitive, we must stay in tune with all areas of the business and keep attracting the most qualified personnel—especially for our professional-services team, which is our bread and butter. The team is young, and we are developing a homegrown culture that is second to none. Most employees participate in a number of extracurricular activities that build team spirit and make for a productive workplace.

You obviously don’t spend all your time doing finance. What passions do you have outside the office?
I played competitive soccer and represented my university for three years and attributed my success to training hard, persevering, always setting attainable goals, and challenging myself. My passion is always to stay active and to frequent the gym often and play squash regularly, and I enjoy running. I strive to balance my time between family, work, and the gym, and this is easier said than done, but I continue to persevere.

How Are You Growing?

“The biggest challenge, moving from South Africa to Canada, was obtaining ‘Canadian experience’ and adapting to the management style of North American companies. I identified huge growth opportunities for myself to develop personally and professionally, as I was a self-starter and proactive employee.”

What have you accomplished in your career that you’re most proud of?
The diversification of a high-tech company, expanding its product offering, increasing revenue substantially, and making it sustainable. I was instrumental to a few acquisitions and helped the company to expand nationally across Canada—while obtaining my MBA in finance and strategy. After that company merged with a public one, I moved on to a management-consulting role to obtain more diverse experiences in other companies for six years, but those experiences are directly applicable every day at Prophix.