From her very first days on the job, she knew she was in for exciting opportunities and challenges.
Chris Couture [BComm(Hons)/83, CA/86], then in her 20s, began a young auditor’s task of calling on clients, introducing herself to people in the new industries and companies that defined Winnipeg at the time—a diverse economy with roots in agriculture, manufacturing and finance. She found herself being assigned to some of the firm’s largest and most prestigious clients in the city.
“I took great pride in knowing I was able to participate in a small way to help solve our clients’ complex problems and build trust through the audit process,” says Couture.
It was the beginning of a network that she would feed and nurture throughout her career dedicated to a single company: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Within the first year, going from client to client, she was struck by how quickly a network multiplies.
“I counted the number of people I met that I didn’t know six months prior and realized that I had expanded my professional relationships by more than 100,” she says.
Over the next 37 years, Couture would become a force in her field at PwC, the second largest professional services firm in the world. She recently retired as a partner.
Early on, she saw the vast knowledge suddenly open to her: how to grow a business, develop strategy and manage people. Couture was also excited to learn about applying different systems and processes across a large swath of companies—lessons unique to her profession and, she knew, valuable to her clients.
“I recall wondering why one of my clients struggled to close their books on a monthly basis while another much larger client did it with relative ease. I realized that I possessed the knowledge to help solve the problem,” she says.
Couture steadily rose through the ranks at PwC, becoming the Winnipeg office’s managing partner in 2007, leading a team of 140 in the execution of the firm’s strategy. She also provided audit and assurance services to diverse companies in the private equity, insurance, entertainment and media, agribusiness and food processing, and retail and manufacturing industries. Couture, who thrives on being a coach and mentor, developed a leadership style colleagues describe as collaborative, decisive and fair.
“I truly believe that personal success and satisfaction comes from the ability to inspire and develop the next generation,” she says.
Couture quickly became one of the firm’s go-to resources and was approached to relocate to Toronto to take on the role of global relationship and engagement partner on two of PwC’s priority accounts: Onex Corporation and Fairfax Financial. Her guidance for navigating complex situations was in high demand.
“You continue to build your intellectual curiosity,” she says. “You always look for ways that you can grow. That thought that you might have, build on that. If you’re an expert in something, how do you continue to build on that expertise?”
She also values being confident in what you believe, while embracing the unexpected.
“When you’re asked to take on something new, you might think, it’s not really what I do. But, I’ve learned to just say ‘yes.’ Take it on. Try it,” she says. “Do something new because you never know where it’s going to lead and how it might impact your career and professional development.”
Going for it
Soon after becoming a chartered accountant, Couture said yes to a secondment in Melbourne, Australia. By agreeing to an undisclosed assignment, she found herself travelling the country with then-superstar Phil Collins, as the tour accountant.
Australia was also her introduction to the company’s expansive global reach and how much she could learn by engaging in these international conversations. The Winnipeg office had about 100 employees, while the office in Melbourne was then seven times that size.
The experience afforded her new responsibilities and a new respect. She was connecting with clients as far afield as Houston, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“People were valuing the work I was doing. I was given opportunities to take on new challenges that wouldn’t have come my way had I not made the decision to go there.”
It was these new opportunities that came every few years that kept her with PwC. When Couture became a partner, she was among the few women in the role. She was also the first female chair of the PwC Canadian Partnership Board.
She is equally proud of her community commitment, encouraged and supported by PwC.
“I had amazing role models among both my clients and fellow PwC partners on the impact we can have in the community by lending a hand or a bit of brain power to help solve a problem,” Couture says. “My volunteer involvement with these non-profit organizations has been one of the highlights of my career.”
Her outreach began at 24, as treasurer for the Women’s Post-Treatment Centre, supporting women recovering from early childhood sexual abuse. In the decades since, she has chaired the Salvation Army Grace General Hospital board, co-chaired the United Way’s Major Donor Cabinet, and chaired the Winnipeg Folk Festival’s Staging the Future, among others.
Most recently, she was a member of the president’s campaign team for UM’s Front and Centre campaign. She credits UM with opening a door that would launch her career.
Growing up the fourth of six children in Winnipeg’s Elmwood neighbourhood, the importance of a university education was continuously reinforced by her parents, Couture says. Neither her mom, who ran the family grocery store, nor her dad, a pipe fitter, finished high school. But all of her siblings graduated from university, five from UM. Couture recalls one year when her summer earnings fell short and she couldn’t make tuition. Her mother sold some silverware to make up the difference.
Couture and her siblings established the Raymond and Florence Scholarship Bursary at UM for students who might otherwise not be able to pursue a post-secondary education.
“It was extremely important to my parents that all of us go to university—it was their number one priority,” she says. “And we’re all beneficiaries of that commitment.”
In finance, Chris Couture has brought her leadership to serve a wide variety of private and public multinational companies. We asked her for her seven rules of business.
- Run towards a new challenge.
- Care more about the success of others than your own.
- Lead with care and compassion and be nice to people—all people.
- Allow yourself to take chances and experiment.
- Challenge the status quo.
- Know who you are, what your values are, and come back to that in times of trouble.
- Be yourself at all times. That way you don’t forget who you’re supposed to be.