That six-month trip to Europe was pivotal.
“It got to be September and we were still in Europe and we decided: We need to get back to work,” said Kevin Santos, 37.
“It was 2004 and we were from Prince George, so booming Calgary looked good and we thought maybe we’d chase the money there. But then Kelowna was also booming and we picked Kelowna. It’s the best decision we’ve ever made.”
Santos’ extended foray to Europe was with his girlfriend, Melody, who is now his wife. They now also have two little boys.
Santos is a partner at Grant Thornton accountants and consultants. And his wife is a manager at housing development Trestle Ridge.
“I’m originally from Prince George, graduated from UNBC (University of Northern B.C.) and was working at an accounting firm in Prince George,” explained Santos. “But Prince George isn’t where we wanted to end up, so we took that long trip to Europe.”
After 11 years in Kelowna, Santos is well and truly entrenched in the community.
When he first arrived at Grant Thornton Kelowna, he was mentored by partner Kim Ward, who specialized in real estate and construction accounting and consulting. It was another circumstance that would change his life.
“I, too, started to specialize in real estate and construction,” said Santos. “I became a partner in 2013 and Kim retired a year later, so I really have become the specialist in that area and really know the nuances of it.”
Along the way, Santos joined the local Urban Development Institute board eight years ago and the Canadian Home Builders' Association board a couple of years ago.
Through the Urban Development Institute, he helped found U40, a group for developers and the sub-contractors, lawyers, accountants and bankers who supply them to meet for guest speaker and brainstorming lunches, networking sessions and socials.
Santos is also the human resources partner at his firm and has decided to exclusively hire Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan graduates.
“When we can recruit and retain from the Valley, it’s great,” he said. “When we hire a student for their 30 months of articling to attain their chartered professional accountant designation, we really set them up for success with an in-house coach, who is a CPA, and a mentor, who is a partner.”
The system works, with the 70 staff locally working happily and efficiently to serve clients.
“At any one time, I’m mentoring five students at different stages of their articling and two CPAs who are three to five years into the profession," said Santos. “It works well for setting career goals and creating work-life balance.”
However, accounting has an altered sense of work-life balance. Due to company year ends and tax filing deadlines, the bulk of work at an accounting firm has to be done December through May. During that time, it’s all hands on deck and long hours. However, there is a week break over Christmas and New Year’s, and in the summer, the schedule is scaled back to seven hours a day, four days a week.
“Even during the busy season, we’re flexible,” said Santos. “Everyone has their projects and files they are working one and it’s left up to them to manage their schedule so everything gets done on time.”
Such an approach means Millennials are attracted to the work and it’s been good for the whole accounting industry.
“A lot has changed,” said Santos. “We’re not just number crunchers, but business advisers and consultants who build relationships and help clients meet their potential. Millennials like this client-focused world.”