“Genomics holds the promise to improve our quality of life, while providing opportunities for economic development and environmental improvement for the benefit of society,” says Tony Brooks, chief financial officer (CFO) and vice-president of entrepreneurship and commercialization for Genome BC. Tony has built a career supporting genomics research and innovation, while also using his background as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) to ensure solid business strategies are incorporated. This year, he was recognized with a 2018 BC CFO Award for the success he’s had with combining scientific ingenuity with strong business acumen and leadership.
Genome BC, a non-profit organization, channels funds from the federal and provincial governments, as well as from national and international public and private sources, into genomics research projects in BC.
Joining Genome BC was a natural fit for Tony with his PhD in developmental biology and CPA designation. Combining his love of science and numbers, Tony oversees grant requests for genomics-related projects. As CFO, Tony is also responsible for regular financial reporting, overseeing operating and project-funding budgets, and the overall management of Genome BC’s investment portfolio.
Tony spoke to IndustryUpdate.ca about some of the innovative breakthroughs he’s helped support, and some of the leadership wisdom he’s gained over the years.
Based on your experience reviewing funding requests, what are three pieces of advice you would give businesses when it comes to communicating information to their audiences?
“First of all, it’s important to ensure your impact statement is clearly stated up front. While it’s nice to have the details about the science or technology involved, we need to see what the value proposition of a project is right from the start. Secondly, don’t oversell yourself and make sure your statements are backed up by evidence – provide sources and references if necessary.
And third – think carefully about your audience and what they will want to read. For example, avoid providing a 50-page application or business plan unless that length has been specifically requested.”
What major research breakthroughs has Genome BC helped fund?
“There have been many innovative breakthroughs that I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen. For example, through research on microbes, one project is remediating tailings ponds, including sites around Elk Valley and Mt. Polley.
Another project is preventing honey bee colony collapses by identifying and promoting the breeding of bees who reproduce queens resilient to Canadian climates. And another project is supporting new testing methods to track and contain Avian Influenza viruses.”
Can you tell me about a time when you identified a new market opportunity, and how did you help your organization pursue it?
“When in discussions with the provincial government about funding, they suggested we consider introducing a repayable aspect to some of our funding. Out of this, I identified that there was a market opportunity to provide relatively low-cost debt funding to early-stage life sciences companies in BC. This led to us launching our Industry Innovation Program, where funding support is provided to companies that are beyond the research stage and well on their way to commercialization, with the expectation that funds are repaid within six years.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
I empower my employees by encouraging them to believe in themselves and their abilities. This involves challenging them with new opportunities and tasks – I feel it’s important to give employees space to take risks and to not be afraid of failing. By exploring new areas, employees also get a better sense of the big picture and how we all fit into the puzzle. I’m also passionate about fostering a workplace culture of collaboration. I always invite collaboration from my team and let them know that their input is valuable. I’m a big believer in being inclusive – incorporating different perspectives is essential to success.
What are the top skills people starting a career in accounting and finance need to be successful?
“First, develop a strong sense of perspective – figure out what is important and what is not – understand the bigger picture. Secondly, strong interpersonal skills are essential. It’s important to be a strong communicator. There are so many issues in the business world today that can be solved with good communication. And third, attention to detail is mandatory.”
Can you tell me one thing about yourself that others might not know, or find surprising?
“I spent over three years backpacking around the world before I became a CPA. Recently, I completed the Squamish 50, which is an 80 km race. This was 25 km more than I had ever run in a day!”
And Tony has high hopes for going much further – not just in his running, but also in helping his industry continue to uncover new research. “Every living thing has a genome that holds a secret code of life within,” says Tony. “From the food we eat, to the medicine and cures we seek, to the environmental sustainability of natural resources we depend upon, genomics is the heart of life sciences in BC.”
This article was originally published by CPABC’s Industry Update