Small Changes, Big Impact

CFO Sarah Hoffman on her transition from retail to the nonprofit world, strategizing a corporate overhaul, and how she’s bringing change to Healthcare Benefit Trust

As a native Australian, Sarah Hoffman is skilled at transitioning into new environments. The CFO’s ability to adapt  is serving Healthcare Benefit Trust (HBT) well as she helps the not-for-profit benefits provider evolve into a third-party administrator. Here, she speaks to Advantage about HBT’s upcoming plans and her experience as a global professional.

You’re an Australian living in Canada. What spurred the relocation?
I moved to Canada in 2002 for a position in finance for a jewellery retailer, Michael Hill Jeweller. They were looking to expand operations into North America, and I said I’d love to come. I had never been to North America at all before and thought it would be an adventure. I absolutely love it here.


Moves to Canada to take a position as controller at Michael Hill Jeweller

Recruited by Lush Cosmetics as controller for its Canadian operations

Joins HBT as director of finance

Promoted to CFO, with oversight of the finance and legal departments

Awarded CFO of the Year in the Transformational Change Agent category by Business in Vancouver

After Michael Hill Jeweller, you went to work at Lush Cosmetics. Was that a difficult transition?
Definitely! I had to shift gears from working with high-end retail to really cost-effective products. Lush is all about earthiness and product awareness, and it takes quite a different approach towards marketing its products. I really enjoyed being there, and I’m a huge Lush supporter.

How different is the culture at a nonprofit health-care organization than in corporate finance?
It’s really different, actually. Health care is not glamourous. People don’t rave about their health-insurance provider. Usually when you need health care, it’s not a great time in your life. We need to be consistent and deliver when required.

I also feel that the work we do might not be as sexy as retail, but it can really have an impact on people’s lives. For example, up until recently we had an entire department focused on rehabilitation. We worked with clients to make sure they could get back to work to help them support themselves and their families.

What are you working on now?
My focus is on our upcoming transition from a benefits provider to a third-party administrator. HBT is currently a provider for the health-care and community-social-services sectors and provides benefits for employees, many of whom are members of a union. Three of the large health-care unions have negotiated their own trusts, which will be jointly trusteed with the employers’ representatives. In April 2016, those joint trusts will actively receive contributions, and HBT will transition to our new role. We have one year to prove ourselves. After that time, the joint trust can work with someone other than HBT, if they choose. We have a big task to show our value and deliver seamlessly in order to be the chosen administrator.

What’s your strategy for creating a smooth transition into HBT’s new role?
We are focusing on relationship building with the new joint trusts. We participate in working groups focused on education, consultation, and knowledge sharing. Most people don’t understand the work we do and the mechanics behind operating a trust. We want to share that information to show how we can be supportive of the trusts in their new roles and obligations to help them be successful.

What drives you at work?
Besides helping people to have a higher quality of life through health care, I really am a people person and invest in my staff. I want to make sure they feel their work and time is valuable and that they understand the work they do is important.

You were recognized as CFO of the Year in the Transformational Change Agent category by Business in Vancouver. What advice would you give to others hoping to effect change?
Being recognized gave me confidence to know I can make change on a daily basis. I would encourage others to focus on driving change forward; even small changes can end up having a big impact.

It is important to continue to be inquisitive and curious throughout your career. You may have to move out of your comfort zone, and it helps to be flexible and able to adjust your thought process and methods as you take on new responsibilities. I’ve learned to be brave. A couple times I’ve called my husband and said, “I don’t know if I should take this opportunity”—because I was intimidated. He told me to put my big-girl pants on and do it. With a little courage, you can do almost anything.