In the mid-1990s, Jon Hart found his way into accounting by diving in and not shying away from the laundry lists of numbers in the day-to-day books. He began at Enterprise Rent-A-Car under the philosophy of “underpromising and overdelivering,” the organization’s model, and it became his mantra, leading him to his current role as country controller and finance director for FedEx Office Canada, which he joined in 2011. Hart enjoys working in the shipping and printing giant’s trenches of fiscal data, a rare quality for a finance executive, and it has made his professional acumen even sharper. Here’s a look at how it has helped him bring fresh perspective to the leadership of the company.
Jon Hart’s face-to-face team at FedEx Office Canada comprises three people, including himself, and he’s one of the most senior employees for the company, which oversees a network of 21 stores across the country. The organization works closely with United States-based support and finance teams in Dallas, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, but Hart makes it clear that Canada is independent, high-functioning, and not the 51st United State.
“Canada has always done its own thing when it’s come to reporting,” he says. “I realized that there was a gap in terms of what the operational teams were seeing. A very simple solution was to provide some variance reporting so that they could quickly identify some issues, which were really with the [profit and loss statements]—what aspects of their performance weren’t achieving goals or which year-over-year numbers weren’t progressing in terms of sales.”
Hart has approached all processing obstacles by reminding himself that getting numbers on a page should not be the longest part of the procedure. More time, he says, should be invested in analyzing and understanding what drives the numbers. “Those are aspects of what I’ve been able to do at FedEx Office with producing financial reports, budget tools, and getting to the heart of what’s here,” he says. “Planning and reporting are the areas that have the most impact on the on-the-ground and frontline teams.”
As controller for FedEx Office Canada, Hart focuses on budgeting and forecasting, but he also does month-end close and operational reporting. Partly because of his skill set, his approach is unique, going more broad than deep. Involving himself in many different aspects of analysis, though, allows him to see what sorts of risks will affect the company not only nationally but also corporate-wide.
“Getting to wear those different hats, to see those different viewpoints, is something that I’ve very much enjoyed being able to do in this role,” he says. “And being able to engage with so many aspects of the business with my HR partners, operations, and IT—and then all the support teams in Dallas—has been a good opportunity to get involved in things.”
The way Hart sees it, he has a good opportunity to bring a fresh set of eyes to FedEx Office’s table, “to look at things and to ask questions that haven’t been asked in a while,” he says. “Why are we doing some of the things we’re doing? How do we get prioritized in the queue for upgrades? Why are we not doing the same things as the US? Why is everything an exception for Canada? Shining that light and creating that focus with the items that we are working through has allowed us to tackle some issues and get Canada brought to the level of our US counterparts. The two biggest challenges are figuring who does what in the organization and getting prioritized. … One of the reasons I love working here is that we are like a small company, but we have this big, huge support behind us and people who do things, but that adds a layer of complexity that you wouldn’t find in a small organization.”
When Hart joined the company in 2011, FedEx Office also had international operations in Korea, China, and Japan—and Canada was the smallest outfit of the four. Over the past three years, though, the other operations have been sold off or rationalized, leaving Canada as the only corporate-owned non-US domestic operation.
OUTSIDE THE OFFICE
A fan of comedy clubs, Hart follows the wisdom of his favourite comedian, Louis C. K., who said, “I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it and apply more energy and time to it and more consistency, you get a better result.”
“There’s no more distraction about other, bigger fish to fry,” Hart says.
“We have supportive groups throughout the US that help Canada overcome issues such as the employee travel-reimbursement process, which needs to be automated. Those issues need to be brought to light, and [it’s] something that I think I’ve been very good at with my fresh eyes. Our support teams get us on priority lists and get us talking to the right people. It’s a combination of those things that has allowed us to look at things a bit differently and, by virtue of that, bring it to people’s attention.”
Hart also understands that while FedEx Office Canada wants to fuse with US operations as much as possible, it must know when solutions will work in the country and when they won’t. When FedEx Office was changing its financial-service provider, for instance, Hart realized this would not be beneficial in Canada.
“At that time, it was impossible to make that move, as we were in the middle of a big project setting up our self-serve kiosks at our centres,” he says. “We couldn’t just stop and go to another provider. It helped us not have to make a transition that we might not be ready for or may not really need right now.”
Hart emphasizes that in order to succeed, you must understand where you fit in and be comfortable with how you work. “In the past, I feel like I was a round peg in a square hole because I always wanted to be doing more and always felt too hands-off and not able to accomplish things as much as I would like to,” he says. “I realized that at FedEx Office, I feel like I have come home.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Country controller & finance director
Shipping and printing
Years in the business
Where did you start your career?
Very quickly after graduating from McGill University, I got a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car and worked there for four years; it’s where I developed how to approach problems and build a sound solution.
Describe yourself in three words
Detailed, hands-on, approachable.
Advice to those just starting in finance
Look for opportunities to be in a role that exposes you to a broad range of finance and accounting tasks and responsibilities.