Cynthia Devine: Tim Horton's CFO of the Year
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty served up accolades to 2010 Chief Financial Officer of the Year Cynthia Devine and other top-level executives with a rare visit to the Tim Hortons corporate headquarters in Oakville, Ontario.
It was pretty exciting to everyone here, really special,” says Devine. “As you can imagine it’s not every day the prime minister drops by. I was able to, along with our CEO and our executive chairman, we were each able to deliver small presentations, and he spoke to our group.”
On the menu was recognition served with a side of national pride for Devine and her team’s triumph in returning the nostalgic restaurant back to its Canadian roots in December 2009, ending a 14-year run as a US domicile company.
“That sounds very easy, but, as you can well imagine, we had to deal with every kind of complicated tax and legal issue and we had to take it to a shareholder vote and we were successful in doing that,” says Devine.
“It really created some long-term shareholder value for the company and so something I was pretty proud to be a part of with a great team that worked very hard to make it happen.”
In addition to one of her proudest professional achievements, Devine also developed the infrastructure, processes and capabilities that were essential in guiding the company through its Initial Public Offering in 2006.
A Brand to Account for
Devine has served as CFO of the fourth largest publicly-traded quick service restaurant chain in North America since 2003. Undoubtedly, Devine’s unique personal brand has been instrumental in both her and Tim Hortons success.
“I bring energy and enthusiasm combined with strong financial discipline, a solid business sense to the company and also being fact-based,” says Devine. But also looking for creative solutions and ways to help business partners, I think, would be another element of my personal brand.”
Devine also notes that it is critical to bring business acumen to the table and be a ‘seamlessly integrated business partner.’ Presiding over such a large operation, Devine is quick to see the big picture.
“For us it’s really important that we deliver system-wide benefits. We are a franchise system with over 1,000 store owners in our system. We’re always looking for solutions that drive the business forward, and that not only help the company, but help the owners. That’s a big part of what we do here at Tim Hortons.”
Devine’s two-pronged approach to growing the business and helping the owners derives from her innate sense of a high ethical standard. She places a premium on leading by example.
“The core essence of my being is really an unwavering commitment to integrity. I lead by example. I try to demonstrate that when situations are grey that you do the right thing,” says Devine. “And I think when you show that you make decisions with integrity and that integrity overrides any short-term benefit for the company, others will follow.”
A Bank of Service
Devine’s commitment to integrity proves itself through Tim Hortons social responsibility initiatives such as the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation Camps and house-league sports, which are league sponsorships and not just individual team sponsorships. She personally aligns herself with the corporation’s values and the commitment to community involvement, which, to Devine, is paramount to the Tim Hortons brand.
“One of the things that attracted me to the company is that Tim Hortons has always had a commitment to community involvement,” says Devine. “Community involvement is very consistent with the Tim Hortons brand.
“Recently, we have [compiled] our corporate social responsibility commitments and for the first time have a report on Tim Hortons Making a True Difference for individuals, communities and the planet every day. It’s our commitment to various goals around each of those key elements. We are very pleased to be a part of it,” says Devine.
For all her efforts through community involvement, overseeing the IPO and reestablishing Tim Hortons presence as a truly Canadian company, Devine was recognised as Canada’s co-CFO of the Year by Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and The Caldwell Partners International.
The award is given annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to business in Canada through vision and leadership, corporate reporting and performance, social responsibility, innovation and business complexity.
Says Devine on the role of chief financial officer, “I think it’s all about being very fact-based, making sure people understand things, and, obviously, I think transparency is a big part of that.”
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.