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Catalyst for Change

By J. Stephen McNally, CMA, CPA
October 1, 2018
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Management accountants have the opportunity to be changemakers in their organizations.

 

Seismic shifts are dramatically changing the business environment in which we operate. We’re facing disruption on many fronts. Whether due to continued market globalization, the complexity of new regulations and standards, investor demands for stronger governance, stakeholder expectations regarding environmental and other social issues, or a growing reliance on evolving technology, disruption has become the norm. Even for organizations at the top of their game, further disruption is likely right around the corner. For most, maintaining the status quo isn’t a formula for success. Regardless of industry, we must adapt, evolve, and change our respective organizations to remain competitive.

 

I’m sure you’re aware of these disruptions and most likely have been facing many of them directly. But what are you, as a financial leader, doing about it? Do you realize that you have the requisite skills and experience to be your organization’s catalyst for change? Are you leveraging the tools in your professional toolbox to be that catalyst?

 

YOUR TOOLBOX

 

The typical management accountant is inquisitive, enjoys solving problems, offers strong analytical and other technical skills, and possesses general business acumen. These qualities and skills, along with a strong business partner mind-set, are the tools needed to be an effective catalyst for change.

 

Inquisitive Nature. Why? Why? Why? We tend to be curious. We ask a lot of questions. Maybe while reviewing capital project requests you notice that the engineers refurbish packaging equipment every five years whether the equipment is used 24/7 or barely once a month. Why? Questioning this practice may lead to a new approach whereby refurbishing equipment is based on predefined usage hours rather than elapsed time, resulting in a significant reduction in overhaul costs. By leveraging your inquisitive nature and challenging the status quo, you can be an effective catalyst for change.

 

Thirst for Knowledge. While reading Strategic Finance, you learn a few tricks and shortcuts that you apply immediately, enhancing your personal productivity. During a session at IMA’s Annual Conference, you hear how another company leveraged technology to streamline its closing process or to enhance decision support via data analytics. After a little more research, you kick off a project to improve your own team’s effectiveness. By nature, we enjoy learning new ideas, hearing about best practices, sharpening our skills, and then applying what we learn. Our thirst for knowledge directly correlates to our ability to drive change.

 

Analytics. During your monthly review of expenses, you notice that spending for operating supplies increased significantly year-over-year. Digging deeper, you determine a spike in label costs in the Beverage area is the key driver. Working with the Beverage Operations, Industrial Engineering, and Purchasing teams, you discover Global Procurement brought in a new, low-cost label supplier. Unfortunately, they’re providing inferior-quality labels that don’t work on your systems. With this evidence, the vendor reimburses you for related losses and monitors its quality more carefully going forward.

 

As a rule, we’re very comfortable analyzing data, trending financial and operational metrics, identifying unusual variances or anomalies, determining underlying root cause, and recommending potential courses of action. Our partners know we can support them in making critical decisions with meaningful analysis. Proactively leveraging our analytical ability can drive change.

 

Attention to Detail. Consistent with the strategic decision to eliminate vertical integration, the Global Supply Chain team is negotiating the sale of the company’s internal pasta business to an external supplier. While reviewing a draft of the long-term supply agreement, you realize there’s no recourse if the supplier can’t meet anticipated volume requirements. A penalty clause is added before the agreement is executed. We’re comfortable with data, digging into the detail and verifying key assumptions. Sometimes the challenges encountered within the process are the catalysts for change.

 

Project Management. Based on benchmarking, your company’s trade spending is significantly higher than that of the competition. A cross-functional task force, including consultants, has been formed to recommend and implement a new strategy. As the team’s Finance liaison, you realize the team’s effectiveness would increase via basic project management. Leveraging our project management expertise, we can be the catalyst for change, even with a team already focused on change.

 

General Business Acumen. Rotating through various roles, leading company-wide, cross-functional projects, and working with numbers, management accountants develop general business acumen. We understand our company, our industry, and the business issues facing our organization. We’re good at seeing the big picture and connecting the dots. We easily identify where change is needed, and we see where continuous improvement opportunities exist.

 

Business Partnership Mentality. You possess the right skills, experiences, and other qualities to be an effective business partner. You have earned a seat at the table. The executive team is considering the pros and cons of entering a comprehensive partnership with a new customer. You will certainly provide a financial perspective. But will you also provide an overall business perspective, ask probing questions regarding strategy, and otherwise support the decision-making process? With the right attitude and a business partnership mentality, you can be a true leader.

 

CALL TO ACTION

 

Leverage your inquisitive nature, business partnership mentality, technical ability, and other tools to be the needed catalyst for change, enabling your organization to survive and thrive despite the incredible disruptions impacting the business environment today.

 

IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

 

The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy

 

J. Stephen McNally, CMA, CPA, is CFO for the PTI/Phoenix family of companies, recognized worldwide for sustainable packaging innovation, based in Holland, Ohio. Steve is also a member of the IMA Global Board of Directors, currently serving as chair of the Member Relations Committee, and a member of IMA’s Toledo Chapter. Previously, he was finance director & controller for Campbell Soup Company’s Napoleon & Flavor Operations, including Campbell’s premier Soup, Sauce, and Beverage facility in Northwest Ohio. You can reach him at j_stephen_mcnally@att.net.
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