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New Controller

Hi- I recently started as a controller (a new position for both the company and me) at a very young company.  The owner is in his 20's with no formal business education.  Same goes for the rest of upper management.  The work environment is self-inflicted high stress.  Everyone puts in 12-14 hour days, but no one has any time management skills (meetings go on for hours, then someone has to go ride his bike).  The company has gone from under $1m to over $5m in just 3 years.  I guess my question is whether I should try to stick it out and hope that everyone including the company atmosphere matures or if I should jump ship after 3 weeks.  I don't think the owner really knows how to manage or work effectively with others and resorts to working everyone to the bone.  Having a relatively short career so far (12 years) I'm not sure if I'm not ready for the demands of the position or if it's the company that's my problem.  I'm not suggesting that the company change, I'm just wondering if my expectations are unrealistic.  Ultimately, I think I need to leave, but I don't know if I should seek another controller position at another company or should go back to what I was doing before (mainly accounting - non management).  Your positive advice is much appreciated (I may need thicker skin, but that's not what I am asking).  Thank you!

Answers

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

3 weeks isn't enough time to judge whether you can effect change or whether you are truly management material.

It sounds like if conditions (management style) don't become more organized, the next big spike in sales could unhinge the company.

Have you spoken with the owner? How about his outside trusted as advisors?

James Peters
Title: President
Company: T-Drill Industries
(President, T-Drill Industries) |

In my opinion you need to jump ship as soon as possible. I would seek a Controller position in a mature company with well established systems and procedures. It sounds like your current position would be very stressful for anyone trying to establish controls and procedures.

Sonya Graywolf
Title: Owner
Company: Sonya Graywolf, CPA
(Owner, Sonya Graywolf, CPA) |

You don't say if you think you have had adequate experience to go in and set up systems and procedures for a new company. If you have I would stay and try to set up those systems and procedures. From my experience, it is like that in the beginning. It is stressful. Hopefully you took that into consideration when you negotiated your compensation package. Tackling a task like that gave me much satisfaction as well as info for my resume. If you decide not to tackle it, however, I would suggest you look for another job while still working there. As you probably know it is much easier to find a job when you have a job.

Laurence Jadrych
Title: CPA, CGMA
Company: Wyman-Gordon Forgings
(CPA, CGMA, Wyman-Gordon Forgings) |

You accepted the position of Controller. Now you need to control the environment so that you can use your skills efficiently in your management position. You have 12 years of experience. Surely you learned how to properly manage a meeting with an agenda.

Since the Management Team is young, someone has to show maturity and be the "den mother or den father" so to speak. Step up and take charge of the meetings, set agendas, keep to time schedules, develop action plans and most of all, during business meetings stop interruptions from cell phones. Your paychecks, cash flow and profitability depend on being focused on the business and their customer services.

Keep meetings to a maximum of 90 minutes. If you cannot make decisions and establish action items after 1.5 hours, then stop the meeting and re-group at another time. Add value to this new company. You are being paid to manage and control ---- OJT (On the Job Training) !!!

In addition, network!!! CPA firms, Attorneys, Professional Coach, Financial Executive Network Groups (FENG.org) can help you add to your skill sets.

You are not alone. Check out "SCORE" in your local area. And have fun learning to build and run a company. Jobs like this will pay dividends in years to come.

Remember, you can't manage what you can't measure.

Madhavi Rampalli
Title: Director - Business Operations
Company: United Surgical Partners International
LinkedIn Profile
(Director - Business Operations, United Surgical Partners International) |

Great comments by everyone. I believe being a controller or key finance person at organizations that are smaller in size will provide excellent opportunity to maximize the scope of experience/exposure by crossing over departmental lines and operations, and learn as many new skills as possible. Having a conversation with the Owner or his trusted advisors might help if not already done.

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

I think it sounds like a very challenging but a potential rewarding experience. As mentioned; you have 12 years of experience that you can bring to the table and that may be why they hired you. Don't try to tackle too much; take baby steps. Assess where the greatest weaknesses are and begin to implement small structured changes; make sure to explain the "whys" behind your proposed changes to have buy in. You need to speak to the owner and ensure he/she is on board with you assessing and suggesting changes. I would also recommend to this person that they seek counsel from a mentor who can also guide them along or as Wayne said; this company may not make it much longer. Every business needs structure and efficient processes and if I had to guess, I am sure they are all feeling the pressure of the constant long hours and crazed days. Good luck!

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

Primarily, it depends on the type of individual you are. What you have is a blank slate. You can create the perfect situation vs. walking into a position and correcting someone else's structure. Do not count out the owner. The fact that he/she brought you in, as they do not have formal business training, says much.

The two questions that are important -

1) Do you like an environment without structure, where you are tasked with building that structure vs. an established Fortune 100 company?
2) Is your opinion respected by the owner and Management Team?

If you enjoy creating the structure and do not need day-to-day direction, the job sounds great. But if your recommendations are not taken seriously, you will be ineffective and should consider other options.

Anonymous
(Contract Accountant) |

Thank you for your suggestions. I've started looking for another position. The more I am in the office, the more convinced I am that the position/company environment just aren't for me. I'm not interested in babysitting the owner of a $5m company nor reminding his partners what constitutes fraud (found out one person sees nothing wrong with forging signatures on official docs). I needed unbiased confirmation and you all provided that.

Thank you!

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

Do you have mentor or coach? If not get one. Stick with the job, develop the skills needed to get to the next level. If this position is as tough as it sounds like it is, if you can overcome it you may be on your way to a world-class CFO or Controller's position in a great company. Giving up now could hurt.

There again, I do not know what I would do realistically in your situation. Are you married, with children that you want to see often? If the position is that demanding that it keeps you away constantly and you're too stressed for them to be around, a better environment might be best.

I left a stressful company for sanity. Often I am glad, but knowing how the company continues to grow I have wondered where I would be if I had stayed...possibly in a state institution of some sort...

Regardless, best of luck.

Patricia Montour
Title: CPA, CGMA
Company: Private Company
(CPA, CGMA, Private Company) |

Do you have the authority or the ability to apply resources to make the situation more manageable? By creating structure with policy and procedure updates you will automate some of the transactions and give some breathing room.

Try to gain some perspective before jumping ship, the speed of the growth may be clouding your view. This could be a wonderful opportunity.

Ricardo Small
Title: SVP - Middle Market
Company: Comerica Bank
(SVP - Middle Market, Comerica Bank) |

There is nothing like learning on the fly. Here's an awesome opportunity to learn not just how to be a Controller, but maybe build into a CFO. The great thing about startups is that you have the ability to build the structure with more flexibility than what you would be able to if the company was doing $10mm or $20mm a year. If the company is well capitalized, you have nothing to lose - just make sure you line up the appropriate resources (a coach would be a great start) and look for the way to help the company grow.
HOWEVER - there is a basic question you need to answer: You need to figure out if you want to build your career into the startup world or if you want to go back to the 'corporate' or a more controlled, steady route. If you're not ready to be in this new company and growing it into the unknown, then get out, let them do their thing and move on to what you want to do.

Ken Mason
Title: Controller
Company: Pascua Yaqui Tribe
LinkedIn Profile
(Controller, Pascua Yaqui Tribe) |

You have identified serious ethical lapses, which are even more serious than the lack of structure. If you think the owner will be receptive, sit down with your observations and recommended changes. If you can secure his buy-in, you have a terrific opportunity to partner with the captain to steer his ship on a new course. If he is less than "all-in" you need quickly and quietly to remove yourself, as you cannot be party to fraud.

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

As you have probably gleamed, there is no one right answer and the ultimate answer depends on many variables like your personal goals and values as well as the objectives of the company and how they match your own values and objectives. A few things you might want to ask yourself before you "jump ship".

1) what attracted you to the company in the first place? Was it opportunity, salary, people? Whatever it was, are your observations significantly different then when you interviewed,0? If so, why? Do you think the environment was Mis-represented or possibly did you not ask some strategic questions. In any case, this type of inter-reelection will be important as you move forward in your career. Learn from your mistakes.

2) how open is management to listening to the concerns or observations of employees? Before exiting, you should attempt to speak to those in charge and express your observations (in a non demeaning manner) you owe it to the company and culture. They may to listen but that will give you an insight to your challenges should you chose to stay.

3) Keep in mind, all new jobs have their challenges. You are in a young environment (which you would have known you were going into when you accepted the position). You mentioned "high stress self inflicted stress". The words self-inflicted caught my attention. That tells me that individuals are putting themselves under the stress as opposed to management. Possibly because of peer pressure or what they deem management expectations. Again, as mentioned by others, speak to the managers in charge about your concerns first.

4) in today's business world if someone tells you to grow thicker skin, you might want to ask yourself if their values and morales match up to yours. With all the focus on corporate integrity and ethics, employers sold be sensitive to how they impact the work environment. Ultimately, if you see or suspect some type of wrongdoing, it is your obligation to bring it to the attention of the proper individuals whether that is management or someone else.

5) Last, you state this is a new position. Possibly the duties aren't well defined or weren't fully considered because they just didn't know. Take the initiative to outline what you believe the responsibilities entail and then what resources you am need to adequately fulfill the responsibilities. Then speak to management and see what response you receive.

Lynn Fountain
www.fountaingrc.org

Eric Bryant
Title: Controller
Company: TechMediaNetwork
(Controller, TechMediaNetwork) |

Ask yourself, are you up for the task? Have you directly spoken to the people committing these fraudulent acts? Sometimes it really is that they are waiting for someone to tell them that something is wrong on unacceptable (crazy I know), and they will amend their ways without much trouble.

Taking a roles as a controller at a high-growth start-up company is an amazing opportunity to test your mettle and see how much you have truly learned over the last 12 years.

Work fast, work hard and be decisive, if you are truly in the environment you describe you will either make headway rapidly or they will send you packing, either way you will know you have made the effort. Take a step back and make a risk assessment of the company, and prioritize your issues according to that assessment. Share your risk assessment and let management know your priorities, be open and honest about your reasons for concern. If the management team is still not open to your list and dismiss your reasons but you are confident in your position, insist that your continued employment depends on that list being addressed to your satisfaction. They will either agree or you can then start negotiating the terms of your departure, the key is not letting emotions control this conversation,

For a company with only $5M in annual revenues I am sure that you have the skills to get them to at least $15M before you need to reassess. Outsource your payroll to ADP or someone like them, and get a solid outside CPA to help with the company's taxes, with those two issues covered, you have ruled out the two areas that get small businesses into early trouble, and freed yourself to provide true value to the company. The company may push back on the cost, but it really is a case of pay now, or pay big later.

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

I think three weeks is too short a period to conclude one way or the other whether the environment is right for you. Growing from $1M - $5M in 3 years is a good statistic. You might benefit from revisiting your rationale for taking the role in the first place. Something must have "clicked", prompting you to risk leaving a more-established company for this one.

Walking into an office and having someone hand you the SP&P manual and close pack from corporate as well as knowing that you are in a stable environment w/ professional managers occupying all the important executive roles does have its benefits. The downside of this in my experience is that when everything is nicely buttoned down, finance leadership spends time on "make work" so they can maintain their value proposition with the other executives (with those lower on the totem pole doing the actual work of course).

In three weeks, you've already identified some areas for improvement. Maybe you should first see if the place CAN be changed for the better. If you determine this is impossible, you are justified in seeking a new employer. At this juncture, if a prospective employer asks you why you are looking to leave after such a short time, your response would be the equivalent of "the place sucks". Six months from now, you would be able to bullet-point all of the things you have done to elevate the finance function there, and if management is still on the wrong path, why you regrettably need to seek opportunities elsewhere.

P.S. As others pointed out, working 12-14 hour days to build a company - ok. Working 12-14 hour days with 4 hours of that consisting of non-productive meetings - not ok!

jason gentile
Title: Peer Tutor
Company: Anne Arundel Community College
LinkedIn Profile
(Peer Tutor, Anne Arundel Community College) |

The owners are young. As the finance person in the room, it can be helpful for yourself and your company if you take charge in setting the pace in your workplace. 4 hours of non-productive meetings is fine in your workplace but only if other work does not need to be done. Your company seems to be growing but you need to manage that growth. Take charge but be careful about upsetting your younger coworkers when you take away some freedoms.

Topic Expert
Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

Take some time to craft your story for your next round of interviews. No future employer wants to hear someone complain about a past one.

For example, consider "I had ethical concerns" rather than the details of what happened when asked why you left.

Another example: Consider "I will make the greatest impact on a company with established processes and a team of industry veterans" over personal judgments about the maturity of your former team.

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