Peter Schwarzl, managing partner with BDO Dunwoody, has met the career goals he set as a young accountant back in the 1980s. He laughs his booming, trademark laugh and jokes, “So I guess it’s time to hang up my calculator.”
The most satisfying part of his three-decade-plus career has been all the people he has met and the lives in which he’s been honoured to play a role, however small. Schwarzl says, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a T1 client or the owner of a large successful business, I’ve made a point of treating people all the same way.” He adds, “I’ve gotten to know so many people and their families and their stories. It’s just gratifying to be a part of the process.”
Contrary to what some people think about accounting, there is plenty of emotion involved according to Schwarzl. “Sometimes a business is struggling or an estate issue is contentious and families are hurting or an entrepreneur is stressing over how to grow his or her new business. We do the best we can to help them over a rough patch.”
Schwarzl highly recommends accounting as a career choice: “If you like people and are willing to work hard, and if you like numbers, it’s a very rewarding profession.”
Peter knew that he wanted to be an accountant when he was in Grade 10. “My parents were Austrian immigrants who came to Canada in 1958. They arrived with one child, my sister. I was born shortly after they arrived and my little brother came along a couple of years after that. Dad had a job opportunity in Sault Ste. Marie when I was about two years old and I lived there until I left for university at 19.”
Education was very important to Peter’s psychiatrist father. Schwarzl says, “Dad didn’t push us but he certainly guided us toward a profession that suited our abilities and personalities. My sister is a lawyer and my brother is now a judge. I’d always had an affinity for numbers so accounting or statistics was a good fit for me. I chose accounting.”
The school Schwarzl decided on for his Bachelor of Commerce program was the University of Toronto. He recounts, “I was a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan so I had these dreams of going to all the games. I assumed that all of the U of T campuses were in downtown Toronto so imagine my amazement when my mom exited for Mississauga when she took me to register at Erindale campus, which is about 33 kilometres from downtown.” He laughs at the memory, “There went my dream of seeing my beloved Leafs play all season long!”
The youthful-looking 58-year-old admits that choosing U of T’s Erindale campus turned out to be a lucky break. It was there that he met Carol, the love of his life, to whom he has been married for 34 years. Demonstrating his romantic side, Peter recounts, “I remember every single detail of how she looked that day. I can picture the barrettes in her beautiful shiny brown hair and I even know what colour her socks were.” He adds, “She was playing Frisbee on the commons and she leaped up to catch one and that was it. I was in love!” He laughs and adds, “It took Carol a little bit longer but I grew on her over time.”
Schwarzl articled for Thorne Riddell in Mississauga after he graduated but in June 1987, when their daughter Tori (Victoria) was just six months old, they moved north to Orillia when he took a job with Greer, Fleming and Rolland. The company merged with Dunwoody and Company and after the merge, Peter took a job in Huntsville and the young family moved into their first home in Port Sydney on December 7, 1988. Peter says, “I remember the date exactly because we arrived to green grass and when we woke up the next day there was more than a foot of snow on the ground!” Carol knew the village from visits to Clyffe House Resort when she was young and they thought it would be a good place to raise a family. When it was time to move again it was to a larger home in the same village.
Family is everything to Peter. His mother left when he was nine years old and it was a devastating event for the young boy. He remembers running home after school every day so his little brother wouldn’t have to come in to a dark, empty house. Unusual for the time, Peter’s father won custody of the children and he was a stable presence in their lives. Peter acknowledges, “It was hard and while our mother did her best to stay connected, it was from a distance and it just wasn’t the same.”
The other love of Peter’s life is his daughter Victoria who is the Publicity Manager for The National Ballet of Canada. She lives in Toronto with her wife Emily. Peter enthuses, “Carol and I love Emily like another daughter. I am so lucky to have so many smart, strong and beautiful women in my life.”
Although Schwarzl is warm and gregarious, he sees himself as a bit of an introvert. He explains the contradiction, “When you deal with people and staff all day, you put a lot of yourself into it. I think that when I go home, it’s my sanctuary. Carol is my best friend and there’s no one I’d rather spend time with.” He admiringly comments, “Carol is a terrific natural athlete. When we play golf, if I manage to best her on just one hole I chirp about it all day long!”
The couple plan on a lot more golf, more Saturday garage sales, which they both love, and a bit more travel. While some far away travel might be on the agenda, Peter confesses to an affection for road trips where they can check in on some small town and just chat with local people – preferably at a yard sale. But first they are going to take some time to “figure out retirement.” Peter laughs, “My advice has always been to figure it out before you retire but I didn’t take my own suggestion on that one!”
Giving back to the community has been a priority for BDO and for Schwarzl personally. He says, “I always get asked to be treasurer but that’s okay. It lets me play to my strengths.” He was the Treasurer for the Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce for 10 years. He sat on the board for the Huntsville Wildcats and has been long involved with Hospice Huntsville. Schwarzl is a charter member of the Huntsville Lake of Bays Rotary Club and is a Past President as well as a Paul Harris Fellow. He expects that he and Carol will do some volunteering together now, too.
“BDO has 100 offices across Canada and I sincerely believe that our staff in Huntsville is the best in the company,” states Schwarzl. “They are amazing and they make coming in to work a pleasure. Our success is thanks to them. We kibitz back and forth when the time is appropriate and it makes work fun.” He adds, “I will really miss that.”
Schwarzl pauses to collect his thoughts before saying that the relationships he’s formed with staff and clients are his proudest professional accomplishments.
In the end Schwarzl gives credit where he believes it is due: to his wife Carol. “Anything I have, anything I am and any measure of success I’ve enjoyed is due to Carol. She has been my support and my rock from day one.”
Schwatzl reminisces, “An older client of mine once said to me, ‘If you are lucky, you’ll spend the first 25 years of life learning, the next 25 working hard and the final 25 enjoying life’.” With Carol at his side, he plans on doing just that.
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