Cindy and Garnet Amundson’s story may have started conventionally when they met as accounting students at university and then articled at the firm in 1984. But since then, the couple has stood out from the crowd on every level. From Cindy diving back into the corporate world through an alumni connection to Garnet starting an entrepreneurial endeavour, the couple has balanced successful careers — Cindy as manager of financial reporting at Pembina Pipeline Corporation and Garnet as President and CEO of Essential Energy Services — and a close-knit family every step of the way.
Early support helped launch a great career
Cindy started with EY in Calgary, but early in her career temporarily transferred to the Toronto office. It proved to be a great boost to her career.
“In Toronto, I significantly expanded my professional horizons,” she says.
And support from one partner, in particular, was a key driver of her success. She recalls Ron Buckle not only encouraged her but created advancement opportunities. Working with Ron, Cindy quickly advanced to a senior managerial role.
“Ron pushed me and gave me the confidence to take risks,” says Cindy. “He entrusted me with a lot of responsibility and contributed to my personal and career development.”
One small, painful step, one giant leap
Sometimes it takes one small, unplanned step to put you on the track to career success. Garnet found that out the hard way.
Unlike Cindy, Garnet’s journey into accounting wasn’t planned. He went to work on Alberta’s oil rigs straight out of high school, but his work as a labourer ended suddenly. One day, as he was climbing up the front of a large diesel engine at the rig, his left foot slipped into a large cooling fan — and the front half was severed.
Forced to find a new type of job, he was generously contacted by a local CA, who he later learned was an EY alum, who owned a public practice firm in Red Deer. “I found I really enjoyed small business accounting and decided to go to university,” Garnet recalls. It was shortly thereafter, in 1984, that Garnet joined EY, where he stayed for the next ten years.
But Garnet had an entrepreneurial fire burning within, and a desire to go back to the oil patch. In 2004, he co-founded Builders Energy Services Trust. “I had this desire to see if I could take my cumulative knowledge and apply it,” he says. The company eventually became Essential Energy Services Ltd., where he’s been president and CEO for nine years.
Garnet has learned many lessons along the way. “As an oil and gas entrepreneur, things will never go as you expect. There’s always going to be a political or regulatory speed bump in your near future.”
Garnet’s focus on people goes well beyond the ones he sees in the Calgary office every day. “We have about 1,100 employees in Western Canada, and I’ve met some of the most brilliant, impressive and high-integrity people in my career from that workforce. It’s not just the people in the office — it’s also the dedicated, strong people working out there in the cold.”
Rewriting the rules
The Amundsons successfully balance family with their careers. But the journey of raising a family wasn’t always a clear path for the ambitious couple. When they started their family, the long hours at work proved to be a challenge, and they worked together to find balance — even making history along the way.
In 1993, Garnet became the first man in EY history to take paternity leave by splitting the six-month parental leave with Cindy. “People told me I was sabotaging my career,” he says. “But it was the right choice for our family.”
A few years later, one of their children became very ill and Cindy quit her job to make family her priority. Fourteen years later and with their children driving and independent, Cindy was ready for a new challenge and rejoined the corporate world in 2010. “The transition was exhilarating, and it’s been a really positive experience,” says Cindy.
While that amount of time away from the workforce would be a hurdle for anyone trying to come back, Cindy credits her successful transition to maintaining confidence in the core skills and work ethic she developed during the first ten years of her career, as well as to attending courses, taking sporadic contract work, volunteering and maintaining relationships.
“Don’t be intimidated by change,” she advises. During her time away from professional work, she stayed on top of accounting changes such as Sarbanes-Oxley and International Financial Reporting Standards to stay current in her field until she was ready to rejoin the workforce.
“I was at our son’s basketball game and mentioned to Mick Dilger, President and COO of Pembina Pipeline — and an EY alum — that I was planning on going back to work,” Cindy says. “He called me six months later to share a posting in their finance department.”
Cindy and Garnet show that the path to success and fulfilment need not be conventional — but keeping close ties with EY alumni is definitely a best practice.