Have What It Takes to Be a Corporate Controller?
As an accountant would you say that you are analytic, organized, and precise? How about detailed, factual and accurate? Accountants hold a set of certain characteristics (Whether it be from professional training or personality) that could potentially be carried into a Controller position, but only if they can break out of the "number cruncher" mindset... which is not easy to do.
So what is the Controller position? The Controller is more than just a bean counter or a number cruncher; the controller is the analyzer, interpreter and disseminator of financial information to all interested parties. Functioning mostly in planning, accounting, and reporting, controllers are often the budgeting lead, company historian, and number translator for non-number people... all at the same time. The Controller position is a big role in every company— which means that it is a position that can not be perfectly customized to fit your liking. There will be occasions when accuracy is sacrificed for timeliness, and "big picture" thinking is considered to be more efficient than detail oriented thinking.
The Controller position is more than just supervising the accounting and financial departments. Controllers must also work with and advise company leaders by providing the financial information needed to develop successful strategies, meaning that the Controller needs to be able to communicate accounting and finance principals to non-accounting professionals. Being responsible for everyone's transactions and bills requires the controller to not only be well read in other departments, but also be able to build relationships in order to effectively communicate with them.
Qualifications and Capabilities
Before stepping up to such a large and diverse position, make sure that you have the necessary prerequisites required to become a successful controller.
Education: Managerial and financial accounting, regulatory compliance, business analysis tools, communication and leadership, and Federal, state and local taxes.
Personal: Dynamic/Likable, Analytic/Problem Solver, Supportive/Positive, Credible/Reliable
Credibility: Knowledge, Judgement, Objectivity, Candor and Integrity
Technical: Accounting, Analysis Tools, Regulatory Laws, Accounting and Financial Systems
DISC Personality Assessment and Leadership Styles
In order to ensure the well being of the company, it is important that the controller has both the educational background and the ability to mediate conversation between different personalities and backgrounds. Success stories come from those who not only know themselves, but know how to read and react to other people and personalities. This intuitive ability allows them to assess situations and act in a way that is best for the group.
The DISC tool is based off of four personality traits: Dominance, Influence, Submission, and Compliance. In most cultures, 50% of group personalities fall into the Submission category, while the rest were evenly distributed between the other three quadrants. People with Dominant and Influencing traits tend to be extroverted, assertive, and move towards change, while those with a Compliant and Stable personality tend to be more introverted, passive, and gravitate towards stability. On the other axis of the quadrant lies the task-oriented (Dominant and Compliant) and the people-oriented (Influencer and Stabilizer). So which of these quadrants makes a successful controller? The answer lies in your ability as a leader to exercise each of these four traits in the necessary situation. When the situation calls for you to make a decision or take the lead, will you as the Controller have the discernment to decide which quadrant to act upon? In the meantime, take a look at the DISC quadrant to identify your most prominent trait set and recognize your blind spots.
Think you have what it takes to be a Corporate Controller? Check out one of our esteemed instructors Miles Hutchinson who offers online lectures on the different accounting and finance positions, and how you can prepare yourself to climb the corporate ladder.
by Sue Anderson - Based on 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently program director for online CPE provider, CPE Link. Formerly with the California CPA Education Foundation managing key operational areas including marketing, program development, and distance learning.