Carlos Yam leverages his private sector experience as new CFO of Vancouver Art Gallery

By Megan Hooge
May 8, 2024
Photo credit: All photos by Bobo Zhao Photography

After working in the private sector for 25 years, Carlos Yam, CPA, CA, CPA (Illinois) decided to pivot his career in a new direction. He signed on as the new chief financial officer of the Vancouver Art Gallery in January, just in time for the next phase of the Gallery’s new building project.

“I was deeply drawn to the Gallery’s new journey with the campaign to build a new, purpose-built home that will serve as a model for a modern museum,” says Carlos. “The project’s construction officially started on March 6, 2024, so it’s a hugely exciting time for the Gallery.”

While the non-profit sector is new territory for Carlos, his track record for financial stewardship and leading organizations through major capital projects is well established.

Carlos began his accounting career at PwC in Vancouver while working towards his accounting designations in Canada and the US. During that time, he aimed to make the most of his experience by seeking out a variety of work and pursuing a one-year secondment in Singapore in 2000.

“Working at PwC made me quickly realize the wide range of opportunities available across different business disciplines,” he recounts. “It was my goal to learn a diverse skillset, and I was eager to work in an international hub in Asia to gain valuable experiences from top-notch businesses.”

His international experience would serve him well in the next stage of his career. In 2003, Carlos left public practice to join Intrawest Corp. and eventually become the director of financial planning for Intrawest Placemaking, the company’s real estate division. In addition to overseeing the financial planning and analysis for the division’s US $2.8 billion assets worldwide, Carlos was part of the team responsible for identifying business development opportunities in China.

He was also involved in the strategic review process in 2006 that ultimately led to the privatization of Intrawest Corp.—an experience that he says laid the groundwork for him to specialize in mergers and acquisitions and hone his leadership skills: “It was an important part of my career. I was able to leverage the skills previously learned from public practice and apply them to a real industry setting. I was also fortunate to meet several mentors whose guidance taught me the importance of team leadership, effective communication, and disciplined business growth.”

In 2007, Carlos took on his first C-suite role as CFO of WesternOne, a construction services company. This role allowed him to expand his focus from financial planning and analysis to corporate growth strategies.

“When I started, I was the only corporate finance person within WesternOne,” he says. “So it was critical to develop a keen sense of strategic priority as my role included everything from public company disclosures to business planning, legal, risk management, investor relations, and business development.”

It also provided him with the opportunity to hone the skills he’d learned at Intrawest by leading the execution of an ambitious growth plan through a series of M&A transactions.

“Our operations grew from a local headcount of fewer than 50 to over 1,200 across western Canada, the US, and Australia,” he recalls. “This work also included business integration and the refinement of our risk management and governance framework.”

These efforts were successful, and in 2013, Carlos was recognized with a Top Forty Under 40 nod from Business in Vancouver and a Best Investor Relations by a CFO (Small Cap) award from IR Magazine. When asked about this recognition, he is quick to share the kudos with his colleagues: “In my opinion, these accolades were a reflection of the organization’s diligent teamwork and unwavering commitment to success, and by no means individual based.”

In 2018, WesternOne was acquired by a major competitor based in the US, and Carlos found himself contemplating his next career move.

“Looking back on my time at WesternOne, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the journey of growing a business from the ground up and seeing it thrive,” he reflects. “In particular, going through the process of finding growth opportunities and implementing an effective framework for business oversight became strong drivers for my professional development. I knew I had to follow this passion and work with startups.”

Between 2018 and 2023, he held CFO and management consulting roles with a number of early-stage companies in the technology and medical sectors.

“These opportunities allowed me to go beyond the traditional CFO role and expand into key elements of corporate strategic planning, operational oversight, and board governance,” says Carlos. “I also had the pleasure to work alongside entrepreneurs who possessed bold visions in their own realms.”

Working with experts in different industries and diverse teams is something that Carlos says he’s valued throughout his career: “As a finance person who has worked in a wide array of industries—ranging from resort management and real estate to construction services, technology, medical, and now a non-profit art institute—it’s been both a humbling and enlightening journey for me to learn new things from my teams every day and help contribute to organizational success together.”

It’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of his work with the Gallery.

“The best part of my job is working alongside a talented team of individuals with diverse backgrounds (artistic or otherwise) who are passionate about advancing the Vancouver Art Gallery as one of North America’s most recognized institutions of innovative visual arts and public programs,” he says. “And I want to support this goal by ensuring sustainable growth through effective financial stewardship.”

Unlike in his previous roles, however, Carlos now finds himself leading a non-financial mission.

“Advancing art and culture goes beyond selling admission tickets and retail souvenirs,” he explains, “and that requires a more purposeful balance between social goals and financial sustainability.”

Still, the same skills must be applied to both for profit and non-profit sectors.

“At the end of the day, successful organizations, whether for-profit or not, ensure their sustainability through proper strategic vision and planning, financial stewardship, operational excellence, and innovation—to name a few,” says Carlos. “Although I’m fairly new to NPOs, I think there are transferrable skillsets and experiences I’ve acquired from the for-profit sector, and I’m eager to share those with the Gallery.”

Megan Hooge is a communications coordinator for CPABC.

Carlos was also featured as the Snapshot profile for the May/June 2024 issue of CPABC in Focus.