“If you can find something you love to do, work hard at it, and then enjoy it, there’s just no end to what you can accomplish.”

Susan Hodkinson, COO at Crowe Soberman, discusses her multitiered career

Susan Hodkinson (left) poses with staff at Crowe Soberman’s annual summer event.

Founded in Toronto in 1958, Crowe Soberman LLP has grown to be one of the largest independent public accounting and business advisory firms in Canada. As its COO, Susan Hodkinson manages firm operations—including finance, IT, human resources, facilities, and marketing. Advantage spoke to Hodkinson about her diverse professional background, balancing several roles at her current employer, and how she’s worked to inspire women in the workforce.

Advantage: How did you get your start in the accounting industry?
Susan Hodkinson: I didn’t intend to come out of university and become COO of an accounting firm. But when I graduated, I thought, “It’s time to start making some money,” and got a job as assistant to the controller in a law firm in London, Ontario. I worked very closely with the general manager and was able to take on projects in different areas, such as facilities, technology research, and marketing. I had my finger in a lot of different pies and really enjoyed doing a lot of different things at the start of my career.

Your background includes 20-plus years of management experience at professional-services firms, including law firms, and five years at a private club management company. How did those positions prepare you for your current role?
Everything built on each other, in terms of learning. But there has been a common thread through every environment I’ve worked in, from law firms, to accounting firms, to hospitality companies: developing your people is a consistent recipe for success. People always say they want to earn a lot of money, and we all do, but I really am a believer in the theory that says you need to help employees continue to learn and grow. Nobody wants to be bored. If people are happy, feeling energized, motivated, and connected to your business, it’s going to be successful.

You’re responsible for managing the operations of several departments. What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge, but also the greatest excitement of my job, is managing all different areas—meeting with the IT director to talk about a new software agreement; next, meeting with HR management about a recruiting project; and then speaking with our facilities guy about renovating a portion of a floor. I have to turn on and off different parts of my brain quite quickly—I really do love it.

You’ve been very involved with Women for Women, Crowe Soberman’s female professional group. What is its central goal?
It’s an opportunity for younger women professionals to get out and get some networking experience with their colleagues in a safe environment. It’s a great opportunity for us to let our clients get to know each other as well. In past years, we concentrated on single speakers—high-profile business people, politicians coming in—but for the last couple of years, we’ve hosted panel discussions. Last year, we had a panel on women’s health with three female doctors and one senior female executive from the pharmaceutical industry.

Are you active with any other networking or professional-development groups?
I just returned from the Canadian annual general meeting of the International Women’s Forum, which is a fabulous group of women from all walks of life: business, politics, art, philanthropy. We get together to support each other, exchange ideas, and support women’s leadership going forward. I’m always struck by the power that can happen when like-minded and determined women get together; it’s pretty amazing environment to be in. It’s also really fun—I think that collectively, the group could, over a couple of glasses of wine, solve the problems of the world.

You also received a Glass Slipper Award in 2009 from Women’s Post magazine, given to recognize someone who has helped women achieve success. What did the award mean to you?
I was honoured to be given the award. It made me recognize that maybe I’d made a small difference in terms of helping women get ahead. It was a complete surprise to me; it was presented to me at an event, and both my daughters were there. They knew at the beginning of the evening, but I didn’t—it was a pretty amazing night for me.

What advice would you give women who are just starting out in the workforce?
First and foremost, get a good education; being able to communicate well verbally and in written form is hugely important in regard to success. Never miss an opportunity to try something new or meet someone new—and there’s no substitute for working hard. If you can find something you love to do, work hard at it, and then enjoy it, there’s just no end to what you can accomplish.