FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kelly LaVallie
April 15, 2014
I met her last week – as she was preparing for her presentation “The Confident Leader’ for delivery to a group of aspiring female leaders. Really? Who is this person? The press release pointed me to her credentials, a website … So, I set out to find out more. What did I find? About the Confident Leader presentation – what’s that about? “What I believe about confidence, self-worth, and how it benefits your teams.”
She was a good host but couldn’t get me coffee – as a tea drinker she didn’t know how to work the machine. And she was running late but had called ahead to have staff welcome me. I learned there was much more to Kelly LaVallie than just an eager high energy professional with a lot going on, an in-your-face soft-on-the-edges type-A personality.
More than meeting ‘just another accountant in Calgary’, I found myself in friendly territory. To my surprise Kelly and I have three things in common – only child, two daughters, neat freak. OK, let me qualify that. I am an ordinary neat freak. Kelly has taken that to a whole new level – as I was escorted past the tightly packed cubicles of staff beavering away on tax returns to her generous corner office it felt like I was entering an office furniture showroom – the only other place I’ve seen that many office furniture and accessory items spotlessly clean, perfectly arranged without the appearance of so much as a single paper clip or scrap of paper … yikes!
Her biography – born in Victoria, parents split when she was one. Mom a teacher. Dad a business owner in conflict management. Raised by mom and step-dad. Reconnected with her dad too. Worked hard in school, UBC was a means to an end – to secure a good living. B.Com. CA. Articled at Deloitte’s in New Westminster. Partner in the Collins Barrow Calgary firm (Treasurer). Married high school sweetheart, divorced, no kids. Met 2nd husband in Vancouver through work – he has 3 kids (they live in Calgary with their mom) from first marriage. They have 2 children together.
She had commented, earlier in our chat - “We try not to consume for status – to live within our means.”
Really? So how do you explain that Porsche? She demurs, “My hubby is a car guy, it’s a great vehicle for hauling kids and things .. and it’s really comfortable … ”
I meet lots of people - and have met more than my share of right-brain types in this city so rife with accountants and engineers. This one, having accomplished so much so quickly - a balance of well grounded, self-deprecating humility, razor-sharp mind and high energy - is clearly a rising star worth watching. I suspect, in time, we'll see that she's just getting warmed up ...
Who are you, what defines you?
... passionate about life, about creating change, connecting with people in my life. My beliefs have evolved. I describe myself as spiritual, not religious. I hate shopping.
I asked Kelly how she sees the accounting and financial advisory services business … over the next quarter?
… excellent! We have lots of exciting up-and-comers in our firm. Our work is totally Calgary Business – accounting, audit, tax. Oil & gas, real estate are my primary focuses. Being a locally managed partnership we stand out. National firms tend to be ‘less responsive’.
And over the next 5 years?
… I expect our firm will grow (currently 13 partners). We have great infrastructure. It is hard to be all things to all people. We are a deep services accounting firm. Collins Barrow is a co-operative, with each partnership in different markets charting its own direction, though we share expertise in specialty areas. Public accounting firms train for industry - that's always going to be one of our roles.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I love intelligent people who raise the bar for me! Open. Honest. Real.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kelly LaVallie, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... my service niche – owner/managed businesses, experienced, technically proficient – I care about them, I’m emotionally invested in their success.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I always have some spots in my life I’m working on/worrying about – and then I’m like a dog with a bone – but I believe I have the capacity to make dramatic changes. … Am I too critical as a mom?
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point? Heroes?
… My mom. She had some rough patches while I was growing up. We had an epiphany moment - she taught me forgiveness, the capacity to forgive – that has kept me from becoming an angry person. My stepdad – he created a childhood that was good. As a step-mom I found it tough to commit, I wasn’t open and loving enough. That has changed ...
Work life balance?
… career and family (we have 2 kids – 5 & 8 – and my husband has 3 from his first marriage), my husband Dave commutes to Vancouver weekly for his work, hiking, we ski, things kids like to do, running (training for my 1st marathon), gardening, love horses, and dogs (we have a Portuguese Water Dog).
What do you read?
… Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. I’m re-reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I used to consume fiction. Like Malcolm Gladwell’s books – but some of them are strange.
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