Q: How should I go about replacing my controller?
A: When faced with hiring for a key position, you’ll logically start with a job description. You can find sample lists of general duties and responsibilities online, and your outside CPA firm undoubtedly can weigh in. The list should cover the basics: handling transactions and the operations of the accounting staff and software system, and being able to produce monthly financial statements -- income statements, balance sheets and cash-flow statements -- that are complete, accurate and timely, as well as any other reports you need to make business decisions. You should specify compliance-related responsibilities and whether they involve the government or audits. Depending on the level of outsourcing used, these could include payroll and payroll taxes, workers’ compensation, insurance and other requirements.
Finding a person with QuickBooks experience is easy. If you use higher-level packages, look for someone who has worked with similar advanced accounting software and is comfortable with its complexities, especially on the reporting side. If the job involves upgrading the company to a more robust accounting system, experience with such an installation is a must.
For small firms -- those with less than $10 million in annual revenue -- you don’t necessarily need your controller to be a CPA. Above that, it’s a good idea to hire a CPA.
Last, take a long, hard look at what is dissatisfying about your current controller. Make a list of those negatives and do your best to avoid them with this new hire.
Above all, I look for certain personality characteristics in controllers. Beyond the obvious -- they should have an affinity for numbers and be detail-oriented -- I believe they should care more about facts, processes and results than they do about interpersonal relations. (Although they do need enough basic people skills to find, motivate, supervise and retain a good staff.)
There’s no magic alternative to taking time to find someone who’s skilled, qualified and has the right personality. But realize that doing so will pay huge dividends in the end. With the right hire you’ll be able to focus on the activities you need to grow your business instead of pushing numbers around.
Where to look
When seeking a controller, your personal network is a good place to start, as well as bankers and people at your outside CPA firm. You can also check out the Financial Executives Networking Group (thefeng.org), a national nonprofit organization that specializes in finding positions for senior financial execs. It’s my go-to source for controller candidates. Which resources should you avoid? Online job boards and expensive recruiters. The former are a waste of time -- you’ll be flooded with résumés from unqualified candidates. The latter are a waste of money, unless you’re looking for someone with uniquely specialized experience and can afford the recruiter’s retainer and fee.