City of Powell River’s new chief financial officer Mallory Denniston (CFO) has come full circle.
Having been born and raised here, Denniston moved to Vancouver to further her education and opportunities, but has returned to her roots, bringing her well-honed skills and capabilities to the city finance department’s top position.
Denniston is the third generation of her family to live in Powell River. She graduated in 2004 from Brooks Secondary School and while in high school was very active in sports, music and student council.
“It was an incredible place to grow up, with supportive teachers and volunteers,” said Denniston. “The teachers and my parents inspired my desire to go to the University of British Columbia to pursue a business degree.
“After getting into Sauder School of Business at UBC, I thought I would do marketing and international business. When I was close to graduating, I realized that I really preferred the more numerical, analytical financial aspect of business so I tacked on another major in accounting. Once I completed that major and had my undergraduate degree, I was recruited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to article with them to pursue my chartered accountant designation.”
At the same time, she was accepted into a master of professional accounting program at University of Saskatchewan.
“After my years of undergrad, I was articling with PWC, and during the summers, I was doing my masters,” said Denniston. “After three years of that I wrote a uniform exam and passed, so that allowed me to be a fully qualified chartered accountant. I also completed my masters, so those were busy years.
“I was working with PWC and they assigned me to forestry clients, mainly, so I was spending a lot of time in small communities. I thought it was funny that I grew up in a mill town, went to the city to try and get city experience, but ended up enjoying my work assignments that took me out of Vancouver and into smaller towns. I loved the forestry industry.”
In 2012, what later became the Catalyst Paper Tis’kwat mill was looking for an accountant, and Denniston was looking to move home. Her husband, Matthew Denniston, also from Powell River, had finished his engineering degree, and there was an opportunity for him at the mill, too.
“We wanted to be back in our beautiful hometown, close to family again, so we moved home and we didn’t look back after that,” said Denniston. “We loved being here and we loved our jobs at the mill. We were able to buy a house and then we started a family.”
Skills match new role
After working her way up to business analyst at the mill, the manager of accounting services position opened up at the city, so she applied, and was hired. Denniston said she has always been interested in government. She had previously worked for the federal government’s rural secretariat as the communications officer for Western Canada and enjoyed it, so she wondered what municipal government was like.
Denniston said she was fortunate enough to make the transition to the city five years ago. While in the accounting manager’s role, she gained a real understanding of municipal operations and the finance department function. She said she focused on improving information systems and modernizing them, as well as recruiting some excellent people and building a great team. Her job was to support the CFO and run the department.
“Our finance department has an excellent team and it’s one of the reasons why I was excited to take the CFO appointment,” she added.
The CFO position was highly competitive, with about 280 applicants. Denniston said the work she did in her university undergraduate and graduate studies, plus the work experience along the way, provided her with credentials and experience to take on her new responsibilities as city CFO.
“All of that culminated in giving me the experience and skills required for this specific role,” said Denniston.
Moving forward, she wants to continue the vision of outgoing CFO Adam Langenmaier on modernization.
“In three years, we’ll have very streamlined and modernized processes,” said Denniston.
Another big component of her job is the consolidated wastewater treatment plant, which is currently under construction. Denniston hopes to implement the best borrowing strategy possible.
Working with other departments to secure grant funding is also an exciting part of the job, to maximize grant funding as much as possible so expenditures have as little effect on local taxpayers as possible. She added that Powell River Community Forest has been a huge asset to the city for many projects.
Denniston said the mayor and council have laid out a number of strategic priorities, so she will continue to focus on those, as well, moving forward.
For the past few years, the city’s CFO position has been a short-term prospect, with relatively high turnover, but Denniston said she’s not going anywhere. She hopes to provide stability to the position and to be a long-term solution for the responsibilities.
“I want nothing more than to provide consistency,” said Denniston, “for the department, mayor and council, and taxpayers.”