When Karen Malone moved to Canada from Ireland in 1989, she had a high school diploma. But the CFO of Cambridge Group of Clubs also had grit, determination, and a desire to learn. She continued adding to her education and experience (and her exercise routine) to get her to where she is today. Here’s what she learned.
By Hailey Eisen
“I’ve always had the attitude that I could do whatever I set my mind to,” says Karen Malone, the CFO of Cambridge Group of Clubs — a Toronto-based collection of high-end health and fitness clubs, dining environments, health clinics, and workplace wellness programs.
She’s held the position for seven years, but her unconventional path to the C-suite of one of Canada’s most prestigious fitness brands actually started 30 years ago, when she travelled across the ocean in search of a new adventure.
In 1989, Karen left Ireland with her husband and came to Canada. Having decided not to go to university, much to her parents’ chagrin, she fell into an administration job with a family run environmental engineering company. In this role, Karen was asked to do basic accounting, which she had no experience in, so she went to Seneca College and took some courses.
“I’m always pushing myself, I don’t ever sit back and think I’m going to make life easy or comfortable,” she says. “I’ve always stuck my neck out, experienced discomfort, and continuously pushed myself forward.”
From that first admin role, Karen took a job with a fitness chain and fell in love with the industry. “We had this female Controller back then who really took me under her wing, gave me a lot of encouragement, and helped me think outside the box,” Karen recalls. “It was then that I started taking accounting courses.”
“I’m always pushing myself, I don’t ever sit back and think I’m going to make life easy or comfortable. I’ve always stuck my neck out, experienced discomfort, and continuously pushed myself forward.”
Over the next 10 years — with breaks in between when she was in more demanding roles professionally — Karen completed all the courses needed to earn her CGA (Certified General Accountant) designation. “I would work all day and then come home, sit at the computer, and work on my assignments for school,” she recalls. “I gave up a lot during those years, but I also loved what I was working toward.”In her career, Karen transitioned from fitness to the financial industry and then back into fitness, all the while growing her professional expertise. She was working at the Financial Planning Standards Council (now FP Canada) in 2011 when she got word from someone in her network that Clive Caldwell, President and CEO of Cambridge Group of Clubs, was looking for a CFO. “When I met Clive I remember thinking, I want to work with this man,” Karen recalls. “I love the environment here, we get down to business but also have so much fun.”
As CFO, Karen says she has the opportunity to combine accounting (which tends to be very black and white) with the diversity of people management, which she’s become really passionate about. “I never in a million years would have thought of myself as becoming an accountant,” she says. But after falling into it, she’s now found a role that blends her skills and interests. “With IT, HR, and accounting reporting into me, there’s never a dull moment,” she says. “I’m interested in people and spend a lot of time talking to our staff, finding out what their goals are, and helping them wherever I can.”
Committed to being as honest and open as possible, Karen offers constructive feedback in a way that helps people and leaves nothing hanging in the air. She’s always encouraged others to do the same for her. “The best advice I can offer anyone looking to advance their career is to remember that feedback is a gift.”
When it comes to the best advice she’s been given, Karen says it came from a member of the Adelaide Club, where she now works out daily.
“When I started working here, I got an email from the HR manager saying that she was trying to fill up appointments for me and she wanted to know what time of the day I schedule in my workouts,” Karen recalls. “I was coming to work in the morning, working all day, and getting up and going home when I was done — I wasn’t working out, I never really had.”
With exercise being a huge part of the culture at the Cambridge Group of Clubs, Karen started going to the gym before work in the morning. “But my workouts were spotty,” she recalls. “A member of the club saw that I would come in occasionally but wasn’t sticking to it, and so she challenged me to 21 days.”
That challenge changed Karen’s workout routine permanently. After three weeks she was hooked and to this day she holds sacred her morning workout. “It’s absolutely amazing, I feel fitter, better about myself, and I have more energy than I’ve ever had,” she says. “I challenge other women to do what I did, to commit to daily exercise, no matter what that looks like for you, because it really is life changing.”
Since its inception in 1973, the Cambridge Group of Clubs has developed a lifestyle brand that represents innovation, quality, market leadership and a passionate pursuit of the ultimate member experience. For more information, please visit the Adelaide Club and the Toronto Athletic Club. Dedicated to perfecting the club experience through continuous improvement and the highest standards of service and knowledge, the Cambridge Group of Clubs serves membership to leaders, executives and professionals. Discover our elevated club experience by following the Toronto Athletic Club and Adelaide Club on Instagram.