Alumni Spotlight: Mark Murray (MFin'19)
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Over the last two months, we had the opportunity to sit down with various QUAAF alumni from the graduating classes of 2012 to 2019 to learn about their experiences and hear about their journey to where they are today. This initiative has produced incredible insight into how various members of the team learned essential new skills, gained invaluable exposure, and personal advice on how to make the most of our short time at Smith. We are proud to be sharing the years of wisdom and experience of our alumni.
This week on #SpotlightSaturday, hear from Mark about finding his place in the finance world with an accounting background, and how his current role at Rogers is the perfect mix of both his managerial skills and his interest in sports.
Give us a quick summary of who you are, your background prior to your MFIN, and your current role at Rogers.
I went to UOttawa for my undergrad and did the accounting program there. Right out of school, I got a job at Deloitte in their audit practice. For accountants, everyone thinks you go to school, you go to Big Four, and that’s the process you have to go through. I got put on a really tough client, was working crazy hours, getting home at 2AM everyday, applying for jobs until 3AM, and then going to sleep.
Luckily, Rogers has a CPA rotational program where they hire a year in advance – in this case, someone they had hired had moved out of the country prior to starting the program, so they needed someone to start right away. It was “right place, right time.”
So I was able to switch into this rotational program. First stop was in Real Estate Finance, then Communications Controllers (Cable & Wireless), and the third one, which was my favourite, was Sportsnet Finance, and that was actually the role that I was in when I decided to take the MFIN.
It was probably one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had – we supported a team of negotiators. Say you subscribed to Bell, and you watch Sportsnet on Bell – Bell has to pay Rogers to air Sportsnet. There’s constant negotiations with Rogers selling Sportsnet to Bell, Telus, Cogeco, etc. We supported the negotiators on how to price it, where we saw cable subscribers going, what rates we needed to hit our budgets, and all the math behind that.
While I was in the MFIN, I had finished the rotational program and got my CPA, CA designation. I was actually recruited for the “Sports & Investments” position because they knew of my interest in investments. It is really the only accounting position outside of Treasury at Rogers that requires a finance background, because a big part of the job is testing for goodwill impairment. When doing impairment testing for goodwill, you have to do an equity valuation of the business to compare book value to enterprise value to determine if there’s a write-off necessary. So I ended up leveraging models and methods I had learned from my MFIN classes on how to independently value the Rogers wireless business, the media business, and the cable business. Four months into that role, my manager left so I was asked if I wanted to take over - I agreed and got promoted. Once again it was “right place, right time.” It wasn’t exactly what I intended to do with my MFin but it turned out alright.
Were there any experiences or habits from your time at UOttawa that shaped your MFin experience and time at Rogers?
It was a lot of time management, remembering back to where I was this time last year when I was doing my MFin. It all boils down to not getting too overwhelmed, looking ahead, and actually having a proper calendar that you’re adhering to.
In high school, I actually worked at Rogers Video, which was awesome because I got to watch movies all day. I continued working at Rogers into university selling phones, where I also had my social life, my internships, and a full course load. I’m from Toronto so I was also living on my own for the first time. It was a crash course on how to properly take care of myself for the first time. I learned a lot about time management and it prepped me very well for the MFin given that it’s a full-time program crammed into part-time hours - I was promoted during my MFin, had to deal with courses like Derivatives, and was in QUAAF at the same time.
It requires a lot of good time management to do well in school, do well at your job, and still have a social life.
How has QUAAF impacted your overall career journey and growth? Did your experiences from QUAAF play a big part in shaping who you are today?
Let me explain what really led me to my MFin. In my last year of my undergrad, I wanted to start trading stocks a bit. I started with a few thousand bucks from my internships and bought a bunch of blue-chip stocks. Then in 2015, in the run-up to the Canadian federal election, Justin Trudeau was running on legalizing marijuana. So I sold all my blue-chips, and dumped it all into this one company, Canopy Growth. It was at $1.75 a share, and I thought either Trudeau or Mulcair were going to win and they both ran on legalizing marijuana, so I just made a risky bet because it was just a couple thousand bucks at the time.
After that, Canopy took off, it was all in the news, and I made this money, and I didn’t want to lose it. I had completed my CPA at this point too and I recognized that it didn’t really teach me about corporate finance too much, so I wanted to learn a) how not to lose this money, b) how to be an actual investor, and c) just in general, how to be a better finance professional. That’s what led to the MFin.
What I took away from being in QUAAF was all the different factors that you need to consider before making an investment decision. Things like the composition of your portfolio, the different metrics that you can derive from corporate financials, the state of the economy, it was just the full breadth of what a hedge fund would take into account before making an investment decision. That’s something I really took out of the program, not to be such a “cowboy” with my money and always take a step back and think about my investment portfolio and the overall investment process.
Would you say that, for the reverse of your situation, there would be value in those with a finance background taking the CPA?
Well I think there is value, but that is a very big ask if you’re not planning on doing accounting. Since I did my undergrad in accounting, I got to skip a lot of the CPA courses. For someone that did their schooling in finance and got their CFA, it would be a lot of work to get your CPA. With that being said, understanding accounting fundamentals would be helpful from that side of finance. Especially with people I dealt with in my MFin, there can be a lot of blind spots around how working capital worked, the accounting cycle, and it can be difficult without that fundamental accounting knowledge. So I wouldn’t say go as far as do the whole CPA, but having a strong accounting background is my recommendation. Especially if you’re doing consolidation or something like that, you really need that accounting skillset.
Do you see yourself transitioning to something different within your current skillset or a new role entirely? What’s the path to CFO look like for you?
So I plan on staying in this situation for the next little bit, growing in corporate finance especially given a company of Rogers’ size - it’s a conglomerate, there’s a lot of areas in the business that are run like different businesses, especially given my involvement in the media business. I effectively act as the controller for the Jays, Sportsnet, and our investment portfolio – all areas of the business I’m interested in. I even get to work out of the Rogers Centre, which as a lifelong Blue Jays fan is pretty awesome! Those are all parts of this role that I like, but I do really like the idea of consulting and I can see myself eventually branching out in that direction.
Do I see myself jumping into the banks at all? Probably not, but having all these skills and knowledge in my back pocket through my MFin, especially if I go down the consulting route, I feel is super helpful. We’re so much more than our title, and to be a well rounded finance professional it would be really beneficial to know the accounting side, the investment side, and so on.
Given your path through Rogers, and current home in the sports side of the business, have sports always been a big interest for you?
Well I always wanted to be a professional athlete, but I had to settle with accountant, so this is a really good compromise! Absolutely I’m a huge sports fan, part of why I’m still at Rogers is the sports aspect of the business, I watch Sportsnet, the Jays, the Raptors, the Leafs – all areas of the business that I support.
One of our biggest investments is in MLSE, and the MLSE board is a split between Larry Tanenbaum, Bell, and Rogers. As a result, I help our board members prep for their quarterly board meetings by reading through the detailed board materials and summarizing the key takeaways (financial highlights, approvals being requested, questions we believe should be raised in the meetings, etc.). They take that information and are then equipped to go to the meetings. As both an accountant and a Toronto sports fan, this is basically as interesting as content gets.
Outside of the Raptors winning the NBA Championship last year, what was your top Toronto sports moment of the last five years?
Bautista’s bat flip, that’s got to be my top live sports moment. I was actually on a flight during Kawhi’s shot in the Philly game last year, and so I actually missed the last 10 seconds of that game! We were in the air and the game I was streaming on my phone got cut off so that’s why I still go back to the Bautista home run.
For the current Master’s students at Smith, and those of them who are in QUAAF, what would your advice be to make the most out of their time, given your experience and perspective?
What I did was I thought ahead to where I wanted to go and what my interest was. Don’t go into the program to just get the first job that comes your way - try to pinpoint and do whatever you can to get into your preferred industry/field. Use the career department at Queen’s, send LinkedIn messages, just try to focus where you want to go and put all of your efforts you can into that because ultimately we’re only here once so why settle for something you don’t really want, right?
...ultimately we’re only here once so why settle for something you don’t really want, right?
What’s one book, movie, tv-show, or general activity you like to do when you unwind?
Does drinking beers count as an activity, can I say that? I watch a lot of sports and comedies mostly - there’s always sports on – the Jays are on 6 months of the year, and when they’re not on usually the Leafs or Raps are playing. I live downtown so it’s really easy to enjoy myself – there’s always something going on. That was something at Queen’s I found really good - the social aspect. Queen’s definitely has more of a social aspect to it – more so than I found at UOttawa. Even for the MFin, there’s the cruise in Kingston, the big dinners, they just emphasize the social aspect of business, which I find is just as important as the actual content of the program.