The sound of a large public company hitting the wall can be deafening—i.e., a front-page news story or a radical stock drop. Or it may occur slowly, almost silently over time, perhaps from stealthy competitor moves, a slower pace of innovation or hundreds or thousands of employees trying to adjust to strategy shifts and confusing directives. No matter what the reason for the disruption, the finance team, sometimes with the help of outside experts, plays a major role in the enterprise’s ability to dust itself off and reinvent itself for the future.

Big changes at a mature enterprise—growth spurts and turnarounds or spinoffs and restatements—definitely put a strain on finance teams. It’s a time when what’s needed most is tenacity and the ability to shift gears, to help guide the company through the trouble spots and keep it on course.

After all, the finance team plays a critical role in crafting the company’s future. They intimately know the ins and outs of running the company, along with the history. If they are fully staffed with the right mix of talents and skills, they can pave the way for the true business strategists to make sound decisions based on thoughtful, practical analysis of the team’s robust data and intelligence. The team’s wisdom can really influence the decision making.

Coping with growth and complexity

Mature companies need to continually evolve their product lines to survive. It may be time to reach out to new markets—or risk losing market share. The competitive atmosphere changes rapidly, and they must be nimble to adjust to new realities.

One major issue for companies during times of fast growth is finding the talent they need. Companies can bridge the gap by bringing in sharp consultants to help them get through a growth spurt. One-time transactions can knock the wind out of a team and the workload can be daunting. That’s when experienced consultants can be extremely useful to pick up the extra load, manage velocity and augment the staff with specialized expertise.

Coping with a downturn

At some point, a deceleration typically happens. The natural nimbleness of the startup phase is long gone, rapid growth is no longer a given, and the hard-fought battle for the IPO or an acquisition has already played out. A bunch of employees might be heading for the door. A shift in strategy is causing chaos among hundreds or thousands of employees, and there are complex global product lines to manage. Companies trying to stem the tide of departing employees can fill the gaps using interim consultants, such as an outsourced controller, accounting manager, SEC reporting maverick or other savvy finance pro, who can help the business move forward.

This is the mature enterprise stage in the business lifecycle where the ups and downs of staying relevant and gaining ground are challenging. The challenges have grown along with the company’s maturity and complexity. The reporting, compliance and regulatory issues are piling up, along with the ever-increasing demands from the board and investors. The finance team feels the pain firsthand and leads the way by rebalancing the business plan, cutting expenses and extracting efficiencies from every process. The team has years of transactions and data to mine, and sharp analysis and insights are critical to help the company stay afloat and turn itself around.

Consider some of the big ways that the enterprise can fall off course:

  • Shifting regulatory environment: Companies must stay on top of changing compliance and regulations in their space. For instance, implementing a huge new accounting standard (like the new revenue recognition rules or leasing rules) usually is a multi-year effort involving various systems and teams from different departments.
  • A spin out: A divestiture can pack a wallop to internal finance teams as well. “When a large company takes on a complex transaction, like we did with the divestiture of our information management business, it requires a lot of support,” Maddy Gatto, corporate controller of Symantec, a RoseRyan client, told us. Indeed, the finance team of an evolving company often commissions the services of multiple consulting firms and advisors at the same time. It can be a complex challenge to manage those partnerships and make the most of their assistance.
  • A messy restatement: If internal controls aren’t tight and financial reports can’t be trusted, a restatement may result. Yikes! Frankly, this would be a disaster for any company, and a PR nightmare. Maverick corporate controllers can ensure reliable reporting, and SOX experts can get the company through the compliance needs.

Onward and upward

Keeping to the status quo is not an option for companies at any stage. Massive change is inevitable. When it’s time to pivot, the finance team has a chance to shine. By adding in specialized finance experts as needed to help them navigate the tough spots, a company’s finance team can breathe easier. They can together discover the path forward, make the company more efficient and hopefully raise the valuation of the company.

Whether it’s coping with a wild upswing or a dramatic downturn, the finest finance teams move into swift action to get through it.

Not yet at the mature-enterprise stage? See our blog posts on handling the balancing act of the startup, managing through rapid growth and accelerating through on an IPO or M&A deal.

Maureen Ryan, vice president at RoseRyan, heads up business development and helps companies calm the chaos. From meeting with hundreds of companies of all sizes and types, she has seen the emotional rollercoaster of the business lifecycle first hand. Maureen has seen the ups and downs during her early career in various engineering, sales and marketing roles. She’s held positions at Nortel Networks, Bay Networks, Quantum Corp and General Dynamics.

A crazy sprint in the middle of a marathon would leave anyone gasping for oxygen. It’s not sustainable. Go too fast and there’s a risk of real burnout. Then again, go too slowly and there’s the risk of a competitor catching up and taking away your lead.

Sound familiar? Companies are always in the turbulence of growth, whether they’re chasing after it or striving to complete a mega transaction, like an IPO. And CFOs are at the helm of it all. On top of all the roles that they already take on at their company, finance chiefs are also guiding the velocity. Are they deploying the right amount of resources, or are they expending them much too quickly? Thoughtful growth is the secret.

RoseRyan director Stephen Ambler, who has served as CFO in several companies, shares his wisdom about the essential areas in finance that need the close attention of senior finance executives. These include:

Cash flow: Finance organizations can’t afford to look away for a minute. Literally. In RoseRyan’s latest intelligence report, A CFO guide for managing resources, Stephen relays the tough squeeze one company fell into when it lost a grip on its cash position. Sounds unbelievable, but it does happen, and it can sink the ship.

Growth strategy: The pace of growth is not always something the company can control, but a realistic forecast and deliberate path should be developed—wild guesses have no place here.

Talent: It’s about timing and understanding that you get what you pay for—even with people. That includes knowing when hiring junior-level employees does or does not make sense. Having the wrong mix of people may actually cost the company more over time. And today’s world is all about outsourcing. Know when to bring in the ninja team to get things done in a tough, overflow situation.

Upgrading systems: Get a sense of when the company has outgrown processes and systems (QuickBooks can be awesome as a small-business accounting program but an upgrade will be needed when the company has the public markets in its sights). Are the systems in place scalable and appropriate for the company’s size and complexity? If not, it might be time for an upgrade.

Managing resources well is an ongoing effort. No matter what size company or how fast you are growing, the same essential best practices will help you to stay in control of your financial situation. Be the steady hand at the helm. Along the way, don’t hesitate to lean on trusted advisors who can help you over the finish line.

Is your company galloping ahead without a well-centered plan? Or are you too conservative in your spending approach? To understand growth path considerations, check out A CFO guide for managing resources.