When the brain trust of EY Canada wanted to find a new leader for its Winnipeg office, its members didn’t have to look very far. With Joe Healey stepping down after eight years, the firm handed the reins to Jaimie Dawson, a veteran partner of its Calgary office.
But Dawson, 53, is certainly no stranger to Winnipeg. He started working out of the company’s Portage and Main office in 1994 while still a commerce student at the University of Manitoba. The non-accountants in the province know him better for his prowess on the badminton court. He established himself as an up-and-coming star as a young teenager and won several national junior titles, followed up by two national titles, a Pan American Games gold medal and a spot on the 1996 Canadian Olympic team. He joined EY Winnipeg full-time three weeks after the closing ceremonies in Atlanta, moving to the Calgary office in 2007.
While he was back often from Calgary to visit friends and family, Dawson says Winnipeg has a much different vibe than when he left. For starters, there’s an NHL team here. And construction cranes, once thought to be extinct downtown—particularly in the central business district—have reappeared.
“The economy truly is diverse. I’m coming from an economy that isn’t (in Calgary) so it is noticeable. There’s a healthy mixture of mature companies in sectors like agriculture, financial services, manufacturing, distribution, and also emerging sectors in technology and pharmaceuticals. The manufacturing and agriculture industries have obviously been here for a long time but they’re much more sophisticated than they used to be,” he says.
“People in Winnipeg don’t appreciate the health of the economy here and how refreshing it is to see the breadth of what people do. Companies here are well run, they’re internationally competitive and they’re proud of what they do. As a professional services practitioner, there is a compelling challenge worth chasing here. I learned a lot about the efficient deployment of capital in Calgary but I also saw how quickly it can depart. The steady creation of value through the business community here is something to celebrate but also something to continually drive forward. That’s what I’m excited to support here along with a great team.”
Kevin Brennan, managing partner of EY’s practice in British Columbia and its market segment leader for Western Canada, says the firm wanted a strategic thinker to take the Winnipeg office to the next level, through both acquisition and organic growth.
“Jaimie came to mind for many reasons. He’s a seasoned practitioner, he’s respected in the market and beyond and he’s known across the country. It’s very important to be able to reach out and talk to people in areas where our clients demand we create value for them,” he says.
Brennan notes that many of EY’s Winnipeg clients were with the firm during Dawson’s initial run here.
“Coming back to Winnipeg, Jaimie is like an old shoe. He understands many of the companies that drive the economy in Winnipeg. Many of them are global and national players. Having just come from a bigger market dominated by the energy sector, he has seen different pressure points and can bring different ideas and points of view to the Manitoba market,” he says.
EY has about 100 employees at its offices at 360 Main but Dawson believes 150 to 200 is a healthier figure for a market this size. He is confident EY’s traditional tax, audit and transaction advisory services businesses can grow organically by providing outstanding client service but there are also emerging needs in the market.
“Companies are trying to determine the optimal use of technology and digital tools for their operations and their financial reporting. There’s also ESG reporting (environmental, social and governance), and everybody needs to figure these out. It’s about accessing and unlocking capital. There are service providers in this market that are already leading the way in advising organizations on the journey to think through technology and digitizing, corporate responsibility, environmental and other governance matters. We’re looking to make an acquisition in this space,” he says.
A big part of EY’s growth plan will be its ability to attract and retain top-level talent. Brennan is quick to note that EY is very much a values-driven organization and its corporate culture revolves around how it practices, how it creates an exceptional experience for its people and allows them to continually see new opportunities. Over the last three years in particular, it has had to provide a flexible working environment for its people.
EY operates a diverse workforce following the Canadian Inclusiveness Advisory Council and focuses on giving underrepresented groups a voice. “How do we create opportunities in areas that haven’t been created for women as well as Indigenous, Black and Asian families?” Brennan asks. “What are we doing to monitor ourselves to work towards an end and promote best outcomes for these specific groups? We want to better represent the community we’re in.”
“We don’t look at the market in isolation. The business needs to be part of the community and contribute to the community. It needs to think in Winnipeg the same way that we think nationally and globally with diversity, equity, inclusion and community engagement. How do we bring various successful programs in other cities to Winnipeg? It’s through engagement that there will be greater opportunity and greater success.”
While there were a lot of moving parts to consider for Dawson, moving back to Winnipeg was ultimately a simple decision. He says any life-changing decision needs the support of his family and he had that in spades from partner Ashley and children Brynn, John and Garrett. “Everybody had to be on board for me to take on the new role and treat it as an exciting adventure. That hurdle was overcome in the first five minutes,” he says.
Away from the desk
When he’s not in the office, Dawson can be found at the Corydon Community Centre coaching his twin boys’ under-9 hockey team. He also sits on the board of Badminton Canada. He and Ashley are putting the finishing touches on their cottage at Victoria Beach. “I don’t know if I feel like an old shoe but I do feel connected here and I’m looking forward to trying to make it stronger. My great great grandfather owned Vulcan Ironworks, the foundry that created many metal fabrication products for the Winnipeg construction industry in the early 20th century.”
Brennan says it’s crucial to have the right leader at the helm as the firm enters a significant growth phase. “We’re making a wise investment for the future. We know we’re in safe hands with Jaimie, to drive us through to a successful outcome,” he says.