Jonny Schwartz is Roy Group’s chief of staff — and he keeps people on their toes. A small-town kid from Saskatchewan, Jonny grew up to be an accountant — then pulled up stakes and headed to the west coast to build furniture. A straight-talking, wisecracking, salt-of-the-earth dude, he resists being in the spotlight, preferring to do his meticulous work behind the scenes. With his attention to detail and his flair for beauty, Jonny lights from the inside the Roy Group values of quality and creativity.
You’re a prairie guy! How is it you began your career at Roy Group as its chief finance poo-bah?
I went to the University of Saskatchewan to get my Bachelor of Commerce. After university I worked in different industries for 10 years — transportation, manufacturing, real estate development, as a corporate controller — while also obtaining my CPA / CMA designation. In 2017, I moved to Victoria to join the Fine Furniture program at Camosun College. I had been looking for a part-time accounting job, because I wanted to keep my hand in finance yet still have time to pursue my woodworking. I applied for this job when I saw it posted. The funny thing is, when I had the initial interview with the recruiter I realized I’d already met Ian and Anne-Marie at a Fuckup Night I had attended with friends who turned out to be mutual! It has been a very welcome and happy coincidence.
So you’re in the office some of the time, and in the studio some of the time?
Yeah, my time is split pretty evenly between Roy Group and the woodworking. I work with a local maker in Victoria, and am slowly building my own endeavour as well.
Give Jonny a call! What were your previous jobs in accounting?
I’ve worked in large and small private companies. My first job was as the only accountant at a small company of 25-30 people, which felt good. My next job was at a trucking company that had 700 employees across Canada. At one point I had a team with between 30 and 40 staff under me. Going from a small company to suddenly managing people on my own at the grand old age of 27 was a lot to figure out.
What about your background and experience do you consider your gift?
I bring a willingness to do whatever it takes to help people get their work done, and hopefully done well. I have a super diverse experience base and have done many different things in the finance arena. I haven’t just worked at one place for a long time and therefore only know one way; I’ve seen different ways to do things. That diversity helps. And . . . does being from Saskatchewan count as a gift? Roy Group has some deep prairie identity. I feel that it shows up in the way we operate. So it’s nice to speak the language and naturally have a feel for the culture.
Yes! At Roy Group, being from Saskatchewan counts as a gift. How does that manifest in your work?
Small-town roots and a can-do attitude. Roy Group isn’t a large company, so if I were to come in and be like, Oh I don’t do this stuff, I only do that stuff, it wouldn’t work. So instead I roll up my sleeves and do whatever I can to make things run well. I’m doing everything from talking about the blueprint for growing the company to even the most minute details about what makes an ideal pen and what stock our stickers could be printed on. I’m just happy to help get it done.
Roy Group has really had an impact on your beliefs about the world of work. Can you talk a bit about that?
What’s interesting is, now that I’m working with Roy Group and hearing the messages we deliver in our work with clients, I’m discovering it is the absolute opposite of a lot of the stuff I learned after I graduated from university. You know, Work hard and do lots, Get ’er done! Here, it’s about working smarter, not harder.
I remember taking The Leader’s Discipline within the first two weeks of working here. Learning what the facilitators were teaching, I was like, Wow, what a thing. I wish I’d had that when I got that job with the trucking company at age 27. I wish someone had given me that opportunity back then, because I would have done such a better job.
That’s so real. Everyone looks back at where we’ve come from and wishes we could have used the tools we have now.
I really relate to the Roy Group material, because I know what it’s like to work in big companies where you don’t necessarily get that kind of interpersonal skills training. But also, the communication breakdowns you get in a big organization! I remember those. That’s a big piece of the learning that Roy Group delivers — is not only to be leaders but also to be effective communicators, and break down the walls of bad communication.
Talk about the importance of practice.
The more we practice something —leadership, skills, behaviours, attitudes — the more confident we are in our competence with them. As we get more adept with whatever we are practicing, then we can see when those patterns are correct or incorrect, and we can trust our discernment that we are making the right decisions, or accomplishing our goals correctly. Inversely, we also know immediately if something is not right. The more you see and connect patterns, the more you can trust yourself. Call it your gut. Or your soul.
I can tell you trust yourself. Look at the leap you took in leaving a cushy corporate accountant’s life. Why is woodworking such a close thing to your heart?
I just have a fascination with it. My dad has always built stuff, both of my grandfathers, my uncles. I grew up with that. It’s a Saskatchewan thing, too: everyone is handy. While I’d always done it in a smaller capacity, a couple years ago I decided I wanted to learn the actual trade of joinery and building furniture. I worked 60 hours a week in my previous jobs, and there just wasn’t enough time for it. Now there is.
That’s the thing that brought me out here, and made me take a bit of an L-turn in my life, instead of going straight down the path of my past careers. I would have been paid well, and done “everything you’re supposed to do”. But I quit that and chose to try woodworking. Some people I was working with thought I was crazy. I actually expected the same from my family and friends, but they said it made sense and they were super happy for me to go and chase something different.
When you’re not designing and building furniture (or counting beans for the team), what would we find you doing?
I enjoy time with family, and sports. I mostly golf now, but I used to play a lot of hockey and slow pitch. Travel-wise, I’ve been to lots of places: road trips down the west coast of North America, sleeping in my car for a month; I’ve been to Europe a couple times and China a couple times. Iceland. I want to go to Southeast Asia and Europe. Everywhere.