Getting to the head office of Qikiqtaaluk Corporation (QC) in Iqaluit, Canada, is a challenge. The location of the Canadian town, in the vast north-eastern territory of Nunavut, puts it closer to Greenland than Ottawa.
You can’t drive to Nunavut – let alone its capital of Iqaluit on Baffin Island – from anywhere in Canada, nor are its 25 municipalities connected to one another by road. Passing through a landscape of ice and snow, the famous ‘Road to Nowhere’ runs a few miles from Iqaluit before reaching its inevitable end, the middle of nowhere amid the freezing tundra.
‘If it weren’t for that fluke of timing, I may have never been exposed to one of the most unique experiences of my career’
Following a three-and-a-half hour commute by plane from Ottawa, Oman-born Ali Sarfaraz FCCA arrives at the office. What makes his job as corporate controller at the Inuit birthright development corporation for the Qikiqtani region worth the 1,400-mile trip from Barrie, Ontario, to Iqaluit? It’s all about the work, he says. ‘If you have a passion for what you’re doing, these factors are irrelevant.’
As corporate controller, Sarfaraz is the second under the CFO. All QC subsidiaries report to him and he is responsible for external audit for all its entities. He also manages the full spectrum of QC’s accounting and payroll services and is in charge of an IT overhaul.
As to how he landed this job, he explains: ‘I was recruited for the role during the Covid-19 pandemic, just when my previous role ended. If it weren’t for that fluke of timing, I may have never been exposed to one of the most unique experiences of my career.’
QC is a complex business, with some very unique challenges and opportunities. Its corporate structure is unusual, compared to most, and as Sarfaraz explains, it took him a while to get his head around how it all worked. ‘When I joined,’ he says, ‘it took me about one month to understand the complex structure.’
When it comes to doing business in the region, Qikiqtaaluk Corporation is interested in everything
Following the settlement of Inuit land claims in the Canadian Arctic, ‘birthright’ Inuit development corporations were established, which are wholly owned by regional Inuit associations and Inuit governments. The QC group was created in 1983 as the for-profit development arm for the Qikiqtani region. Owned by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, QC is a conglomerate of 32 subsidiaries, joint ventures and affiliations involved in industries from fishing and mining to energy and hospitality, and accounts for more than Can$96m in annual revenues.
Canadian or international companies looking to operate or invest in mining, energy or any other initiative in the Qikiqtani region have to go through QC. When it comes to doing business in the region, QC is interested in everything.
When Sarfaraz joined the company, QC was looking for someone who could handle multiple entities and had experience working in a variety of sectors. Sarfaraz’s experience with complex companies in both Oman and Canada, coupled with his knowledge of accounting technology, prepared him for several significant challenges.
First, QC’s internet was unreliable, making daily communication between entities difficult. A new internal server would have to be sourced, purchased and installed.
Second, QC was on a fast-growth and high-investment trajectory, but local talent to support that growth was scarce. Training and development would rapidly become one of Sarfaraz’s priorities, as hiring remote workers was not an option given the philosophy of the local community.
The accounting processes were severely lacking, and the technology 20 years out of date
Finally, QC’s accounting processes were severely lacking, and its technology was 20 years out of date. Sarfaraz’s job, which is ongoing, is to implement the technology needed to facilitate efficient internal reporting, budgeting and payroll processes for the long run. ‘We are working with KPMG to find the right solution, taking the next 10 years into consideration,’ he says.
In the blood
So how did his background and training prepare him for his job at QC? First, he explains, accounting is in his blood. His father, a businessman in Oman, ‘was a huge influence’ not only on him, but on his three brothers as well. ‘We’re all in finance,’ Sarfaraz says, ‘and three of us hold the ACCA degree.’
Moving from Oman to Canada was also made possible by his ACCA qualification. Sarfaraz says: ‘We applied for Canadian immigration through the federal skilled worker programme. My ACCA qualified me for this programme and, once we’d landed, the ACCA qualification further promoted my career potential by allowing me to obtain the Canadian CPA/CGA through its mutual recognition agreement.’
Corporate controller, Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, Iqaluit
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In addition to generating dividend to its shareholder, the mandate of Qikiqtaaluk Corporation is to deliver employment and training opportunities to the Inuit of the Qikiqtani Region.
Major sectors of operation: fisheries, mining, energy and professional services
Entities in the QC group – 11 wholly owned subsidiaries, three majority-owned joint ventures, nine joint venture partnerships and nine affiliated companies
Inuit employees – 57% of the workforce