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What do you think are the primary differences between a controller and a CFO?


Topic Expert
Dana Price
Title: Vice President, M&A
Company: McGraw Hill Education
(Vice President, M&A, McGraw Hill Education) |

Depends upon the size of the organization, but for a non-public small to mid-size company the Controller handles the day-to-day accounting, makes journal entries, responsible for all audit materials, gets the financial reporting done, oversees the staff. Controller is a partner to the CFO. CFO handles the audit/bank/tax relationships, as well as overseeing all the accounting and finance, including budgeting. Also involved in strategy of company, handles investors/board/shareholders (depending upon size and whether public) and in my mind should be a partner to the CEO. CFO should also be able to sell, handle any biz dev, and coordinate M&A activities. CFO may also oversee operational depts including HR and IT.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Dana nailed it in very few words. I consider a Controller more of an Accounting specialist and a CFO as more of a Finance specialist.

scott graves
Title: CFO
Company: Armstrong Teasdale LLC
(CFO, Armstrong Teasdale LLC) |

The Controller is responsible for all accounting activities including the ledger, payables, internal controls, reporting, etc.; more of the day-in and day-out financial responsibilities for the company. The CFO should spend much more time on being strategic: how to grow the company profitably and how to minimize risk. They absolutely should be partners in the business because, in the end, the CFO is responsible for all of the activities that the Controller is performing and many of the strategic issues that the CFO deals with rest upon having good financial information and analysis that the Controller manages. The CFO likewise, should be a partner with the President/CEO and the functional VPs in developing strategy and driving grow, profits and cash flow. As such, the CFO needs to be very broad in terms of his/her business acumen and needs to be good at communication, negotiation and leadership.

Jim Holloway
Title: CFO
Company: Contract Lumber, Inc.
(CFO, Contract Lumber, Inc.) |

I agree with Dana, Regis and Scott. Their replies are dead on point to my view.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I agree with the above responses. If I may ask, did any of the CFOs on Proformative spent time as Controllers prior to becoming CFO and how long was this the case? As a Controller who is interested in growing his career in the long term, would it make more sense to pursue FP&A roles as the next progression or to grow/enhance my skill-set as a Controller to be considered for a CFO position? I understand that developing strong communication, leadership, and negotiation skills would be a necessary prerequisite.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

I found FP&A was incredibly important for advancement with also a heavy emphasis on Business Development. If a manager comes to you with an idea, you need to be able to quantify why or why not the concept will work, based on a macro view of how all areas will be impacted. But that is only my experience. Different industries will have different paths.

Guido Gallegos
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

The CFO has to navigate political arenas, as Scott said, dealing with the other VPs and bringing the CEO on board requires a lot of wrist twisting....Controllers positions are ussually less demanding in this topic, although some regional ones might require some of it as well....

Topic Expert
Bob Stenz
Title: Controller
Company: Silicon Valley start-up
(Controller, Silicon Valley start-up) |

As the CFO responsibilities have been evolving to more business advisory (active participant in executive staff meetings and sounding board to the CEO) the controller is picking up more responsibilities that have been mananged by the CFO, especially in small companies. For example, the controller can now be accountable for FP&A, banking, and insurance. That said, the CFO is still generally on point in such areas as investors, BOD meetings, and M&A decisions. The CFO may also decide (or negotiate) on cross-functional issues.

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