Like Controllers, many CFO positions are not as clear cut as you might think.  Some CFO’s manage HR or I.T.  Others operate strictly within the arena of financial matters, short term and long term financing and Treasury.  For many, the progression from Controller to CFO seems clearly a natural one.  But is it?  Sometimes I think we may wonder what skill set it takes to be the Chief Financial Officer of any company. And, I have observed a number of them from my position as Controller.  Most CFO’s don’t get involved in the transactional side of the business.  You don’t see them writing up Journal Entries or getting ‘into the weeds’ of accounting.  Leaving all that behind is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Yes, the title and even the salary level is tempting.  So is the open door to senior management.  But before you attempt the jump, ask yourself this:

  • Do I have a strong background in finance?
  • Did I spend time working in public accounting?
  • Am I a CPA?
  • Can I converse with senior management about complex financial transactions?
  • Do I understand the requirements of good leadership?
  • Am I willing to invest time becoming educated in all aspects of the position?
  • Can I put together a financial model in Excel?
  • Am I familiar with securing financing through various debt instruments?
  • Do I have strong analytical skills, for instance the ability to review financial statements and comment on them?

There are many other questions you might ask yourself as you aspire to become a CFO.  And, if you can’t answer yes to many of these questions, find a way to solve that problem.






I SEE DEAD PEOPLE….. and your business ‘sixth sense’!


sixth sense


It has been a few years since the movie the ‘Sixth Sense’ hit theatres.  It was a great movie and showcased Bruce Willis in a way we rarely see him.  It’s about a little boy who has the ability to see dead people.  His mother, obviously concerned about him, takes him to Bruce Willis, a therapist.  See the movie.  And don’t let anyone reveal the shocking end until you’ve seen it.

But what has the movie and the title of this post have to do with you as a controller?  This is a theme I’ve touched on in earlier posts and I will come back to often.  You could be the smartest accountant out there.  Maybe you passed the C.P.A. exam on the first pass.  (I didn’t).  But none of that is going to make you good at your job if you do not have people skills.  Sales Managers are usually promoted because they were great sales people.  Does this mean they know how to manage people?  Very often, that is not the case.  And accountants, just the same, who excel in accounting are promoted to Controller and Assistant Controller positions.  They foolishly believe that their new position  is just about accounting.

As a Controller, just as a Sales Manager, getting promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you have the people skills set necessary to achieve your company’s objectives.  It takes a sixth sense to know if there is trouble brewing on your accounting and finance team.  Even if you spend long hours at the office (that’s a post for another day) if you lock yourself up in your office,  you end up smothering out the small flame of information that might reach you in time to do something about it.  CASE IN POINT…..

  • We had a great clerical/administrative employee.  She was always on time, did her job well, and didn’t involve herself in the daily office drama.  I learned that she was unhappy and was interviewing for another job.  I knew that she seemed unhappy and I asked someone on our staff that was close to her if there was a problem.  I set up a meeting with the employee.  Her unhappiness was caused by a few things that were easily fixable.  When I left the company, she was still there.

More importantly, a sixth sense is really the ability to see things others don’t.  Are you good at getting to the root cause of a problem.  Can you problem solve at all?  Have you noticed how long it takes to mail out end of month statements?  Maybe it is taking two people to fold and stamp them.  Is there a better way?  How many customers would prefer to receive an e-statement?  Did you know there are companies out there that you can outsource this to?  What if someone says in a meeting how long it is taking him to calculate all the finance charges?  That should raise a HUGE red flag.

How else can I define ‘sixth sense’?  We can call it other things……………perceptive? extra sensory perception (esp), intuitive?  And if you have none of these abilities…………….ask yourself this?

  • Am I on the ‘grapevine’ (do colleagues and staff members confide in you?)
  • Do I know the names of my employees’ spouses and children?
  • Am I interested at all in making my staff’s and other employees jobs easier? More productive? More efficient? (You recently told someone that six year old p.c. should be just fine and they will have to put up with how slow it is – you get an ‘F’)
  • You are a micro-manager which means you don’t trust the employee to do the job right.
  • Is your way the only way because you are the boss?
  • Do you refuse to share information with your employees that would give them a better understanding of what is going on in the company?  Information that is not confidential………….information that other managers may be sharing with their staff?

If any of these describe any of your behaviors as a Controller, I urge you to see yourself as a resource person, not the Commanding General.  Those ‘Commanding Generals’ cost companies a lot of good employees.  You know, the really smart and independent thinking staff members.  They will move on just as soon as they can rather than stay and squander better opportunities working for better people.





It seems that we often live in two worlds, at home and at work.  There is the world of ‘what should be’ and then there is the world of ‘what is’.

Purchase Orders are a very good case in point.  So, I will tell you a story of one of my first encounters with this issue.  When I took the position of Controller at a very large, successful privately owned company they were using a very strict P.O. policy.  There had to be a Purchase Order for everything.  It wasn’t long before I observed accounts payable bills like Utility bills (from the power company and the phone company) with P.O.’s attached.  What sense does that make?  When you see this, you can be sure that no common sense logic is being applied.  This is a terrible waste of an employee’s time.  Then there are the a/p expenses incurred where someone who should have gotten a P.O. did not.  The invoice does not reference a P.O.  The processing employee then writes up a P.O. and attaches it.  What have we accomplished here?

The whole purpose of Purchase Orders can be summed up in the need to be sure there is appropriate authorization for certain types of expenses and secondly, it helps prevent duplicate payments.  Purchase Orders are an integral part of Internal Control.

All of us, the controllers of the world, probably have some differing ideas about the best approach.  I agree that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.  But here are some of my recommendations:

  1. All purchases for Inventory must have a P.O. number on the supplier invoice.
  2. All purchases for Capital Expenditures must have a P.O. number on the vendor invoice.
  3. All purchases for expenses over ($XXX.XX) must have a P.O. number.  You could devise a number for office supplies as a limit that is different from plant supplies as a limit.
  4. Recurring expenses such as lease payments, utilities, salaries, contract labor, should not require a P.O.
  5. Contracts that cover accounting fees, legal fees, consulting fees should not have a P.O.

It’s a simple policy and one that might cover a high percentage of spending in your organization.  In the case of  No. 1, the P.O. should disclose the terms, quantity, price, shipping costs, etc.  Then that P.O. must be referred back to when the invoice is received to be sure you are being billed on the correct basis.

In the case of No. 2 – there should be no exception to this rule (or almost none).  These are purchases that are almost always planned and pre-approved.

I firmly believe that Controllers should not value form over substance.  Just writing a p.o. because the policy says you should no matter what ……………… that is ‘form over substance’.  Maybe this is a great time to ‘audit’ your Purchase Order policy.  See how that policy is being complied with.  You might be surprised.




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