“Helping people excel is the biggest kick I get out of my job.”
Dale Bencharsky had no idea what kind of opportunity was knocking when he took a six-month accounting contract with Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) in 1993. But that contract turned into full-time work, and that full-time work into a manager’s position. By 36, he was on the company’s executive team — and was Chief Financial Officer before he was 40. It may sound like a whirlwind, but according to Bencharsky that’s the nature of a career that gives you the chance to make a visible impact every day. Dale works in Canada’s forest products industry – The GreenestWorkforce.
This is his story.
I grew up on a farm just outside of Boyle, Alberta. I knew I wanted to stay here and make my life here, and I was interested in accounting, so I took advantage of a government subsidy and got my degree from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. When Al-Pac opened their mill in Boyle they called me up and offered a contract position in accounts payable.
If you’d told me then that I’d be CFO by the age of 39, I’m sure I would have said you were dreaming. But within the company I had the opportunity to do pretty much every kind of finance-related job in a short space of time. I got all kinds of experience I wouldn’t have working in just one role somewhere else.
That isn’t unusual in this sector, and certainly not at Al-Pac. There are four or five different jobs people can cycle through in about eight years — meaning there are always places to go, career-wise. I always tell new hires, “Dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you’re in.” Because it changes your mindset and also, the opportunities are there. You will have the chance to advance.
What I think I love best is that I’ve had all these amazing opportunities and at the same time I’ve been able to live the kind of life I always wanted to live. My kids are now the sixth generation in my family to grow up in Boyle. They go to the school I went to. From where I live I can see the house I grew up in: my brother’s there. I’m in a place where I can hunt, fish and snowmobile, and I work with a team of hardworking people at a supportive company.
I’ve benefited from that support personally: Al-Pac gave me a three-month sabbatical so I could complete my accounting designation, and were fully behind me when I got my MBA through Athabasca University. I like to think I carry that tradition of support forward. Helping people excel is the biggest kick I get out of my job.
I’m fortunate that after all these years I’m still being offered new opportunities. For example, I was recently made CFO of Al-Pac’s sales organization in Vancouver, so I now have additional responsibilities and get to work with another team outside of Boyle.
I still remember going into meetings with other CFOs when I first became CFO at Al-Pac: they were all 10 or 15 years older than me; I was the kid at the table. I remember thinking at the time, I must be really lucky to work in company, in a sector, where if you work hard and pay your dues, you can get where you want to go this quickly. And the truth is, with the number of jobs opening up in this industry over the next five years, there are about 60,000 other people out there who could be as lucky as I’ve been. For people looking for rewarding career opportunities outside the ordinary, I can’t think of a better industry to work in.