Ed Brewerton CA: The physics of accounting
ICAS speaks to Ed Brewerton CA about the unique marriage of physics and accounting, how it aids his work in the oil and gas industry, and the importance of open communication in leadership roles.
From qualification to navigating a restructure in his early career:
My grandfather and uncle were accountants, so I have accountancy in the family, and it seemed to jive with my personality and inquisitive nature too - like a nice mathematical detective career. I studied physics and French in Nottingham and interned with EY in the UK. I was offered a job off the back of that in the transaction advisory group and did my CA qualification there.
In between my degree and starting my job, I deferred my start date for a year and that’s when I met my wife, who’s Canadian. She was also pursuing some qualifications and couldn’t move to England.
After three years at EY in the UK, I was visiting her in Canada and popped into the EY office in Calgary. One thing led to another and six months later, they offered me a job – that’s the beauty of the qualification.
When I moved to Canada, I worked on transactions in the oil and gas industry. I really enjoy that combination of the science along with the deal side, and the economics came naturally to me, like the different benchmark processes and supply and demand issues affected by geopolitics, current events and regulations.
After two more years at EY in Calgary, I became a senior accounting advisor at an ExxonMobil subsidiary and then this opportunity came along with Apache Canada. Originally, it was a temporary supervisor contract position in their financial reporting division.
With the recession, layoffs and fall of oil prices in late 2014/early 2015, the company was going through a major restructuring. I had a nine-month contract position, and there were layoffs six months in.
I was promoted to manage the financial accounting and the marketing accounting groups, which is trading oil and gas over the pipelines and on the index systems. During that time, we had a full accounting conversion and changed the basis of our accounting.
What were some of the challenges of working through a corporate restructuring?
While in Canada, the parent company made the decision to exit its Canadian operations. That was a challenging time for the Canadian staff as there was uncertainty inherent in an ownership change.
While the team was apprehensive at first, in time, they realized the opportunity because the purchaser planned to invest in the asset base and keep and develop the staff. After the sale, I transferred to Houston to continue working at Apache.
How did you manage the transition?
Following the announcement, I spent time speaking with employees and did my best to make sure they had the proper support and were prepared for the transition. My background in transaction support helped with that – I’ve seen a lot of deals in the past and know what typically happens with takeovers.
Going back to when I was originally hired as a manager, I had a wonderful mix of people on my staff who had been working 10-20 years and some who were going through their CPA qualification. To start with, I had to earn their trust, which, for me, is more about what I do rather than what I say and making sure my words are followed through with tangible commitment. Over time, we had real working relationships.
I think that helps as a younger manager to help people talk about their fears – not to dispel them, but to get them to think things through.
I held discussions when the news broke and always followed up any formal company meetings with an informal meeting in a conference room to tell people what I knew (within the confines of what I was allowed to say) and what I thought would happen.
I made sure to chat privately with anyone I saw who was edgy, and to be as candid as possible. I think that helps as a younger manager to help people talk about their fears – not to dispel them, but to get them to think things through.
For people afraid of losing their jobs, I explained that I couldn’t speak for the new company, but if you think about what’s involved with the takeover of a new company, they’ll need a lot of knowledge, help and support.
If you can understand the fears and concerns that people have and talk to them in their language, you’re 50% there.
Canada was never a head office, and we never had full audits, but today that office is the headquarters for the new company. They’re dealing with audits and the preparation of new filings – it’s making them see that all of those things were coming down the line, and they’d need people for that. We were on US GAAP, and they had to learn IFRS – that’s invaluable.
If you can understand the fears and concerns that people have and talk to them in their language, you’re 50% there. I have learned that open and honest communication is something that’s important in all aspects of life and in leadership roles.
How has your background in physics helped you?
It taught me hard work and that you have to stick with something. What’s brilliant about physics is that the answer’s in the numbers and theories – the underlying principles don’t change. That concept translates to accountancy incredibly well because the underlying principles don’t change, unless there are new regulations.
For me, it’s about the methodology and going through the process. Physics gave me that stepping stone to think through a problem and have the confidence to stick at it because you’ll eventually get the answer.
Reading and understanding the technical speak is easier too, which has been an advantage.
Physics has helped me with oil flow rates and fluid dynamics as well. If you think about pipelines and line fill inventory or fuel gas, people don’t always get the concept for why that’s needed – pressure is what helps oil and gas flow down.
My science background helps to understand the densities of various products. You get into chemistry with fractionation and distillation and the C1 to C5 hydrocarbons – the natural gas liquid (NGL) products that you see annotated based on their carbon atom composition. Reading and understanding the technical speak is easier too, which has been an advantage.
Where do you see the opportunity within your field?
There’s a huge focus on big data and analytics and how processes are run in companies. System implementation changes are streamlining the data collection and presentation analysis. Understanding the processes is as important as the accounting. I need to understand if the system is accounting for things properly.
Now, I’m meeting more with IT and system engineers to help design a system to do this properly. I’m not a believer that these systems will replace jobs, but more that jobs will change – you still need people who can design and build these systems.
How has ICAS helped in your career? What’s given you a leg up?
Working in a few countries has helped me make that step up. The CA designation absolutely helped as well. I am considering my American CPA because of the mutual agreement that was just signed between ICAS and AICPA. I already have my Canadian CPA through reciprocity in Canada, and I don’t see the reason not to get this in the US – it’s a fantastic opportunity.
About the author
A Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.