Job interviews with controllers—whether you’re in the hot seat or the one asking the questions—are getting broader these days, as the role of the controller and expectations around it have escalated. Just as today’s CFOs are expected to be more strategic than the bean-counting finance chiefs of yesteryear, so too are controllers getting called upon for their operational skills and are expected to have broader, forward-looking views. Today’s controllers are not all about past figures. They contribute to strategy to guide it into the future.

We see this transformation firsthand whenever we’re embedded in teams at companies around the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’ve frequently taken on controller roles on an interim basis. RoseRyan consultant Cheri Koehler—a superstar controller in her own right—has gathered up some practical tips and advice for controllers at companies of all sizes:

RoseRyan_Report_SuperstarControllerLook beyond the numbers: Controllers who have mastered their role have a firm grasp of their company’s latest facts and figures, and they also need to be able to tell the story to everyone else. They are one of the few who can provide context behind the numbers and use their knowledge to ensure the company stays healthy. That knowledge can power smart decision-making throughout the business.

Be a bridge builder: Controllers have typically been buddies with HR and customer service folks as many of their transactions and activities overlap. Extend similar connections around the company, making links between finance and IT, procurement, distribution, manufacturing and others. In this way, controllers can set up collaborative partnerships and give themselves a voice when choices are about to made. As proactive business partners, they keep finance in the loop and provide valuable support, advice and analysis whenever it’s needed.

Find and keep talent: This requires a continuous effort—even when the finance team seems well stocked. Things can change and specialized skills may be needed for a complex transaction or someone could have to leave without much notice. Superstar controllers regularly tend to the talent pool by always keeping their connections open and paying attention to develop and retain the people they have on hand. They look for opportunities to empower the team and keep them enthused.

Stellar controllers know how to bring the information they gather to life. They’re excellent communicators by making sure they can influence and persuade, they help with strategic decisions and activities throughout the company, and evangelize potential improvements and efficiencies. What makes this possible? They are up to date on the latest technologies and can keep their eyes and ears to the ground to learn best practices in their field. Ensuring they have a talented team in place makes all the difference.

Are you a controller striving for greatness? Or a CFO who needs to strengthen the finance bench? To understand the controller role today and what skills are needed for superstar status, check out 5 ways to become a superstar controller.

During the initial months and years of a startup, CEOs are faced with the daunting task of building a company from the ground up. There are many issues to address, including product development, sales and go-to-market strategy, staffing, legal and finance. All of these are important areas to launch in order to get the company off to a great start.

But how much attention should each one get? All too often, in the push and pull when time is tight and so are funds, CEOs make the mistake of giving the finance side of the business short shrift compared to everything else. Understandably this happens when the biggest motivation at the moment is to get the business up and running. Survival is job one. Getting the finances in order rates as a low priority while other areas of the company receive the bulk of funding and care. “I’ll deal with that later,” the thinking goes, “and build it up in a few years when we’re really up and running.”

In the meantime, the company hires an office manager who takes on purely administrative duties, like handling payroll, processing stock administration, meeting the minimum compliance requirements, signing up for insurance, securing facilities, and creating and handling the initial accounting books of the company. While these are all necessary tasks and someone needs to do them, unfortunately, this person usually does not have the required skills and experience to handle them at a high level.

Is the cash burn rate being managed properly? Are the financials accurate? Is the company making the decisions about equity comp with the future in mind? Are inefficiencies building up and slowing down decisions that need to get made? Can one person pay attention to the changing tides of rules and regs?

Inevitably, problems will pop up if there is not someone or more than one person paying careful attention to the big-picture questions. Some of the potential problems are incorrect financial statements, serious delays in financial reporting, lack of expense control, payroll errors, inability to pass compliance audits, issues with stock administration, and numerous other tasks not being completed on time and up to par. The company could run into problems with lenders, banks, investors and see its growth potential falter—if inaccurate financial information is preventing smart decision-making.

Sounds messy and time consuming, and it is. It can also get expensive. Work will have to get re-done numerous times and the company could see increased expenses. And the CEO may have to run around fixing problems rather than building the business.

It’s completely understandable why finance does not get the full attention of the CEO in the “start” stage of the business lifecycle. It could be much too early to add a full-time CFO to the payroll. What is usually needed at this point is a part-time controller who can bring order to the mayhem and ensure all the yearly, monthly and daily requirements are done correctly. The role will help the company fend off potential issues and mishaps and keep the back-office running smoothly (and relieve some of the stress that is surely weighing down the office manager). So many startups get themselves in trouble when there’s a lack of order and discipline.

Another smart move around this time is bringing on an outsourced accounting team that can help the overloaded office manager by introducing efficiencies and new processes that will lead to reliable financials and a smooth operation. Over time, the company can work its way up to adding on a part-time CFO, who can provide critical strategic perspective for moving the business forward.

Put another way, the list of risky, rookie mistakes that are distracting to the CEO can shrink dramatically and the leadership can focus more on growth. The goal becomes how to get to the next level rather than “how are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?”

Need more input on the start stage and all the stages that follow? Download our intelligence report, Navigating the business lifecycle, which explores the four stages that companies typically experience, the finance challenges of each, plus real-life examples of organizations that have overcome typical obstacles.

Ron Siporen, a consultant on the RoseRyan dream team, has over 30 years of experience working with startup businesses, and he has been a successful business owner himself. He loves to help companies clean up problems and scale up for growth.

Any fan who watched the San Francisco Giants win their third World Series title in five years could see why this team pulled off such a feat. Throughout the season, the Giants overcame adversity, they acted cohesively, and the star players came through whenever necessary.

While marveling at the Giants’ success, we also saw a parallel between their latest title run and what makes a great finance and accounting team perform their best. After serving clients in Silicon Valley for over 20 years, we have great finance teams on the brain and lots of insight to go with it. Imagine if you had a team like this:

Bruce Bochy as CFO – Every strong team needs a strong leader. As manager, Bochy helped steer the team through the typical ups and downs of a long season. CFOs similarly have to keep a steady ship while navigating their team around the challenging business climate that changes on a quarterly basis. How consistently they lead determines whether they have an average year or can win it all.

Gregor Blanco as VP Finance – All teams need a leadoff hitter who sets the tone, from his first hit, to his strong patrol at center field and his ability to get on base when it’s needed most. Finance teams need this position too. The VP of Finance manages the breadth of the staff functions and provides strategic and tactical support for everyone in the organization. That was why Gregor stood out: He provided key offense and the defensive plays that backed the Giants all season.

Hunter Pence as Director of Finance – Most teams have that Energizer Bunny type—the one who tends to make the big plays at critical times or gets everyone around them pumped up even during tough times. Hunter is that guy as he patrols right field. He’s like the Director of Finance, who helps ensure timely and accurate financial statements and reports that fall under GAAP. Just like Hunter’s key hits, the Director of Finance must deliver in high-pressure environments.

Buster Posey as Controller – The catcher provides the foundation for the team, working with various pitchers and watching out for baserunners. Like most Controllers, Buster keeps the operations of his team rolling along smoothly. He makes sure that all records (and performers) are in order. Without Buster’s steadiness and leadership, the Giants probably wouldn’t have won the trophy.

Pablo Sandoval as Chief Operating Officer – The third baseman has to hit for power, field his position well and handle the “hot corner” with precision. He could have been a COO, known for keeping a steady hand across multiple areas of the business to ensure smooth interdependence between various disciplines within the company. It helps to have someone as popular as the “Panda” in this role to work out the inevitable tough issues that arise.

Michael Morse in an SEC Reporting role – The left fielder hits for power.  Those who have experience and knowledge of SEC reporting are similarly playing with power against unwanted intrusions (inquiries by regulators). They do this by always making sure filings are timely, accurate and compliant.

Brandon Belt in the Accounts Receivable/Accounts Payable team – The first baseman is the rock of the infield, by handling difficult throws, holding runners on base and backing up outfield throws. We saw this time and again with Brandon. He could be trusted to give a consistent performance and to keep members of the infield informed on what he needed from them. A true team player, Brandon would fit right in as part of an AR/AP team, which always needs to be diplomatic and post payments and receivables in a timely manner.

Brandon Crawford as a Technical Accountant – The shortstop has to cut off throws from the outfield, handle difficult grounders in the gaps and turn the double play. Brandon is an inspiration for technical accountants who must deal with the ever-changing world of revenue recognition, equity compensation and audit requirements. They are masters at pivoting when necessary and so was Brandon, who gave top-flight defense throughout the season no matter what was thrown his way.

Joe Panik as an Accountant – Every team has that solid go-to guy. Joe was as steady as they get at second base in the World Series, delivering the key play that helped drive the Giants to the final game win. If he ever needed a second career, he could be an accountant, who supports everything from journal entries to supporting audit requirements. They will do anything to support the team, just like Joe.

Madison Bumgarner as the finance org’s Hero – Every team has a hero, and this is a star pitcher who delivered the key leadership, skills and attitude that delivered a heroic series for the Giants. Accounting teams have similar “heroes” who seem to do the impossible on a regular basis. They meet audit deadlines, get SEC reports out on time and support key accounting projects with quality work. They are the true heroes that help their team win!

We hope you are as excited about the Giants’ World Series champs as us. Their talent, determination and great teamwork made it all possible. Let’s revel in this inspiring win.

Chris Vane is a director at RoseRyan, where he leads the development of the finance and accounting firm’s cleantech and high tech practices. He can be reached at [email protected] or call him at 510.456.3056 x169.