While the financial crisis placed a great burden on most chief financial officers across the country, Ernst & Young alum Bruce Waterman, Senior Vice President and CFO of Calgary-based Agrium Inc., has thrived in the volatility. Wherever he’s worked as a financial executive — whether in the energy, commodities or agriculture industries — Waterman has spent the last 32 years seeking new challenges.
For the past 10 of those years, Waterman has happily served as CFO of Agrium, a public, US$15 billion, 11,000-employee producer and retailer of fertilizers and agricultural products.“I actually quite liked the financial turmoil, and Agrium was well positioned to take advantage of it,” he says.“In volatile times, the best opportunities arise — when you’re prepared for them.”
As CFO, Waterman and the leadership team have positioned the company to take advantage of difficult times. And the strategy has paid off.
He spent the downturn searching for acquisitions and other ways to grow Agrium, which is one of the reasons he was named Canada’s CFO of the Year in 2008. Under his financial leadership, the past three years have been Agrium’s most profitable.
Exploring oil and gas
Before joining Agrium in 2000, Waterman spent almost 20 years in the energy sector. He came to Agrium from Talisman Energy, and before that spent 15 years moving through a series of financial leadership positions at Dome Petroleum and Amoco Corporation.
”The oil and gas industry sounded like fun,” says Waterman.“There are a lot of volatility and financial structuring challenges, and Dome was going through a difficult time.
There always has to be something new and exciting happening in my job to energize me — otherwise things get stale, and I feel the urge to move on and help solve problems elsewhere.”
His long and successful career began when he joined the firm in Toronto in 1973, fresh out of Queen’s University.“Ernst & Young gave me a good blend of experience dealing with detailed and high-level issues, which is important to succeed as a CFO,” says Waterman.
He learned much from working with self-motivated, bright people who always wanted to perform well.“We were expected to excel,” he reflects,“and I learned then and there that everyone has a contribution to make and a perspective to consider.”
Waterman’s philosophy is that if you treat others with respect and expect them to perform at their best, they will achieve great things. Recalling his former Ernst & Young officemates, Waterman says,“You never had to tell people what to do; you’d just set an objective and they would go after it with a passion.”
Waterman’s philosophy is that if you treat others with respect and expect them to perform at their best, they will achieve great things.
For Waterman, respect means valuing the potential of each person on the team. He continues to surround himself with high-caliber people, setting high expectations and encouraging them to always generate a sense of “constructive dissatisfaction,” as he calls it.
”There’s always the possibility of improving things — you can always push yourself higher,” he says. This thinking has given him what he believes is one key to business success — broad perspective and exposure to different management styles and industries.“I’m a bit calmer when the inevitable disaster intrudes on my plans because I’ve seen the same thing in different situations.”
Creating a cycle of success
Another key to his composure is the confidence he has in his people and their ideas.“If someone feels strongly about their approach, I may not necessarily agree with it, but if it’s workable, I let them run with it.”
Waterman believes this approach creates a cycle of success in which his people are encouraged to step up and assume more responsibility, which leads to greater personal success, which leads to confidence to assume even more responsibility.
This management style, notes Waterman, is typical of Agrium as a whole — where“everyone’s viewpoints are respected and worthy of consideration.” According to Waterman, the tone starts with Agrium CEO Mike Wilson’s efforts to make sure that everyone in the organization understands the company strategy and where it’s going.
”If our people are aware of these things, they don’t have to ask for permission. They can figure out what needs to be done,” he adds.
Taking great expectations home
Waterman works hard to balance his responsibilities at Agrium with his personal life. He and his wife, Carol, whom he met across the negotiating table while working for Dome, have four children.
”Carol is bright, funny and sets very high expectations for herself and our kids,” notes Waterman.“For example, all four children are black belts in Tae Kwon Do.”
Most of all, he has a passion for spending time with friends, riding horses in the mountains.“I set high expectations and compete against myself every day,” says Waterman.“When I’m in the woods, it gives me a chance to reflect on those areas of my life that I can always work toward improving.”