Monday Management Minute: A Good Controller is Hard to Find

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Are you running into trouble hiring a new controller for your organization? You’re not alone: According to the 2015 Salary Guide from Robert Half, controller is one of the top 10 in-demand finance and accounting positions right now.

But what exactly makes staffing a controller so challenging? And what can you do to make your staffing search easier? We spoke with Noel Tiell, Robert Half's division director in Orlando, to bring you the expert answers to these queries and provide insight on how to staff this challenging position.

What’s driving the demand?

Two major factors play a role in the heightened demand for controllers. The first is the increasing number of retiring baby boomers. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported in 2014 that about 8,000 baby boomers per day will reach retirement age over the next 18 years. As this generation exits the workforce, organizations will find themselves losing experienced controllers.

The second factor is the aftermath of the recent recession. In leaner years, Tiell says, CFOs had to roll up their sleeves and play a more active role in their organizations, with the result that these individuals had less time to focus on creating a solid staffing succession plan. While Tiell notes that most employers would be happy to promote from within, the lack of viable candidates in the pipeline simply won’t allow it.

Why is staffing the position so difficult?

Adding to the employer’s problem that demand for controllers has increased nationally, the role of controller can vary widely across different organizations. All controllers should be leaders and teachers with strong tech skills, a good understanding of financial statement preparation and GAAP analysis, and an ability to understand myriad accounting operations and job functions. But, as Tiell explains, “Controller is a tough position to put in a box, because a controller’s role at a large company is different from that of a controller at a midsize organization.”

What can CFOs do to ease the staffing process?

It’s common knowledge that the certified public accountant (CPA) credential reigns supreme in today’s financial world. However, while this certification may be crucial in larger firms, Tiell notes that many smaller and midsize organizations have good controllers who don’t hold a CPA. “Sometimes a really good understanding of accounting and the specific industry is more important than education and certification pedigree,” he says. For employers willing to expand their search to candidates not holding the certification, the pool of available talent can expand significantly. 

There’s no escaping the reality that impending mass retirement by baby boomers and inadequate succession planning have made it a challenge to staff controller positions. While there’s no perfect solution, employers may find that reaching out to a specialized staffing agency for help is the best way to start the search for a controller.

What difficulties have you found in staffing controllers? Share your insight in the comments section.