Lately, I’ve been doing some reflecting on my career in finance and accounting. As I look back, I can identify 4 phases that reflect my unique journey from fixer to leader and manager. In this blog, I’ll detail these phases and hopefully provide some clarity through comparison to your own journey.
In the beginning, I remember being hired by a small start-up company on a temporary assignment. My boss was the interim CFO who explained to me that he had a board meeting coming up and needed a Balance Sheet. I was surprised by the request, wondering how it is possible that their accounting system could not produce the most fundamental and essential statement. It turned out that the previous CFO, although a well-qualified Chartered Accountant, had initiated an accounting system conversion and had lost control of the process. Reports could not be provided to the bank, vendors were not being paid, bank statements were not reconciled to the G/L, etc. As such, the company did not know if it was making a profit, if it would have enough cash to meet payroll or if it had the capacity to borrow to grow the business as was its mission.
I remember spending the weekend solving the problem of the Balance Sheet. Over a hundred accounts in the chart of accounts had to be tagged and grouped with precision otherwise the financial statements would not balance nor would they convey the true financial state of the company.
I learnt early on that the skill to convert and integrate an accounting system was not taught at any professional school i.e., CPA or MBA. However, it is critical enough that, if not done properly, the financial control of any business comes to a grinding halt. This phase I would call the “Developer Phase”.
Soon after this experience, the company hired me as the controller. As the company grew, so did the volume of information. My understanding of the accounting software, having been involved with it during the development phase, allowing for a hands–on approach to processing information efficiently and effectively. The skills needed at this phase were different from the “Developer phase”. To process the ever-increasing information, there was a need to multi-task, maintain a high level of energy and focus, and always look for opportunities to increase efficiency. I would call this the “Doer phase”. Again, the skills for this phase had to be gained through experience.
The company continued to grow, and the accounting department expanded. The ‘doing’ skills had to be replaced with management skills such as delegating, mentoring, motivating and communicating. These skills were developed during my “Manager phase”. Without these skills, a once highly effective ‘doer’ often does the tasks themself in order to maintain the high standard they had achieved. Delegation is non-existent or sporadic. The negative effects of this approach include personal stress, demotivation of staff, lowering of standards, departmental bottlenecks and the exposure of the department to not be able to function properly in their absence.
Over the years, the company expanded nationally through an aggressive acquisition strategy. Almost half of my time was now spent travelling across the country doing due diligence, meeting with owners, lawyers and bankers, and dealing with integration challenges at the home office. I call this the “Planning and Leadership phase”. I no longer had the time to manage hands-on but now required ‘surveillance reporting’ that would allow me to maintain tight controls over the large volume of information. It was also necessary to devise concise higher-level reports that identified “hotspots” and that met strategic planning needs. The focus during this phase was on transparency. By properly structuring reporting, it is possible to navigate through a large volume of information and maintain a high level of control over it.
Now, over 25 years later, this same company is now Canada’s largest physiotherapy company with over 2,500 highly trained clinicians in over 300 locations across the country. Now, as an Osborne consultant, I’m leveraging this experience to help companies maintain control over their finance department and their business during the various stages of growth.
You can reach me by email at email@example.com if you’re interested in a follow-up conversation.