title image

How to impress Canada’s CFO of the Year Award™ Selection Committee 

How to impress Canada’s CFO of the Year Award™ Selection Committee 

As Canadian business leaders consider potential nominees for this year’s Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award, members of the Award’s independent Selection Committee are preparing for the big task ahead: reviewing the submissions before coming together to crown the 2020 winner. That begs the question – what goes into choosing a winner, and what makes a nomination stand out to the Selection Committee?


Jo Mark Zurel, chair of the Selection Committee for 2020, says he’s always surprised by the lively debate that takes place in February when the members—who include former CFOs like him, as well as the previous year’s winner—gather to choose the next recipient of the award. Each Selection Committee member reviews the nomination packages individually prior to the meeting. Zurel says he always goes into the meeting expecting a quick consensus among the group on the top submission—but that’s rarely the case.


“Every single year, we have an energetic discussion and debate,” says Zurel.


“If I think one person is the winner and somebody else feels strongly that somebody else is the clear winner, it’s really important to get to the bottom of why we see things differently in order to make the best decision as a group. And that’s the great joy for us: respectfully but energetically debating our views and others’ views. We’ve always agreed in the end, but it’s taken energetic debate each time.”


Given the lively debate the selection process generates, what should applicants keep top of mind as they prepare their nomination forms ahead of the January 31, 2020 deadline? Zurel has some tips.


Top tips on how to impress the Selection Committee:


1.  Quality is more important than quantity

Include testimonials, facts and data to back up the application, says Zurel, who notes the Selection Committee doesn’t follow up with applicants to seek additional or missing information.


“The question should be answered clearly and, where possible, examples given,” says Zurel, citing the mentorship criteria as an example. “Everybody believes mentoring is a good thing, and everybody does it to a degree. But if specific programs were developed or if individuals on the CFO’s team have gone on to do great things and those individuals can explain how important the CFO’s mentorship was, those are examples of how to enhance it.”


2.  CEO support matters

“If the CFO believes they’re doing a good job and their staff tell them they’re doing a good job, that’s good. But if the CEO strongly believes that and throws their support behind the application and gives examples of some of the great things the CFO has contributed, that’s very, very important.”


3.  Go beyond the numbers

While a CFO will naturally emphasize financial results, those with the best chance of winning Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award need to show how they bring leadership to the role.


“The CFO doesn’t do all the financial work,” says Zurel. “There’s generally a substantial and talented team behind every CFO, and part of the CFO’s role is to build that team. If the CFO is somebody who is admired and respected by their team, the team is much more likely to step up and use their talents and imagination to help the company succeed.”


4.  Take a broad perspective on innovation

While innovation is an important part of the award criteria, it’s not necessary for nominees to have invented or patented something to show they’ve been innovative.“Innovation, in the context of the CFO role, means doing things somewhat differently from how they’ve been done before or how other companies do them,” says Zurel, who notes innovation can also mean being imaginative in achieving difficult goals. Many submissions include few details under the innovation criteria. “Don’t ignore it because that might be the difference between winning and not winning the award.”


5.  Don’t forget the challenges

While many applications focus on the nominee’s accomplishments, it’s also important to describe the challenges faced along the way.“I’d recommend to applicants that they don’t just talk about the prizes their CFO has won but also about how difficult the challenges were and what they overcame along the way,” says Zurel.


On those lines, Zurel strongly encourages CFOs at smaller companies to submit a nomination, particularly since they may face significant challenges in achieving their accomplishments without the resources available to those at larger organizations. “I know how hard it is,” says Zurel, referring to his time as a CFO at a small company that grew to become a large one.


“A lot of the CFOs I see today in these smaller and growing companies have got incredible talents and are overcoming incredible hurdles in order to help the company survive and prosper. At a smaller company, whoever’s got the guts to step up and do the work, they’re the ones who make the difference. And in many cases, that’s the CFO who often is the one that really needs to be celebrated.”


Over the years he has been on the Selection Committee, one of the things that has impressed Zurel is the willingness of Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award winners to include their teams in the celebrations and credit them for their successes. “For the most part, they’re not people with big egos,” he says.


“What I find is the person who wins the award is a warm individual who cares deeply about their people and has the respect of their board of directors and CEO. And so the people who end up winning the award go far beyond the traditional definition of a CFO.”


Canada’s CFO of the Year™ Award is now accepting nominations. Submissions are due Jan. 31, 2020. Please contact us with any questions about the nomination process.

Helpful tips for properly completing the nomination form

  • Submit your answers within the text fields. Don’t upload a PDF of your answers.


  • Make sure you complete the entire form. Don’t submit it without completing it in full.


  • Start by submitting the intent-to-nominate form. That way, the nomination committee can contact you to help guide you through the next steps.


  • Submit all attachments with basic formatting. There’s no need for your teams to create elaborate designs for the applications as we aim to revert them to the same format at the end.


  • Remember to save your application as you move through the process.