Skip to main content

Cynthia Devine, the CFO of Tim Hortons and co-winner of the CFO of the Year award, says the doughnut chain's corporate culture is unique. ASHLEY HUTCHESON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The Globe and Mail

Cynthia Devine has what, in Canada, might be called a balanced lifestyle. She keeps fit by running, but has a weakness for Timbits, the small doughnut balls that are the soft succulent core of the Tim Hortons phenomenon. Ms. Devine, 46, is chief financial officer of Tim Hortons Inc., the latest stop in a career dedicated to numbers and food. She is also co-winner of this year's CFO of the Year award, bestowed upon the country's most worthy senior financial leaders.

Why a career in the food industry?

There's a passion and energy around companies that have products you can touch and feel. It's pretty contagious.

Story continues below advertisement

I did almost every finance job there was to do at Pepsi Canada over 10 years. I wanted to continue to learn and grow, and the Maple Leaf Foods opportunity [senior vice-president, finance]came up - a great company as well, with a very diverse product line. It allowed me to learn a lot more about food manufacturing.

So why move to Tim Hortons?

Every company I had worked for wanted to do business with Tim Hortons. At Pepsi, we were trying to do business with them; at Maple Leaf, we were a supplier. I was intrigued. If nothing else, if I applied there, I could learn about the company and that would help me as I go forward.

Then, when I came for the interview, I liked the people; I liked the atmosphere. It was a Canadian company. There was a connection personally with the brand because of the community work and all the things I respected.

Was there a potential downside?

At the time it was owned by Wendy's. I didn't necessarily want to work at another company controlled by a U.S. company, but as soon as I came here, I found the feel was different. Tim Hortons was run very autonomously. I was in the right place at the right time. There was an initial public offering and I was able to lead that, and then the spinoff [from Wendy's]

At the CFO awards gala, the audience was amused when a slide identified you as 'CEO' of Tim Hortons. Would you like to be a CEO?

Story continues below advertisement

Maybe at some point down the road. For me, it's all about interesting and challenging work. Just be patient and enjoy what you are doing.

You're responsible for manufacturing, including coffee-roasting and doughnut glazes … do CFOs usually take direct operational roles?

Not necessarily, but I would call that a bit of Tim Hortons. When I came here, one of the things they said is, "Everybody wears lots of hats." So while your title is interesting, you have an opportunity to do lots of things. People have bits and pieces of experiences and challenges that make them well-rounded. If you're worried about titles and those kinds of things, it's probably not the company to work for.

And as a finance person, I've always had a bit more of a slant toward business. I want to be involved in the business; I want to be a business partner. I'm not really just a numbers cruncher.

Do you get involved in strategy?

In our executive team, we all get very involved in strategy. It's not just a couple of people off in a room by themselves developing strategy.

Story continues below advertisement

In some companies, people are exactly the same, and you say, "Okay, that is someone from such-and-such company." They are cut from the same cloth. Here, everybody brings a unique background and interesting perspectives. So we come up with different viewpoints and it helps make much better decisions.

Isn't there a distinct culture?

The culture at Tim Hortons is unique, it's thick and it goes back to Ron Joyce [the former owner and co-founder] You think about a company that is 46 years old and has had three CEOs. The values of those individuals are so entrenched - in the connection to store owners, to customers, to the brand. And people are usually customers first before they come to work here.

Are we seeing more women as CFOs now?

We see a lot more. It takes time, and when you are in a room of CFOs, you still find there is never [an equal number]of women yet. Over time, who knows? Part of it is that companies are more respectful of work-life balance.

Did you take much time off to have kids?

Story continues below advertisement

At the time I was at Pepsi Canada as treasurer, and it worked out well. It was a very technical job where a lot of the work could be done by myself. I worked closely with Pepsico in New York on tax, structural and finance issues. My son would sleep and I could still participate in the conference calls. I kept up to speed and it didn't set me back.

But the reality is if you are off for a year, the business continues to move forward and you are out of it. I was able to stay connected and had enough challenging work to stay engaged.

In late 2000, news stories reported you would be joining a software company, Microforum, as CFO. What happened?

I never actually went to work for them. At a certain point, I was going into high tech, and I had told them I might come. They did a press release on it, but I had not fully accepted the job. [Not going]was a tough decision but I felt the right one. [The job move]was not connected with the values I felt were consistent with what I wanted to do in the long term. [Microforum later was a casualty of the tech bust, and filed for bankruptcy protection. Remnants of the company continued under other names.]/p>

So you were able to stay at Pepsi and surely could have had a full career there.

But I had done so many of the finance jobs, and for me the next move was to New York. My husband has a career, and he's happy with it. He wouldn't ask me to leave the country to follow him and so the reverse would be true, as well. There is a lot of opportunity in Canada. I didn't feel I had to leave to learn and grow.

Story continues below advertisement

Isn't it a big issue for Canadians working in foreign multinationals?

Canadians don't move around as much. At Pepsico in the U.S., people would move all over the place, just uproot their family every couple of years, and move to a new spot. It was much more part of the culture to move people around frequently. So [as a Canadian]you always had to look for new and challenging things on home territory without moving.

What is your style as leader?

I hope it is to be a team player, but I do like to be involved. I'm not completely hands-off or removed. I can add the most value when I understand some of the details. So I am very fact-based. If I sense you are not telling me the facts, I'm going to keep digging till I find them. If I understand the facts right away, it is usually very easy.

And I like to have fun. We work hard but we laugh a lot, and make fun of ourselves.

What keeps you awake at night?

Story continues below advertisement

I find lots of good things to keep me awake. It's my job to worry - I'm thinking ahead. Paul House [former CEO and now executive chairman]would say, "I know I don't have to worry about that because Cynthia is going to."

He used to joke that, "On Friday night, I'll give you a couple of more things to worry about on the weekend so that I can have a nice weekend." I'm pretty good at separating work from home life but I often wake up in the middle of the night with interesting ideas so people will get an e-mail the odd time.

Do you send them out?

They don't actually go out in the middle of the night. I save them, and send them in the morning. It has to be a reasonable time so you don't look like you're a bit crazy.

I think on weekdays any time between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. is fine, because that's reasonable. On a weekend you need to wait beyond 8 o'clock. Even if you're really excited about it, you have to wait.

How is your sleep, overall?

I tend to sleep well. I go to bed late and take the odd nap. Once I get that 20-minute rest, I'm ready to go. I never nap here [in the office]but if they had a spot for it … My dad was an entrepreneur and always had a couch in his office. During the day, he would take a nap, be all energized and ready to go. That's where I get it.

Cynthia Devine

Title: Chief financial officer, Tim Hortons Inc., Oakville, Ont.

Born: May 30, 1964 in Thornhill, Ont.

Education: HBA, Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario; Chartered accountant

Career highlights:

For 10 years, served in various financial positions at Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd.

1999-2001, chief financial officer for Pepsi Canada

2001-2003, senior vice-president, finance, of Maple Leaf Foods Inc.

2003: Joined Tim Hortons as senior vice-president and CFO.

2010: Named CFO of the Year, sharing honours with Richard Bird of Enbridge Inc.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to
Cannabis pro newsletter