The Relationship Between Controllers and CEOs: Driving Success Together

Sep 18, 2023 | C-Suite Dynamics, CEO Insights, Finance

Corporate leaders rely on data to drive their strategic decisions. Today’s CEOs look for strong relationships with their financial teams. What relationship should controllers and CEOs expect, and how can that contribute to the success of their organization?

Defining the Relationship: How Company Size Influences the Dynamic

First, knowing where each role falls on the organizational chart is important. In small to midsize companies, the financial controller tends to function as the senior financial leader. This means that they will report directly to the CEO.

But at enterprise and public corporations, there’s usually a CFO. In these cases, the CFO will have the most direct relationship with the CEO, though the organization may still contain one or more controllers that report to the CFO. However, any organization can pursue greater efficiency by pursuing strong relationships between CEOs and their financial teams.

The Benefits of Strong Relationships

What can CEOs hope to achieve by fostering strong relationships with their controllers? The following are just some of the benefits of these sorts of relationships.

Enhance Decision-Making

Executive leaders rely on financial data to influence their business decisions. Does the company have the resources for a coming expansion project? What was the ROI of their last marketing campaign?

Controllers can provide access to this sort of data, often even offering real-time information. CEOs can use this data to make well-informed decisions or to shift their strategy to align with their budget.

Drive Business Growth

The financial expertise provided by a controller can drive business growth. That’s because CEOs can use their financial data to assess the ROI of their investments and allocate resources to new initiatives.

Similarly, controllers are often responsible for overseeing the technology that manages the company’s accounting, procurement, and AP/AR processes. These technologies can improve communication and efficiency across the organization, which means that CEOs can do more with less.

Ensure Long-Term Sustainability

By scrutinizing a company’s most valuable data, controllers gain insight into the business at the granular level. They’re often in the best position to spot areas of financial waste or inefficiency. CEOs can rely on controllers to help them optimize their core business processes and ensure they’re on the right track for maximum growth.

Controllers can also guide CEOs on allocating their resources or investing to help improve their long-term success, helping them rise above the competition in a changing business environment.

Essential Elements of a Successful Relationship

A successful collaboration between CEOs and controllers will depend on several important factors. Here are the ways that CEOs and controllers can experience a thriving work relationship.

Aligning Corporate Goals

CEOs and controllers can work together to align company goals. This ensures that the company’s short and long-range plans align with the company budget — or that the company has the necessary resources to invest in new projects and technologies or increase the workplace headcount.

Fostering Communication

The faster information is exchanged, the more agile a business will be. CEOs and controllers can work toward fostering regular communication to keep CEOs and company stakeholders informed about the direction and progress of the company. This also means that controllers will need the requisite communication skills to distill financial data and share it in both formal and informal presentations.

Maintaining Compliance

Companies must adhere to an evolving set of business and financial regulations, some of which are industry-specific. Controllers can assist CEOs in ensuring that their financial processes meet key criteria and help them avoid the penalties that come from violating these standards.

Reviewing Company Data

Again, controllers will have the most detailed understanding of a company’s finances. They’ll be uniquely qualified to help CEOs analyze and understand their historical data as well as assemble meaningful financial forecasts. They may be able to highlight problem areas or provide the data needed for strategic planning.

Evaluating Supplier Relationships

Supplier relationships are an important piece of the financial puzzle. Controllers can help CEOs evaluate the ROI of their supplier contracts. They may even be able to recommend solutions for negotiating supplier contracts or pursuing a broader supplier network to save money.

Implementing New Technologies

Controllers rely on the latest technology to manage company financial data. Depending on their software platform, these tools can integrate into the company’s larger ERP software. Controllers can help CEOs leverage these tools to run the business more efficiently and share data across the entire company.

The Best Resources for the Road Ahead

Companies that nurture strong relationships between controllers and the C-suite can expect better performance and employee engagement. Controllers may feel a greater sense of value in their ability to guide company strategy. CEOs may likewise feel more confident in their leadership, knowing they’re backed by the best data — and the best people — the company can offer.

Additional C-Suite Resources

Aligning Vision and Finances: The Key to a Successful CEO-CFO Alliance in Modern Enterprises

Controller to CFO — CFO to CEO: Career Paths

How To Build Balance Success As A Top Executive


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