• The Strategic CFO or Controller

  • Do you worry that you are perceived as a “bean counter” or do people call you that “in jest”? How do you get away from this disparaging label?

    Beans are a cheap commodity, so to count them is a rather silly thing to do. A “bean counter” is one who nitpicks over small things. It is a derogatory term for accountants, bankers, and anyone who holds a financial interest in an endeavor.”

    A bean counter is “a person who makes judgments chiefly on the basis of numerical calculations or an accountant or bureaucrat who is believed to place undue emphasis on the control of expenditures.”

    The best way to dispel this perception is to place more emphasis on the future rather than on the past.  Use financial information to work with Management, to grow the business and change the focus from costs to revenue that can provide long-term profits for the future of the business.

    As the CFO, Controller or other head of the Finance/Accounting function of a business, you cannot get away from the need to spend considerable time, energy and focus on compliance, which includes historically oriented financial reporting. With this necessary foundation solidly in place, you and your staff are well-positioned to ensure that you are providing strategic information that assists management to engage in strategic thinking and grow the business in the long term .

    According to Wikipedia, “Strategic thinking includes finding and developing a strategic foresight capacity for an organization, by exploring all possible organizational futures, and challenging conventional thinking to foster decision making today. Recent strategic thought points ever more clearly towards the conclusion that the critical strategic question is not the conventional “What?”, but “Why?” or “How?”.” There is also a need to “draw a clear distinction between strategic thinking and strategic planning.”

    “While there is no generally accepted definition for strategic thinking, no common agreement as to its role or importance, and no standardized list of key competencies of strategic thinkers; most agree that traditional models of strategy making, which are primarily based on strategic planning, are not working. Strategy in today’s competitive business landscape is moving away from the basic ‘strategic planning’ to more of ‘strategic thinking’ in order to remain competitive. However, both thought processes must work hand-in-hand in order to reap maximum benefit. It has been argued that the real heart of strategy is the ‘strategist’; and for a better strategy execution requires a strategic thinker who can discover novel, imaginative strategies which can re-write the rules of the competitive game; and set in motion the chain of events that will that will shape and “define the future”.”

    In the Finance area, the change necessary to be perceived as a strategic thinker is to maximize the focus on:

    • Analysis of results to explain the numbers
    • Forecasting of the future
    • Focus on revenues, profit margins and cash flow, not primarily costs
    • Using comparative reports to help Management understand what has changed (from budget and prior periods)
    • Using key performance indicators/ratio analysis to highlight changes
    • Participating and contributing to Management meetings
    • Forecasting and providing different scenarios and alternatives to help Management select the best alternatives
    • Assisting Management to determine the real drivers of the business (see The Hedgehog Concept in Good to Great by Jim Collins)
    • Facilitate Strategic Planning (this is just one element in strategic thinking)
    • Be a part of Management initiatives for change, not merely the recorder of the results

    Hopefully this article will provide you with ideas to think of one strategic initiative to start the ball rolling, and have your boss and peers perceive you as a strategic thinker. That is the best way to dispel any notions that you are a bean counter.

    If your finance/accounting team is not fulfilling the needs of your business and need guidance, please contact me me at 905-731-8255 or James@MastermindSolutions.ca

    James Phillipson is a Chartered Accountant and a Principal of Mastermind Solutions Inc. with over thirty years experience in large and small businesses.  He has provided financial counseling to his clients since 1996, often in the role of a Controller or Chief Financial Officer, for both public and private corporate clients.  James has experience in financial roles in a wide variety of businesses and industries.  This includes several large corporations and many medium-sized public and private companies.