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Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO?

Many people use Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) and Controller interchangeably because they think it is the same position. In some companies, a Controller could be the top financial leader. But that does not mean they are a CFO or CFO-level. Before we answer the question of do you hire a Controller or a CFO, we need to understand when companies need to hire a financial leader.

Do You Hire a Controller or a CFOWhen Companies Need to Hire a Financial Leader

Every company needs a financial leader – depending on the stage or life/size of your company this financial leader may be a bookkeeper, accounting manager, Controller or CFO. For example, some companies over $25 million in revenue may want to consider having both a Controller and a CFO. In this blog, we will focus on the difference between a Controller and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

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When to Hire a Controller

You need to consider hiring a Controller once the number of transactions in your company increase and the size of your company increases to the level of needing accounting records based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (“GAAP”). This may be $10 million in revenue and more. Why? At that level, you are beyond the basic cash basis bookkeeping. You need accounting records that are based on GAAP and accrual basis so that you can better manage your business. Plus, you may have bank debt that requires you to present your financials based on GAAP.

Role of a Controller

Some of the duties that a Controller has include the following:

As your company grows, you should always maintain the Controller function, eventually as the company gets big enough your company will have the Controller report to the CFO.  The Controller “books the past” and continually works with historical information.

When to Hire a CFO

Once your company gets to needing more than good accounting records based on the past, you may start considering hiring a CFO. Things that may require a CFO include forecasting, maintaining debt covenants, mergers and acquisitions, deeper analysis of the financial statements, managing capital structure, investors, banks, and/or taking your company public.

Many companies find themselves in a stage of growth that I refer to as “transitory” – that is, your company is transitioning from small to medium or large. In this stage, you wish you had a financial professional with great experience such as a CFO, but you cannot afford a full time CFO. That is where an Interim CFO makes a lot of sense. Now, be careful as the Interim CFO market has become a popular market where many have jumped in and they lack the true experience. The problem is that you do not need a license or degree to become a CFO, anyone can call themselves a CFO. If you are seeking an Interim CFO, then call us and we can certainly help you identify a solid Interim CFO.

Remember, a good CFO is a great manager, has good operational experience and is the strategic financial partners to the CEO.

Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO

Role of a CFO

While the role of a Controller puts together all the financials and focuses on the historical transactions, the CFO works with the historical information but uses it as a tool that enables him/her to be a strategic partner to the CEO. The CFO then projects what is going to happen, provide strategy for the CEO to implement, and improve profitability. This can include adjusting pricing, increasing efficiencies, identifying opportunities, and enabling the CEO to make calculated risks. The CFO role goes beyond being a trusted advisor. It also includes:

  • Managing capital structure
  • Manage risk management for the enterprise
  • Acting as a figure head for decisions and taking ownership
  • Usually manages IT, Human resources and tax functions
  • Coaching leadership team and employees to get to best results
  • Being a diplomat with third parties (banks, vendors, auditors, customers, investors etc.)

This is very much a multi-functional role within a company. It is a role that truly demands someone with not only good financial skills, but someone with excellent management skills. And as I already mentioned, a really really good CFO has very good operational experience and that person likes operations.

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Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO

Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO?

The big question is, do you hire a Controller or a CFO? It depends… It depends on the size of your organization. We speak to CEOs and business owners all the time, especially those under $100 million in revenue, they are not sure at what point they need a Controller and then a CFO.

Every business is unique, and I do not want to generalize. But for conversation sake, if your business is between $10 million and $25 million in revenue, then a Controller may suit you well. If you are over $50 million, then you are at the size where you actually should have both functions of Controller and a CFO. Now I left the range of $25 million to $50 million without mention on purpose. That is because it depends. It depends on your complexity, industry, number of transactions and many other things.

We have spoken to business owners of $35 million companies and determined that they can function very well with just a strong Controller.  We have also met with start ups with zero revenue but funded $75 million in CAPEX by investors, well we highly recommend they hire a CFO from day one because they have big plans and complexity from day one of their operation.  So every situation is really unique.

Roles are NOT Interchangeable

Many companies opt to hire a Controller when they really need a CFO. These two roles are not interchangeable. Although in the same area of expertise (accounting and finance), these two roles are different. You cannot hire a Controller and expect them to be your CFO. These are two very different functions.  And it is simply a fact, not all Controllers make good CFOs. As already mentioned, a CFO has certain characteristics that many Controllers simply do not have and frankly do not want to have. Take your time to understand the different roles. You are not alone because all growing companies are facing this dilemma. But we are only a phone call away and can help you sort through this challenge and assist you in making the right decision no matter where in the world you are located.

If you are hiring either a CFO or Controller, then take the time to truly understand the difference between the two. Because the financial function is a sensitive one, it’s important to chose someone who will not only be loyal and trustworthy, but will make your team star quality. Check out our free 5 Guiding Principles for Recruiting a Star-Quality Team now! Then answer the question, do you hire a Controller or a CFO?

Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO

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Do You Hire a Controller or a CFO

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Do you need to be a CPA to be a CFO?

cpa to be a cfoNot too long ago, the Academy Awards took place, and they played reels of the Academy Awards that happened in the past 80 or so years. It reminded me of the time when I showed my grandson an old western movie… I thought some of the parts were hilarious, but my teenage grandson was horrified by the social commentary.

What do the Academy Awards and Old Westerns have to do with traditional CFO practices? There are norms that are acceptable now that were never allowed before. When the audience changed, the Academy adapted to the audience. So when the new generation steps into your office, you have to re-evaluate what it really takes for them to advance their career. Some might have capabilities of a CFO, even though they haven’t traditionally trained for it.

In the past, there was a certain path that you take to become a CFO. Some think the key is being a CPA to be a CFO. But now that times are changing, is it really necessary?

We like to talk about technology, millennials, current events, and politics, but they pretty much all say the same thing: if we constantly live in the past, we won’t have much of a future.

Timeline for a CFO

My friend’s nephew is graduating in accounting, and he’s wondering… “Do I need to get a CPA or MBA?” In other words, do you need financial expertise to be a financial leader?

Now don’t get me wrong… some people are really successful in this path. In fact, I definitely agree that CFOs, or any financial leader in general, should have a broad range of skills other than financial skills. Here is a pretty common path to CFO success:

cpa to be a cfo

Earn a CPA to be a CFO (and/or MBA).

Some might say you won’t have a successful financial career without a CPA license. The primary purpose of a CPA is for financial authorization, such as auditing and reviewing financial statements. Careers in finance such as accounting and auditing mostly require a CPA. Benefits of a CPA include larger salary potential, more career opportunities in larger companies, job security, and trust within larger companies. Larger and older companies with more revenues require more tenured and experienced employees.

MBAs are more broad. Studies show that those with MBAs have higher employment rates (around 60-70%) and higher base salaries. With MBAs, you can specialize in skills in addition to finance, such as supply chain, marketing, management, etc. So if you’re looking to gain new skills other than finance, MBA might be a better choice.

Gain Financial Experience Within the Company

Typically within the first few years, new hires will learn the basics such as budgets and accounting. As time and experience grows, new opportunities are formed, such as capital investments and larger accounts. Financial employees will gain expertise in skill sets before moving on to the next step.

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Take on Bigger Roles Outside of Your Comfort Zone

This is where getting an MBA and taking initiative comes in. CFOs are more than financial experts – they are leaders. By this point, basic accounting practices should be like reciting the alphabet… it’s that easy.

Financial leaders should always want to learn more skills. Taking on bigger roles outside of their comfort zones reflects that mindset and makes them stand out against their competitors.

Hold Controller Positions

This is pretty self-explanatory. The controller positions create more responsibility for the financial leader. After all, how can they handle a C-level position if they can’t handle a standard leadership position first?

This seems like a pretty solid path, doesn’t it?

Looking at companies now, however, aren’t as “solid”… and here’s why:

Modern-Day CFOs

When you think of a CFO after 2012, what do you imagine? Long gone are the days of bluetooth-talking, pinstriped suit-wearing CFOs, white-haired males. When I picture a modern-day CFO, I picture someone in a plaid long sleeve, young, and focused on multiple aspects of the company. That seems like an exaggeration, because it is! Overall, it is also a representation of how different the CFOs of today are, compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers.

The Past 5 Years

In our survey held in 2015, the average tenure for a CFO is 3-5 years. This contradicts the timeline above… Why would a CFO want to work 3-5 years after 15+ years of building his or her career?

As generations evolve, the tenure decreases. For example, the average tenure for millennials, according to our survey, is around 4 years.

cpa to be a cfocpa to be a cfo

2015 Survey Results: https://strategiccfo.com/blog/results-average-tenure-of-a-cfo-survey

Over the past 5 years, the CFO role has proven to be more complex and centered on leadership ability. CFOs now are more adaptable to change, hence the short tenure of a CFO.

The Next 5 Years

Ever heard of the “gig economy”? It’s the growing trend that contract workers and short-term “gigs” are commonly practiced. A great example of this influence is a friend of mine, who has 35-40 years of financial leadership experience. He recently quit his job, and is now looking for contract work. This puzzled me at first. He is a great person, and a very knowledgable asset to any company. As you can see, the gig economy is not only for the millennial generation. It’s a growing trend, for all leadership types.

Is this a reference for the trends to come? In the next 5 years, we can expect more contract work and less “climbing the ladder”… like getting your CPA to be a CFO.

Conclusion: Learning to Adapt

One of the ways we can grow as companies and financial leaders is to learn to adapt. If the world is shifting closer to a gig economy, explore that theory. If the average tenure for a CFO is less than 3 years, maybe we should change our hiring and training practices. Anything is adaptable if you’re constantly taking initiative and thinking one step ahead.

Don’t forget… the CFO is the CEO’s wingman. Learn how you can be the best wingman with our free guide!

cpa to be a cfo

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Annual Survey – The Average Tenure of a CFO

Ever feel like you’re the only financial professional you know that changes jobs frequently?  Or, maybe it seems like you’re one of the few who has had the same job forever.  No matter who you are, we’d like your help… We’re asking all of our readers to help us out with a little bit of research… In the name of (pseudo) science.  Our goal is to track the trends in the average tenure of a CFO over the years.

Take The Average Tenure of a CFO Survey

Click on the survey link below to let us know how long you’ve held your current position as a CFO, Controller, VP Finance or other type of financial manager.

Take the Survey

We’ll post the results of this survey. Take a look at how the results compare to past surveys in a future post, so stay tuned!

If you are hiring, then determine which candidates are the right fit for your company using our 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team.

Average Tenure of a CFO

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What You Should Know About Preparing a Forecast

Ready or not, it’s time to start the process of preparing your 2016 forecast.  While it may seem a bit premature, a walk down the aisle of your favorite home improvement store to check out their (already) prominently featured holiday displays tells the story.  Some of this can definitely be attributed to overzealousness to capture the consumer’s holiday dollar. But it drives home the point that 2015 is winding down. It’s time to start thinking about 2016.

3 Things You Should Know About Preparing a Forecast

So what should you keep in mind when preparing your 2016 forecast?  In the video below, Jim talks about 3 things you should know about preparing a forecast.

According to the video, the following 3 things are important when it comes to preparing a forecast:

Be Reasonable

If you choose to include pie-in-the-sky numbers in your forecast, then you’ll lose credibility. You won’t be able to excite your team about helping you achieve unrealistic goals.  If you paint too bleak a picture, you’ll lose motivation and won’t be able to effectively drive action toward goals.

Involve as Many People as Possible

While it’s true that the responsibility of preparing the forecast usually falls squarely on the shoulders of the CFO or Controller, it’s necessary for all departments to get involved in the process to create the most realistic plan possible.  Not only will you end up with better numbers, but sharing the ownership of achieving company goals spreads the burden to everyone.  People are more willing to be held accountable to numbers they understand and had a hand in producing.

Make it Dynamic

Now that you have the forecast prepared, you can put it in a drawer and forget about it, right?  Wrong.  In order to make all the time and effort you put into preparing the forecast worthwhile, it needs to be a living document.  Static forecasts are only realistic for a couple of months, at best.  Dropping in actuals and adjusting future estimates based upon conditions on the ground create a much better tool for running a business than one that ceased to be relevant months ago.

Check out our article Cash Flow Projections for more info on how to prepare a forecast.

If you need help creating an accurate forecast, then download our free Goldilocks Sales Method whitepaper to project accurately.

Preparing a Forecast

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Results: Average Tenure of a CFO Survey

Over the past few months, we conducted a survey of hundreds of financial professionals in an effort to determine the average tenure of a CFO in today’s world. Participants were asked:

Length of time in current job – less than 3 years, 3-5 years, 6-9 years, 10+ years

Current titleCFO, Controller, Asst. Controller, Accountant, Other

GenerationMillennial or Generation Y (1980-2000), Generation X (1965-1979), Baby Boomer (1946-1964), Silent Generation (1925-1945)

Average Tenure of a CFO Survey Results

Notable results include:

  • Average tenure = 5.47 years
  • 78% of participants held the title of CFO
  • 93% of participants were from Generation X or Baby Boomers

We also summarized the average tenure by job title and by generation.  As shown in the charts below, CFOs and Assistant Controllers had the longest tenure by job title and length of tenure tended to increase with the age of the respondent.

average tenure of a cfoaverage tenure of a cfo

Thanks so much for all of you who participated!  Leave a comment below to let us know what other issues you’d like us to survey.average tenure of a cfo

 

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How to Hire a CFO Controller

How to Hire a CFO Controller

When you need to hire a CFO Controller, there are a few steps that you need to take prior to the actually hiring. Start the ad placement process by first asking yourself a few questions about your company. How does the company describe itself, its culture and industry space? What intangibles are you looking for? What sort of hard skills and experiences the position will require? You must be prepared to set expectations regarding the typical tenure and career track of that position as the company grows. Come up with a list of points to cover. Other issues to consider include the salary for the position, start date, travel expense for interviews, and relocation package. Ad Placement Options: Houston Chronicle, Monster.com

Accentuate the positives when writing the placement ad.

It is also important to manage your expectations in terms of the candidate pool. For instance, in a good economy it may not be so easy to get good candidates. Certain compromises on geographical search area, salary, and moving expenses may need to be considered. You may also need to clarify your stance on candidates with short work tenures (i.e. job hopping).

Filtering Resumes

Things to look for include: industry experience, education or Certification- CPA, MBA and specific experience sets (Ex: Systems Implementation, Financial Transformation)

Initial Screening/Phone Interview

After you have screened for your top candidates, you are now ready to begin contacting them and set up an initial phone interview. For out of town candidates, you may want to advise them of the company’s stance on interview travel expenses and/or relocation package.

Ask the following questions to candidates:

1. What are you looking for in a position?

2. Tell candidate about the position and the company

3. Would this be acceptable to you? Is this something that interests you?

4. What are your salary requirements?

5. When can you start?

6. Can you provide any references?

Summarize and review each candidate

Make sure to cover areas such as education, industry and work experience, salary expectations, etc. And then, identify the top 2 candidates from your round of phone interviews. Out of the total pool, prepare a list of 4-5 candidates for an office interview.

Office Interview

Start off by deciding who should be involved in the interview. Confirm open time windows in their schedules. Decide on the type of format that you would prefer: group or one-to-one? Start thinking about what you would like to see out of the interview.

On the candidate side, obtain the interviewee’s permission to contact their references. If they have not yet provided any, this would be a good time to ask for them.

Hiring Process

Once you determined whom you are hiring, you are now ready to begin the hiring process. Decide who should do the reference and background checks. When all reference and background checks have been completed, contact the candidate to inform them of their hiring status. Then go over the salary and benefits. Follow-up your conversation with an offer letter. Make sure that compensation is on a period basis versus an annual basis. Giving an annual pay may infer a contract which may open the company up for possible litigation in case of termination.

Background Check

There are a variety of companies that are able to conduct background checks on employment, criminal history, education, references and professional license status:

Here are some for your reference:

1. Kress Employment Screening

2. Choicepoint

3. ADP Screening and Selection Services

4. Personnel Profiles

5. Inquest

In order to determine which candidates are the right fit for your company, download and access your free white paper, 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team.

hire a cfo controller

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See related article: How to Hire New Employees

See Also:
How to Choose An Independent CPA or Auditor
How to Control Audit Fees
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants – AICPA
How to Control Annual Audit Fees
How to create dynamic cash flow projections

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Develop a Controller

See Also:
Hire a CFO Controller
How to Compensate Sales Person
How to Form an Advisory Board
Train People For Success
How to write an Action Plan

Skills to Develop a Controller

1. Accounting Skills

Keep up to date on the latest accounting rules and know which rules apply to your company. Are you publicly traded or privately held? Cash or accrual basis? Know when to call in help, if the company has auditors, seek assistance if needed.

Management of an accounting staff is an important skill for a controller. Knowing the most efficient way to structure an accounting department and the skills that you can expect from various levels of staff will allow you to accomplish the work load cost effectively.

2. Human Resources Skills

This area often falls under the umbrella of the controller in smaller companies. Areas to be aware of include the following:

  • Paperwork needed when an employee is hired
  • Steps to take to document performance problems
  • Illegal questions in a job interview
  • How to legally perform drug testing
  • How to legally perform background checks

It is an extremely important area to keep the company out of legal trouble. Know when to seek outside assistance. There are consultants whose practices are specifically to provide guidance for smaller companies.


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3. Insurance Knowledge

Knowledge of health, workers compensation and liability insurance is helpful. The controller is often responsible for shopping for policies that best fit the needs and budget of both the company and the employees. There is a trade off between premium and coverage and the controller needs to be able to make the appropriate evaluations.

4. Tax Knowledge

Taxes are an area that can create enormous liability for a company. Knowing what taxes apply to the company’s business and who to call for help is critical. Tax issues to be cognizant of include the following:

Be aware that unrecorded tax liabilities can put a company out of business or endanger the value of a company in a sale transaction.

5. People Skills

In the controller role, people skills are extremely important as the interactions with stakeholders, both inside and outside the company, are numerous, including the following:

  • Positive interactions add credibility
  • Managing the entrepreneurial owner is important in order to meet their expectations and information needs. They must have comfort in knowing that the controller duties are handled well
  • Managing employees is also a key relationship in order to have happy, productive employees. Employee turnover is costly.

Managing all these relationships is necessary to maximize your effectiveness.

6. Payroll Knowledge

Whether in-house or out-sourced, payroll knowledge is critical. Some important areas for a controller include the following:

  • Understanding the paperwork required in order to withhold from an employee’s paycheck
  • The payroll requirements of the various states where the company has employees
  • When manual payroll checks are cut, the rules for remitting withheld taxes timely
  • Which payments to employees are taxable
  • Payroll implications of accountable versus non-accountable expense reimbursement plans
  • The payroll tax relationship of where an employee lives and works

Before your hire your next Controller, download and access your free white paper, 5 Guiding Principles For Recruiting a Star-Quality Team.

develop a controller

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