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Charles Berry, an accountant at the Toronto office of Welch LLP. (TONY FOUHSE/Handout)
Charles Berry, an accountant at the Toronto office of Welch LLP. (TONY FOUHSE/Handout)

Guest Column

Why this ballet dancer became an accountant Add to ...

My grandfather, Deans Berry, joined George A. Welch and Co. in 1937, when it had 15 employees.

A few years later he became a chartered accountant (CA), winning a gold medal for getting the highest mark on the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants uniform examination. When George A. retired in 1970, my grandfather took over the day-to-day operations of the Ottawa-based accounting firm.

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My father, John Berry, joined what was then called Geo. A. Welch & Co. in 1979, when the business had about 60 staff. He is now one of the senior partners. My younger brother, Peter Berry, went straight from high school to Queens University in Kingston, Ont., and it was clear from an early age that he was on track to join the firm.

Needless to say, when I was growing up, accounting was the family profession. But not for me.

My mother registered me for dance classes when I was three, and over time ballet increasingly became a part of who I was. At 11, I got the opportunity to live and train at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. My brother and I always joked that I was the black sheep of the family: I went from Toronto to dance in London, and then I started my dream job as a member of the renowned Stuttgart Ballet.

Knowing that a ballet career would not last forever, I began a commerce degree while I was dancing. When an injury ended my career early, I was surprised, but I was prepared to move on. Accounting wasn’t the second career I was expecting. I had planned to have a long, healthy ballet career before moving on to become an artistic director at a ballet company. But fate had other ideas.

The transition was actually quite smooth. When I was first sidelined with bursitis in my hip, I spent a summer working for my father and I enjoyed it. In the fall, I returned to the stage feeling healthy, but it was short lived. By the end of that year, it was clear my career was coming to an end.

People often ask: “How do you feel about being an accountant after working in such a glamorous field?” It’s true that there aren’t any costumes or footlights in my second career, but accounting has been quite exciting at times. I’ve had the unique experience of being on a team auditing the office of the Auditor General of Canada, and this year I will join the group auditing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario.

Long-standing clients, such as Paul’s Boat Lines – which operates scenic tours on the Rideau Canal – have a great history with my family. Paul, the owner, was a friend of my grandfather; his sons John and Dan now own the company; and Dan’s son Joe owns Manotick Marina – another client of my father’s who I have worked with over the past several years.

Others, such as Mike Berlis, owner of Oast House Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., are great people to talk to. He and his partners have come up with ways to integrate a brewery into wine country.

And there are inspiring clients such as Nadia Hamilton, whose passion for her business comes from a family connection with autism. Her company, Magnusmode, is a tech startup that creates tools to enable developmentally disabled people to better integrate into society.

From that first summer working for the firm onward, interacting with passionate clients as they build their businesses is what I’ve enjoyed most.

Having sheared some of the black wool and become a CA this year, I transferred to our newest office in Toronto. Part of my role is to help expand the location, as the two generations before me did in Ottawa. As a member of a staff of more than 250 in the organization, I hope to be a part of the continued success of a nearly century-old story at George A. Welch, which the Berry name has been such a huge part of.

Charles Berry is a CPA, CA and CIA in the Toronto branch of Welch LLP.

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