How One Thing Took PwC Canada’s Diane Kazarian From Small-City Accountant to National Executive

Sometimes in a career, people reach heights greater than anyone – themselves included – would have initially thought possible. Diane Kazarian is one such person.

Starting out a small-city accountant in Providence, USA, she moved to Toronto and grew the ranks at PwC Canada to become the firm’s National Financial Services Leader and most recently, GTA Managing Partner.

The first woman to take on the Managing Partner role in any of PwC’s major city offices, Kazarian looks at her title with fondness, responsibility, and excitement. She still gets to dig into interesting problems faced by global firms, but she also gets to be a champion for diversity and inclusion in financial services and the broader GTA market — a role she relishes.

Her journey, though, was far from what you’d expect from a Big Four business advisory firm managing partner. The daughter of an Armenian opera-singer-turned-housewife mother and an old-fashioned, Armenian immigrant father, Kazarian gained a strong desire for independence from an early age that carried her through her career and still helps guide her decisions today.

Family set the stage for Kazarian’s passion

“My mother had an opera career, but gave it up when I was born,” Kazarian started. “My dad… wanted her to give it up.”

Watching her mother give up her career for family and become financially dependent on her father left a mark. From childhood onwards, financial independence was a “huge thing” that she wanted in her life.

It led her to study business at Bryant University in Providence and start her career at KPMG. Even then, though, her ambitions reached farther than what Providence could offer. After a few years at KPMG, she moved to Toronto in the early 1990’s to join PwC’s banking practice. It was a male-dominated space, but Kazarian noted there were a lot of women in the space in Toronto.

She worked hard; she “was a hardcore auditor” and obtained her CPA designation in Canada. She made partner in 1995.

Building opportunities meant saying yes – and saying no

To most, ‘making partner’ is a symbol that you’ve made it in your career. Not necessarily that you can take it easy, but at least that you can start to get comfortable and focus on leading your team.

For Kazarian, partner was just the starting point.

“From 1995 to today, PwC and I have sought new opportunities every three to five years,” she said.

She started out in “heavy duty accounting” as an audit partner for a large bank. Then moved to consulting and advisory in financial services. Then she got the opportunity to run IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) for PwC Canada from 2009-2011. After that, she moved on to lead the Financial Services group across Canada, a role she’s held for six years. While she continues to be the National Leader, she recently took on her current role as GTA Managing Partner.

“I helped create [my opportunities] or they were offered to me and I grabbed them,” she said. “[But] I’ve said no to a couple of roles I knew were dead-end roles. [Roles] I knew were not good for me or PwC.”

PwC helping to #movethedial for women in their careers

With an intensity still driven by her childhood desire for financial independence, Kazarian took on challenge after challenge, leading to her historic appointment as the first woman to lead a major city in PwC history. However, this growth trajectory was filled with opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth.

One of her specific points of self-reflection was her role as a mentor and leader for young women in PwC.

“In PwC, we hire basically 50:50, but by the time women get into their fifth, sixth, or seventh year, they tend to leave,” Kazarian explained. “[So] in addition to my roles, I am the co-sponsor of WiL – Women in Leadership – to address high performing women in the ‘frozen middle’… and give them networking, tools, and teach them about sponsorship and mentorship.”

The question of sponsorship is poignant for Kazarian, who explained that she “probably had sponsors” throughout her career but didn’t understand what they were at the time. Now, she’s taking her experience to arm young women with the knowledge she didn’t have in order to help them in their careers.

So far, the WiL program has over 170 graduates and PwC is opening it up to their clients. Kazarian noted that WiL not only tracks progress of women throughout the program (in terms of learning goals) but also after they graduate (in terms of career growth) – showing real, tangible change for women growing through the corporate ranks.

This focus on tangible change is what made PwC join #movethedial as a Founding Partner a “perfect match and perfect marriage,” said Kazarian.

In particular, Kazarian cited PwC’s and #movethedial’s mutual commitment to practical training and tracking progress as the reason the match works so well. With the WiL program, there are specific elements such as helping women find sponsors within their careers and then helping them develop their own unique leadership style that she felt works well for some of the programming that #movethedial is already working on. This mutual commitment to measurable results combined with shared tactical plans lead to Kazarian’s excitement about the partnership.

Building a leadership style

Focusing on taking what she learned and using it to educate others has become a hallmark in Kazarian’s leadership style.

In a style she describes as, “collaborative, creative, and inspiring – but very much holding people and myself accountable,” Kazarian leads a massive team as GTA Managing Partner. However, she recognizes that good leadership, to her, means focusing on the practical and the collaborative.

She learned many of these ideas and thought processes throughout her career (“This is a growth thing; it doesn’t come automatically”), but the foundation still derives from her family life and the plant that grew from the seed of wanting financial independence.

Now, she takes a self-reflective approach to leadership and pushing her team forward.

“You need to know who you are inside, what you want to do, why you want to do these things, and be comfortable with who you are before you go forward,” she advised.

Maintaining hope and the ability to dream

On top of knowing who you are and why you want to do something in your career, Kazarian advises all people – regardless of age, experience, or circumstances – to be a dreamer and to keep believing in themselves.

Armenian by heritage, Kazarian’s family lived through the Armenian Genocide before moving to the United States. Her uncle wrote a book about his experiences during the Genocide, and Kazarian had the opportunity to translate the book to English and have it published.

In the end of the book she gives her views on her uncle’s experience, and she found the book to be about hope.

“People are 95% the master of their own destiny,” she said. “There are many things in life that will impact you… [but] if you are strong, have goals, and want to hope and dream, you can get them done.”

Guest Writer: Stefan Palios

articleVeronica Yao