Corporate Finance

A Controller Demonstrates Strategic Value

Why is a controller willing to roll up her sleeves and help business managers achieve their goals?
Jason LinNovember 7, 2019

While the CFO is a vital mouthpiece in directing investment and funding operations, the finance team as a whole is becoming more of a daily strategic asset to the success and growth of an organization. Every finance team member has unique insight and skill sets that can help business managers succeed in their jobs, and they should be empowered to do so.

I’ll give you an example: our vice president of marketing and demand generation meets with our controller on a biweekly basis. When I asked the VP of marketing why he does this, he told me that these meetings help to ensure that his top priorities are funded. His budget was written back in the summer of 2018, and the market looked pretty different then.

As 2019 progressed, he realized that projects such as trade shows delivered more qualified leads than some of the other initiatives planned for at the time the budget was created. It’s a common enough scenario: marketing needs to switch tactics to take advantage of new opportunities, and yet the budget remains fixed.

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Our controller has been instrumental in helping him find the money in his budget by helping him to better understand how expenses actually hit his various accounts and where he has wiggle room. It’s fair to say that the advice of our controller has had a significant impact in helping the company meet its revenue goals.

Going up a level; what’s driving this change in mindset? Why are people like our controller willing to roll up their sleeves and help business managers achieve their goals?

First and foremost, the office of finance is staffed with ambitious people, like the controller, who aren’t content to be back-office bean counters. She, along with the other finance team members, view their roles as strategic advisers to the rest of the company. They’re the people who can help ensure that the great ideas and strategic pivots that bubble up through the organization have the resources needed to succeed.

Second, the more the finance team learns about how the business operates, how leads are generated, and why prospects become customers, the more valuable they become as strategic advisers. After a year of meetings, our marketing VP no longer needs to explain why he wants to change tactics — the controller gets it, and she’ll help him figure out how he can meet critical business objectives.

In many ways, their biweekly meetings are an example of breaking down silos that exist within a corporation.

Over the past decade, companies have worked hard to erase the barriers between product development, marketing, sales, and customer care because they’ve realized that those functions are tightly related. There is a direct line between what product development does and the calls that customer care will receive. Breaking down those barriers just makes a lot of sense.

It makes sense for finance, too. As I mentioned above, finance has a vital skill set that business managers can benefit from. The more that finance team members understand how the business functions, the better they will be at providing strategic advice to marketing, operations, product developmen.t and so on. Why keep this resource in a back office, separate from the people who need them most?

The strategic value of the finance team to the rest of the corporation is real and embracing that means that the office of finance must be embedded with the rest of the business. They’re the ones who can provide strategic insights when the company needs to make pivots, large or small.

Jason Lin serves as CFO for Centage

Image: Getty