HR & Management

Hiring a new financial controller

6 min read

22 December 2014

Former editor

The role of finance director in the fast-paced, entrepreneurial organisations we work with at EquityFC is extremely broad.

The finance director will be expected to have visibility across the entire organisation and will be at the forefront of guiding the strategic direction of the business alongside the chief executive. 

As a result, the finance directors we work with place an extremely high value on recruiting financial controllers who have the technical, commercial and emotional bandwidth to take ownership of the day-to-day finance function. 

The relationship between the finance director and financial controller in these businesses is one which needs to work almost intuitively to ensure that the finance director can confidently take time to step away from the daily detail, safe in the knowledge that they have a strong number two who is capable of flagging issues and dealing with them before they become business critical. 

From the financial controller’s perspective, it is important that they work with a finance director who will take an interest in developing their skills by giving them autonomy and visibility within the organisation. 

This is a key point. The relationship between the finance director and financial controller can be critical to the success of the organisation as a whole. Thus, getting it right when hiring becomes not just a finance issue but a business issue. Running a full and engaged recruitment process tends to give the finance director time to flush out potential issues and challenges.

Bringing a new financial controller into the business will normally breathe new life and energy into the function as a whole and will often cause a finance director to reassess the current talent within the team. This gives an opportunity to empower other members and release some of their talent and ability to add value.

Hiring the right financial controller at the right point in time will also allow the finance director to pre-empt any future challenges the business might face and more constructively plan for growth. For a finance director who themselves has recently joined a business, recruiting a new financial controller will allow them to hire someone who will be 100 per cent aligned with their plans having ensured that these are discussed clearly in the hiring process.

On the more challenging side, perhaps, a finance director who is hiring a new financial controller needs to be acutely aware of the cultural dynamic within the finance function and the rest of the business and must base a large part of their selection criteria on finding the right “fit”. Failure to do so can lead to uncertainty and disruption as there are no hiding places in an SME.

Ensuring that a financial controller is at the right level in their career is also key. On the one hand the finance director will need to recruit someone who can do the job as it stands, but it is equally important to bring a financial controller into the business who has the capacity to grow and develop as the business expands, in particular if there are succession planning issues to consider. A successful finance director/financial controller relationship will often hinge on their respective skill-sets dovetailing. Thus, a strategic finance director who has not worked at the coal-face in an overly technical capacity should think twice before hiring a carbon copy. It would be advisable to seek a controller with first-class technical reporting and financial controls experience to ensure that finance is on point, delivering meaningful and accurate information.

It is also very important to discuss a plan for how the financial controller role will develop. Most financial controllers will say that their ambition is to develop into a finance director in the future, so it is important that the finance director assesses where they are on that ‘ambition curve’ and can accommodate it in the more general plans for the business. 

Ultimately, the key focus of the financial controller in a growth business will be to take ownership of the finance function to allow the finance director to deliver on a more strategic level. Most ambitious financial controllers will be seeking a finance director/financial controller relationship with is sufficiently close for them to develop new skills, whilst also giving them the autonomy to build their own reputation within the business. As a result, it is important that the finance director has a clear idea of what they want from their number two, and what their hire requires and is expecting in terms of career development. A significant part of the discussions in any recruitment process should be spent discussing this balance. Thus, it is imperative to get an honest dialogue going between the finance director and the potential financial controller and ensure that both sides understand fully what the plan for the business is.

Hire in haste – repent at leisure.

EquityFD and its sister business EquityFC and EquityInterim recruit for senior finance roles into growth companies across the UK. Please contact James Magee on jamesmagee@equityfc.com.