THE NEW AMERICA FOR CONTROLLERS

The Wall Street Journal recently printed a front page story that also filled up almost an entire back page about the state of employment for men in America.  Sadly, more men remain out of the workforce than women and for much longer periods.  One recurring theme among formerly employed executives was the admission that they had not kept their skills up to date.  We are in the throes of a structural labor market shift.  Yes, the 2008 crash precipitated it but hidden behind that curtain is the fact that companies are still trying to employ technology to replace employee overhead costs.  That’s why middle management positions are under so much attack and I believe will continue to erode over time.

For those of you with designations like CPA or CMA, there are requirements for continuing education.  For a CPA in my state, it’s 40 hours per year with a required 8 hours minimum of Accounting & Auditing.

If you are not a licensed CPA or you are under no requirement to maintain a license requiring annual hours of CPE do not count yourself among the lucky.  And, if you are, I see so many CPA’s at seminars doing everything they can to ‘escape in place’, texting, playing solitaire on their I-pads, etc.  They exude an air of they are simply too busy (or too smart) to be there.

What attitudes and skills do you think are the most important as a Controller (especially those of you looking to move up) that you require to keep up in this rapidly changing technological world?  Here’s my list (in no particular order):

  • Understand Technology and what it can do for you and for your company
  • Technology is not your enemy because you do not understand it.
  • Not all Technology investment and spending is a waste of money

Recently, I visited a prospective client who had brought in a controller (they had gone through a succession of accounting people and controllers) to run their somewhat complex business.  He was definitely old school with stacks of paper on his desk bound up in rubber bands (lengthwise & crosswise).  The computer system was barely understood.  In effect, he was trying to take care of a number of employees in different roles without any knowledge on his part of the business.  He focused on  how much it was going to cost per hour for me to come in and assist them in some very specific areas where he lacked knowledge.  He couldn’t see the outcome for the cost.  I’ve never seen a good business save itself into a profit.

I have met many like him.  They are still depending on what they learned in business school to help them navigate waters that have shifted so diametrically over the last fifteen years or so as to be unrecognizable by someone coming out of college in the sixties or seventies.

The last thing you want to happen to you is to become the subject of C-Suite conversations about bringing in someone younger and more in tune to the current requirements of the business world.  I can hear you right now.  That’s age discrimination, they can’t do that.  Yes they can.  All they do is dangle a one, two or three year severance package in front of you.  In exchange you sign away your rights to bring suit against the company.  I’ve seen that scenario play out many times over with all sorts of personnel in sales and management.   However, I have also seen accountants five or ten years out of college who have no idea of what is going on in the world of accounting and finance.  They just keep their heads down and do no more or less than what they are told.  They are not on an upward sloping career path.

In closing, remember that when you improve your skills and knowledge, you improve the prospects for your company.  I always have an accounting or business book I am currently reading.  I look forward to CPE classes as an opportunity to learn more about my profession and the world it exists in.

Courses for CPA’s are always priced for members and non-members.  John Wiley and CCH are great sources for business books and writings as well as Amazon.  Read the Wall Street Journal often, every day if you can.  Join organizations like IOFM or IOMA.

I challenge you to invest in yourself and your future.  And remember, be relevant!

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