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Stay CFO at $25-50MM Company or Jump to Controller at $100MM

I have a solid background in public accounting (not partner but was high level) and industry with CPA. I left a firm to join a "small" company whose revenues have approached the $50MM mark. I was never a controller and the CFO opportunity fell into my lap. I took it thinking I would really be a controller with a CFO title, and I was right and wrong. I do a lot of controller type work, transactional, in the weeds technical, and similar, but do true CFO work as well...research on deals and possible transactions, cash flow management, and similar. I was thrown into the fire and actually hesitated at first to take the job because of the title and to be honest thought it might be a negative and perceived as a CFO in title only. Thought I might should have done the typical controller first then work my way into a CFO role. So far so good and if I stay, probably a great future or could solidify my title "worthiness" and move to another company. Skip to the question, I have an offer to come on board as a controller at a $100MM plus entity who has locations across the country. My current company not so much. The potential role would be with a more complex company than my current. My current does have some technical aspects to juggle, but overall is fairly simple outfit where the new role would just be a bigger deal. The potential role has a CFO who will be out the door within a few years (retirement) and that could open up for me if I perform well which I have no doubts I will. Where I am is a great team and if I stay has upside still (Execs close to retiring and I could step in a role) but wondering what to do? Both places have some risk due to possible sellouts to PE or similar, but probably more of a risk at the potential role than the current. Any and all input would be appreciated.

Answers

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I am not going to tell you what to do but will tell you what MY considerations are going to be....

1. Growth (and maybe complexity) prospects/potential of both companies - For me, it is much more professionally satisfying to grow a company (size and business lines) and take them to the next level. You may be $50M now (or relatively "simple" transactions) but the potential would be key. On the opposite side, the other company may be $100M but they can be stuck at that level. It would be more satisfying to take a company from $50M to say $100M than $100 to say $120M. This potential should also be reflected on nos. 2 and 3.

2. Company culture - this should be self explanatory and a bit of a personal preference....and the potential or ability to mold/improve it.

3. CEO personality, how he manages/strategize and business acumen/vision - you will be working directly (or potentially) with the CEO and more or less you will be supporting him on his plans Your growth and achievements will largely depend on his vision.

The title to me is going to be less important. What you can accomplish, contribute or learn (what you will put on your resume aside from the "title" ) will be much more substantive in the long run.

Jason M. Jones LPA
Title: Deputy Treasurer - Staff Accountant
Company: Franklin County Treasurer
(Deputy Treasurer - Staff Accountant, Franklin County Treasurer) |

Anonymous, I am in a situation that is relatively congruent to what you are encountering now:

Several years ago. I was a volunteer Treasurer for a non-profit agency where I essentially functioned as a hybrid controller/CFO because the only person on staff was the CEO himself. During my tenure, the agency's revenues doubled because of a sound strategic plan and a very engaged Board of Trustees. Because we became a chapter of a national organization during my tenure, I lost a prime opportunity to be hired as the agency's CFO when the National headquarters decided to have the accounting and finance functions outsourced to their office. In short, I because a victim of my own success.

Recently, I was contacted by the CEO of a local social services agency who was given my name and number by a mutual connection to discuss a job opening for a controller position, although when the CEO saw my resume and we discussed my past experiences, we were talking more in the vein of a CFO position, although the agency already had a CFO, he explained that the CFO was approaching retirement in the next year or two and I could easily transition into the CFO chair. Long story short, I was passed over for the position by the agency's board of trustees because I was overqualified for the controller position and they were afraid my experience while in the controller's chair would spill over into the CFO lane and create a clash. I appreciated his candor, and for what it's worth, it doesn't mean I won't be contacted in the future once the CFO ultimately does retire. Between that, and my having some other job prospects in the pipeline, I am not at all disappointed in the outcome of how all this played out.

Having said all of that, Emerson makes some great points as to what he would look for, and the biggest two things would be potential for growth in the company based on what you can contribute and accomplish, and the ability to synergize with the CEO based on his strategic/business acumen. Company culture is a wild card, but it often will influence how the other two will play out.

In short, look for how you can make an impact, make sure you have good chemistry and synergy with the CEO, and make sure the company culture is conducive to your success. If you are already doing all of that where you are now, it may not necessarily be in your best interest to leave, but it all comes down to what it is you ultimately want to accomplish.

Best wishes in whatever decision you make!

Jerome Kern
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Flexi-Van Leasing, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, Flexi-Van Leasing, Inc.) |

Don't forget that your own personality may play a role in your decision. Now that you've sat in the CFO chair, can you go back to reporting to a CFO? Having someone else question your decisions? I'd say, as those above me have, that the growth prospects of the companies are very important, but your own characteristics are just as important as the characteristics of the company. Question yourself as much as you question the companies you're looking at.

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