Alumni profile: Deborah Starkman
CFO, GMP Capital Inc.
Deborah Starkman is happy to have found a place where she can be herself at work. “I have a big personality,” she laughs.
Today she is the CFO of GMP Capital Inc., one of Canada’s leading independent investment dealers, a role she thinks suits her, noting “you can’t be a wallflower in this industry.” However, she began her career as a not-so-mild-mannered accountant.
Starkman got her start at Arthur Andersen, a firm that integrated into Deloitte in 2002. When she started her accounting career in the pre-digital age, the job still required manually counting physical inventory. “After having tripped over enough boxes counting widgets, I decided to try financial services,” she recalls. “I figured counting certificates and bearer bonds would be easier and safer.”
Finance may have meant fewer falls, but it was no less grueling. She remembers 12-hour days spent at the photo-copier and doing paperwork until midnight. “It was tough at times, but it was a great training ground,” she says. “It was instrumental in developing the work ethic I have today. Another thing I learned there is that no job is too small, and every role offers an opportunity to advance your learning and skills.”
Starkman’s time in the Financial Services Audit group also offered its share of perks. A secondment to San Francisco at the height of the dot-com boom, for instance, she remembers as exciting and a great learning experience. And travel continues to be an integral part of her role today, especially now that GMP has expanded to include offices in London, New York, Houston, Sydney and Perth.
She notes how the business world has changed since she started. “Technology has made it easier and harder,” she says. “It’s made the work easier to do but there are higher standards now, an expectation that you’re always on-call. At times, it can be difficult to unplug.”
Mentors and mensches
Growing up, Deborah never imagined she would become a Bay Street executive. “I wanted to be a lawyer like my father,” she explains. “But he really dissuaded me from it; it’s not like how it looks on TV.” Instead she decided to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and try accounting instead. He recommended she join Arthur Andersen.
Starkman found mentorship in Cathy Bateman, today a senior Deloitte Audit partner and a former vice-chair of the Board of Directors. “Cathy is a mensch,” she enthuses. “I can’t say enough good things about her. She was always in control. I learned a tremendous amount under her tutelage.”
The connections Starkman made while she was at Arthur Andersen have stayed with her even decades later. When she was promoted to CFO of GMP Capital in 2012, Cathy threw her a party to celebrate. “She was so proud of me, and all these Andersen people came even though it had been years. It was hugely flattering and humbling.”
Starkman appreciates the mentorship she’s received from people like Cathy and Richard Nunn, a partner in Deloitte’s Financial Services industry practice. She is now looking to pay this forward and mentor people new to the industry. “I’m always looking to support young bright minds coming up in this industry,” she explains. She recognizes that the C-suite is still a male-dominated environment, but Starkman sees increasing opportunities for women. Her advice to women is to “Be yourself in the workplace, and support each other.”
Starkman recognizes that some women face additional challenges in the workplace, but she has never had that experience at GMP. She emphasizes that finding a supportive and suitable workplace is critical to success. “My personality is perfectly suited to GMP. I’m able to be myself at work.”
“I love it here. I don’t mind staying late or working on the weekend, because I love who I work for. It feels like a family.”
How do you like to relax when you have a moment?
Movies, plays, travelling, and spending time with my nieces and nephews.
How are you involved in the community?
I’m the treasurer of the Centennial Child and Infant Centre, which works with children with developmental disabilities, and I’m active with the United Jewish Appeal.
What’s your favourite place to visit?
I love Paris and London, but I went to Israel for the first time last year and it made a lasting impact on me.
If you weren’t doing the job you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
I’d like to be a movie critic, or a comedian…
What’s a motto you live by?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.