When I was first tasked with interviewing accountants and bookkeepers in Canada as part of my role at Sage, I was forewarned that the Canadian stakeholders of this industry truly acted as a community. Whether it’s finding the right referral through a network to help a client in need, or to help colleagues navigate some of the unique accounting and bookkeeping scenarios brought about by COVID-19, many of the nominations of this year’s Circle of Excellence Awards highlighted the efforts of this extraordinary community. One individual that has been specifically recognized for his contribution to Canadian bookkeeping, is the recipient of this year’s Alan Salmon Lifetime Achievement Award, Clyde Harris of Alwyn Enterprises.
Clyde sat down with us to share tales of his long career, his passion for lifelong upskilling and his delight in helping his clients and fellow colleagues.
It started in a print shop
For Clyde, his professional journey started in his father’s print shop. This business would be, in a way, his first bookkeeping client.
“Bookkeeping started in my blood way back when I was working with my dad because he was trying to show me how to do the books for our company. And he taught me the very basics, debits are deposits, credits are cheques and from there I built what would later become Alwyn Enterprises,” explains Clyde.
The bookkeeping spark was later ignited in Clyde in 1986 when a friend of his gifted him a copy of Bedford accounting, onto which he uploaded the books of two family-owned businesses via a 3.5 floppy disk. Bedford would become Simply, and Simply would become Sage 50CDN.
After 10 years in the family business, he went on to work in the life insurance administration for more than 30 years. In this field he would eventually serve a specific clientele, Canadian dentists. This would not be the last niche audience to benefit from Clyde’s professional services in Canada.
Following his departure from the life insurance industry he decided to make a fulltime switch to bookkeeping, and many organizations and professionals would later benefit from this decision.
Lifelong learning, but also lifelong teaching. Years before Clyde would be recognized as a man devoted to helping any industry stakeholder that needed bookkeeping assistance, he was already making a positive impression on his local community college.
“In 1998, I went to community college to learn and gain experience about bookkeeping, so I would have a piece of paper I could put on my wall that said, I can do it,” says Clyde.
He continues, “But I actually ended up somewhat teaching the classes a lot because I knew more than what the instructor knew.”
Clyde’s on the job experience of bookkeeping allowed him to help his peers and gave the first glimpse of the mentor many of his fellow bookkeepers recognize today. In our interview, he humorously hinted that he may have threatened to pause his player/manager role at the education facility until they upgraded to the latest version of the software, but thankfully they carried out his request.
“I understood the basics just from my own business, so I was able to assist the other students in the class. But that was where I started to learn that I found more enjoyment in sharing what I knew with people,” he says.
Quite Simply a member of the Sage community
After his encounter with the Bedford floppy disk, it was the predecessor of Sage, Simply Accounting, that first brought Clyde into the Sage community.
“In 2000 I started Alwyn Enterprises and made bookkeeping my primary source of income. More training was needed as new functions were added to the software. I participated in many training courses led by Richard Ridings and Alan Cohen. This helped to develop my true love for the program,” says Clyde.
No doubt inspired by the aforementioned trainers and Sage City contributors, it wouldn’t be long before Clyde became a significant voice on the problem solving platform. If he wasn’t finding out something new about Sage 50 he was pointing novices to the resources and insights they required.
“I like to learn and share what I have learned and so I have made a habit of checking Sage City forum every day and I respond to a number of the queries from the people on the forum. Currently sitting in the top 1% of participants,” says Clyde.
An avid participant of Sage events, Clyde has relished in the opportunity to learn something new or to meet the people that make the magic happen: his fellow bookkeepers, accountants, and Sage staff.
“When Sage has an event happening, live or on-line, with emphasis on Sage 50 or Sage Accounting I try to attend. This has given me the opportunity to meet many, many peers and again enjoy learning from them. I also have known many of the Sage staff over the years and count most of them as friends,” says Clyde.
He adds, “Sage has consumed my life, provided a method to make a living, and to meet many super people from all over North America but mostly in Canada.”
A different kind of calling
Clyde and his wife, Joan Chinnery, are members of Ebenezer United Church in Markham, Ontario, where they spend significant hours in volunteer work including the Finance Committee, Church Treasurer and Choir. Clyde is the past treasurer of the Toronto Southeast Presbytery, has served on two committees of the Toronto Conference, and as an advisor with the General Council of the United Church of Canada.
Three times a year for the past eighteen years Clyde has presented a workshop for Church Treasurers. This expanded to six workshops per year in 2016. The workshops are designed for Church Treasurers to keep them up-to-date with compliance issues for both government and church. This community heavily relied upon him during COVID-19 as church treasurers around the country looked for guidance in how best to comply with the government supports made available in Canada.
The support didn’t end with webinars. Clyde was happy to help the overwhelmed if he had a spare minute to help, going as far to lend a hand with the paperwork.
Clyde elaborates, “When on a few occasions they couldn’t figure out the forms and how to do it, it just didn’t seem to work. I just said ‘send me the information. Here’s what I need’ and I worked it out. I sent it back and they were happy. Even today, when we are not doing as many webinars, I’m getting an average of about five emails a day from a church somewhere in Canada.”
It’s clear from talking to Clyde that he has a passion for connecting with people and easing their burden in any way that he can. This is perhaps why it’s no surprise that you shouldn’t necessarily expect an invoice when Clyde has helped you see the forest for the trees.
“Hey as far as I’m concerned, it’s my community service. When they come back and say thank you for this work, that’s my payment and I think there’s bookkeepers out there that think I’m robbing them of dollars. That’s not what I’m here for, I never started this to get rich,” says Clyde.
What makes a bookkeeper
Surely one of the characteristics of being a lifetime achievement award winner is being able to know what personalities are best suited for a career in bookkeeping. From Clyde’s perspective, there’s no one personality, as there’s not one specific bookkeeping role.
“It depends on the type of job they want. If they want to start their own business, it takes a certain personality. If they want to make the business grow to the point where they’ve got employees, that takes a different personality. Also, if they’re happy to work for somebody else doing bookkeeping. That’s a third personality. So, it depends on what they want to do,” says Clyde.
Clyde recalls a time when he mentored staff under him who were unsure of what type of bookkeeper they wished to be. He gave them their own clients to try his role on for size and to see if they enjoyed or were cut out for running their own shop.
“Two different times in my 20 years of Alwyn Enterprises I have had somebody doing work for me. And in both cases, after 2-3 years…I gave them three clients. And told them to go do your own job. Start your own business and get going. And they were happy, but in both cases, they only lasted another two or three years. But they got experience,” says Clyde.
A fitting award winner
The Alan Salmon Lifetime Achievement Award is named after the late and much missed Alan Salmon, Canada’s leading analyst in the area of accounting technology and founder of K2E Canada Inc. Alan was known to have taught over 150 seminars per year for many years and chaired the 13 city Accounting Technology Seminar Series for 28 years which will always just be known as the Alan Salmon Tour. It’s fitting that this year’s winner Clyde Harris is not only committed to training others and bettering his own understanding of the profession, but he’s also a former follower of the award’s namesake.
“I started to attend the Accounting Technology Tour (Alan Salmon Tour) twice a year to keep up to date and have never missed a Toronto date since. With approximately 20 tours I have been fortunate to have called Alan Salmon a friend. His specialty was Excel and I enjoyed learning from him in whatever mode the learning was presented,” says Clyde.
Congratulations to Clyde Harris and all the winners of this year’s Sage Circle of Excellence Awards.