Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award 2019 finalist Brad Chapman
Passion for students keeps Centennial College CFO engaged long after success in financial turnaround
On any given day, you might find Brad Chapman chatting with students on campus at Centennial College, be it in the halls or while working out at the athletic facility. His role as Chief Financial Officer puts him in charge of the numbers, but Brad clearly has a passion for the students who are at the heart of the college’s vision of transforming lives and communities through learning.
While he has a lot on his plate with responsibilities as Vice-President of Business Development on top of his CFO role at the east Toronto college, he’ll take the time to attend the series of convocation ceremonies for graduating students each year. “Spending that week going to convocations is just so rewarding, and it shows me how important my role is to ensuring opportunities for students and graduates,” says Brad.
His passion for education, inclusion and opportunity has been a big part of what has kept him at Centennial since he joined the organization in 2003. After a series of senior finance roles in the private sector, Brad discovered a new level of passion in his switch to the public realm.
“[Centennial] is a very dynamic institution to be a part of. What’s terrific for me is that, as an individual, I can help shape the change at Centennial.”
Turning around an ‘insolvent’ institution
But there have been challenges. Describing Centennial as an “insolvent” institution when he first joined the college, Brad faced many challenges in turning the financial situation around. He took on the CFO role after serving on the college’s board of governors and chairing the audit and compliance committee.
Getting through the difficulties involved the nuts and bolts of financial management, including updating finance and procurement policies, increasing transparency and accountability around budget targets and enrolment projections and renegotiating arrangements with service providers. Brad was also instrumental in increasing revenues by expanding enrolment of international students, who now represent more than half of Centennial’s student body and bring the added benefit of increasing the diversity of perspectives in the classroom.
“It’s huge for us because it represents over 60% of our revenue. It really does allow us to be sustainable,” he says.
The result has been a cumulative operating surplus of almost $150-million. This has allowed Centennial to reinvest in its services to students by hiring 172 faculty, 245 support staff and 85 administrative staff for a total of 502 new employees since 2010. In addition, the college’s total endowment funds at March 31, 2019, are projected to be $30 million, which support a range of initiatives aimed at assisting students through scholarships and other programs. On top of all of that, innovative financing arrangements have helped Centennial expand through more than $500 million in new buildings and infrastructure.
Broadening the role
During his time at Centennial, Brad has played a significant role in developing partnerships, whether through projects like a new residence and culinary facility or the more recent conversion of the former de Havilland building at Toronto’s Downsview Park to create a new campus for the college’s aviation and aerospace program. The second phase of the project brings together a number of other academic institutions, such as the University of Toronto, Ryerson University and York University, with eight industry players, including Bombardier Inc. to create an aerospace hub aimed at fostering collaboration around training and education, research and development and sector advisory services.
Brad’s involvement in these areas reflects the many ways his work at Centennial has gone beyond the typical CFO role. “I think my role has been very rewarding because it’s very involved in strategic matters but also in the implementation and stewardship side,” says Brad.
“I cover all three bases. I think in order to do that, I've had to be able to build and lead strong teams of people across quite a number of areas of the college, outside of finance.” - Brad Chapman
Mentorship has also been a focus, as is evident in his relationship with Shannon Brooks, who has risen to the role of Associate Vice-President of Corporate Services from a Financial Reporting Officer/Business Analyst position.
“Part of my job, every day, is to coach and mentor people, but I think she’s really my star,” he says.
“I remember the day when we first started, the college was under such financial stress that she had to go down to the offices of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and get a cheque, which was an advance on our operating grant because we couldn’t meet payroll. We’ve come a long way since then.”
According to Shannon, Brad has helped her develop in several areas, including financial and risk management, leadership and networking.
“Brad builds strong leaders by allowing them to lead,” she says.
“With his leadership, I’ve been able to mentor and grow my own areas of responsibility in driving performance and building high-performing teams in both finance and facilities, which has allowed us to accomplish goals far beyond even our own expectations.”
Pals with the president
Asked how he himself has benefited from mentorship, Brad refers to someone outside the financial realm: former Centennial president Richard Johnston. He credits Johnston with instilling the passion he continues to bring to his work after so many years at Centennial.
“He recruited me onto the board 19 years ago, and we became close friends,” says Brad. “But it was really his passion for education, for inclusion, for access that touched me, including the importance of serving underrepresented students and new Canadians.”
Working closely with his leaders has been a significant focus for Brad in his role as CFO. Among his many upcoming duties will be to help welcome and orient the incoming president of Centennial following the retirement of Ann Buller from the position this spring.
“You have to be joined at the hip with your president, and I think in those two roles, it’s fundamental that both of you absolutely have to understand everything that’s going on in the organization,” he says.
That shared understanding and desire to create opportunities for a better future through education are what continue to fuel Brad. “I feel the passion and excitement [at Centennial]. I’ve never had a bad day here because there are always new challenges to motivate me. It’s very rewarding.”
Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award Gala
Presented by Financial Executives International (FEI) Canada, PwC Canada, and Robert Half, Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award is given annually to recognize and honour the best in financial leadership.
The winner will be announced at our gala April 25, 2019.