The story is true. Some of the facts have been changed to protect identities.
A Controller friend of mine, I’ll call her ‘Janice’ had landed a good job about eighteen months ago. She was hired to work for a sizable family owned operation that decided they needed to have on site accounting expertise. However, six months in, the family sold their operation to a very large corporate entity. The larger company wanted to continue to run the company as a separate entity with very little visible change. At the same time, the new owners wanted to implement a more sophisticated software system. In addition, they wanted to collect much more data about the operation than the previous operators had or were even interested in. At the time she went to work, she was approaching her sixtieth birthday. But retirement was not on her horizon at all. She enjoyed working and finances were an issue too.
The first problem to arise was that the new owners had very high expectations for the controller. The management group was young and energetic. They worked long hours. Many of them were Ivy League college graduates with extensive training in data analytics and financial analysis. The difference between the Controller and top management, including their CFO was striking and apparent to all. Over time the financial statements became less reliable while management demanded explanations for every general ledger account. And, over time the relationship between the Controller and management deteriorated until finally one day it all came to a sad end and the controller ‘Janice’ lost her job.
Part of the problem was that the Controller, up to taking the new job, had never worked on the management side of the business. She had always specialized in tax at a public accounting firm. She had plodded away there year after year, enduring the long hours of tax season. She was ready to ‘break out’ and move into an accounting manager position.
The family business was thrilled to hire her believing that since she had spent her life in a public accounting firm (in fact the firm preparing tax returns for the business) she would be more than competent to step into the controller position.
If you look at the fact pattern one might draw the conclusion that our controller was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As controllers, we need to understand that our working environment is ‘subject to change without notice’. Sometimes going to work for a small company can turn into working for a very large company. Generally, the larger the company, the higher the level of professionalism that is required. What happened to Janice is not necessarily a predictable outcome. Perhaps if her employer had not been acquired, she would have had the time she needed to get up to speed. And then, maybe not.
So, what is the point of all this? I doubt that Janice could have done anything to have prevented the inevitable outcome other than never having changed jobs. But we all are entitled to take chances, to get out there and see what else we can do. However, I must return to the theme of some of my earlier postings. Never stop learning. Spend part of every day honing your skills whether it’s getting better at Excel or reading a current article in your field. And, if you are looking ahead thinking that things will always be the same………….I don’t this that has happened since 1990!