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Controller vs FP&A Manager for a CPA and MBA with 10 years of experience

How To Become A CFO

Hi, I'm in the cross roads of my career and have about 10 years of experience. I have worked in public accounting, I've been an Accounting Manager, FP&A Manager and financial reporting. All jobs have been for multi billion dollar companies and/or divisions of multi billion dollar companies. I have a CPA and just graduated with an MBA. I'm thinking my next step is either a Controller role or back into a FP&A manager position. What are the pros/cons of each role as a next step? My 10 year goal is to become a CFO of a smaller organization ($50-200M). Thank you!

Answers

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |

Both titles are pretty valid ones for your goal. Controller typically sounds more "CPA", and is more fungible as to level. FP&A Manager sounds a bit junior (esp. if you've got your MBA and have already done it). I actually got dinged for a role that I could hit out of the park, with the hiring manager saying (to a confidential source) "his resume looks too FP&A". If you're going for the latter track, see if you can wrangle a Director title at least. Dir of Fin, not FP&A.

With your CFO goal, you want to have a leadership role; both people and a business unit. Whichever one offers you a direct report to a GM, P&L responsibility, plus staff (at least 3), that's the road I'd choose.

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

You have been an FPA Manager previously and you may get to your route to the $50 to $200M organization may be through being a CFO at a smaller company and all small companies need a Controller but they don't necessarily need an FPA Manager. Another route might be Controller of the $50 to $200M organization with a path to CFO. FPA Manager is not typically a route to CFO.

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

I was not aware that FPA roles did not segue well into CFO seat. I'm in a similar juncture to Anonymous. What advice would the community have for an individual wearing the Controller hat?

Rex Jackson
Title: EVP and Chief Financial Officer
Company: JDS Uniphase
(EVP and Chief Financial Officer, JDS Uniphase) |

I think the best CFOs are the ones who get the numbers/understand the accounting, but have the 60K view of the business and can partner with management.

If your entry points are Controller versus FP&A manager, and you can fulfill the Controller role (the higher level out of the gate) while demonstrating business acumen, that's a great path to CFO.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP of Finance & Operations
Company: RBA Consulting
(VP of Finance & Operations, RBA Consulting) |

Michael,

There may be two steps that you need to take.

The first is you've got to get into a spot that is just below the CFO - so the step up is not significant in having managed the key areas of importance (to the points made above).

Second, you need to get in a position to be strong candidate. Regardless of company size, there is significant competition for CFO roles - and you'll be going up against other candidates who will sat in the chair before for open roles.

That said, it might be time to make the move to the next in line role at a smaller firm - so you are in position to move up as a known quantity - instead of trying to "step up" a level from the outside against people who have already been CFOs.

Be aware that especially when moving into the CFO role - that the larger company experience may not always carry the value as those experiences can be very different than a life within a small firm. Having made the move from a billion dollar company into a smaller firm (and then back up again) I can vouch for the difference in culture, staff, etc.

Before you make any big moves - go talk with people that hold the job you want - and get their firsthand view of what you need to do. I did that before moving into the start-up world and found it an eye opener to what skills were important and helped guide my decisions.

Hope this helps.

Mark

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

Michael,

I would agree with the comments that the best way to move into the CFO role of a company in the $50 - $200MM range is to look for a Controller position with a strong company in that revenue range. There is a fairly significant difference between working for a multi billion dollar company and and one in the size range you are seeking. To be successful you need to find out which culture suits you best as there is no one correct answer. So I would suggest a move to the Controller position with a smaller company to learn which works best for you, but definitely do your research on the company before moving (this is always true whether moving between large or small companies as each have their own cultures and risks).

Good luck with your career,

Jim

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

I would say that both roles can get you where you need to be. If the organization relies heavily on the FP&A role, you will see the CFO role come from the FP&A organization. The FP&A organization is the one that would be able to explain the numbers and help determine direction, which is why I think it's a better precedent to the CFO role. I have a role that does both and find it more enjoyable.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I have seen both roles as a stepping stone to a CFO position as long as there is experience in each in your background. I would choose the one that you provides you the best opportunity to be passionate about your job. Then you will have the most chance of success. Whichever path or choose, you should stay in touch with the alternative. If the company is going to be great, they are going to want you to do this. The FP&A leader should not lose touch with GAAP and the Controller should play a role in providing insightful analysis.

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

Michael, from my perspective, it's tough to make that decision solely based upon the title of "Controller" or "Manager of FP&A". It's much more about what the specific opportunity that you're looking at allows you to do: can you grow and expand your abilities, skills and accomplishments. I've seen both roles that are very dynamic and are involved with all aspects of the business and I've seen both roles that are very limited and restricted in their scope. Both roles can and do lead to the CFO spot, but they have to be the right role within the right company...do your research and ask many questions when you have job opportunities come up.

Bob Scarborough
Title: CEO
Company: Tensoft, Inc.
(CEO, Tensoft, Inc.) |

Watching folks who become CFOs in technology companies - I would say most of them get there by taking a chance and going to a smaller organization. If you think about the expectations for a CFO - strategic financial leadership, understanding of the business from multiple perspectives (not just finance), communications with investors and a broader community - I would say hard core accounting is not the primary requirement for this position. It certainly helps to understand the controller's role - at the same time I see plenty of CFOs who come directly from Senior Manager + roles at CPA firms - folks who have never run an accounting department.

Bob Scarborough
www.tensoft.com

Michael Wong
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Crane
(Accounting Manager, Crane) |

Thank you everyone for the feedback. Everyone's comments are very helpful and will help me to make the best decision for my next role!

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Based on your description and your breadth of experience you won't be happy at a smaller company without equity and a CFO title. Be sure to land that leadership role if you plan to go small.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

In today's market place (and I hope it changes), not being a Controller makes it very difficult to become a CFO (I'll narrow this down to the organization size you stated).

CEO's won't particularly understand the FP&A position (especially on the mid-lower revenue side of the range). Having some time in Operations is always helpful.

Good luck

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

One of the best places I worked that provided the most wide range of experience was in a private full service hotel. As the Controller you learn to understand how operations work in depth dealing with food, beverage and rooms costs. It also teaches you how to interact with operations because that is where there is the most room for loss. I agree with Wayne, a CFO has to have such a wider range of skills and experience than a Controller. Get experience; I think it's crucial.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Anonymous - Something that has changed my views on becoming a Controller is this website. I had in my mind when I joined the Proformative community in 2012 that that I was going to go from Accountant to Controller then to the CFO office by the time I was in my mid-thirties (early 30s now).

Thanks to comments by Wayne Spivak, Regis Quirin, Samuel Dergel, Cindy Kraft, and countless others, I have changed my career focus to a certain extent. I am still an accountant, however I want to get into the operation side of a company. To that extent I have been passively looking for positions that fit operations.

I have read a lot information and opinions by people at the CFO level that confirm a need for operations experience gets to the cherished CFO suite.

It's not that I don't want to be a Controller for an organization, I just want to experience operations. Experiencing operations is where I can be part of the company's business as a whole, instead of just the finance aspect. Operations will give me a broader picture.

prateek gupta
Title: lead operations
Company: ibm india pvt.ltd.
(lead operations, ibm india pvt.ltd.) |

Currently I am working for R2R profile how can I go for fpna profile...

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