You’ve Got a First-Rate Finance Department

The hallmarks of a great workplace for finance professionals aren't necessarily what you'd think.

(Taking a stand against a CEO can be a perilous business for finance staffers, particularly CFOs. The situation can be complicated by the often peculiar relationship between the chief executive and the chief of finance. To get a fuller understanding of that symbiosis — and see how some CFOs have stood up to difficult bosses — read “What Makes CFOs Tick?“.)

7. There’s a Will — and Finance Finds a Way

As the signers of the checks, finance-department staffers not surprisingly tend to guard operating cash the way a Sumo wrestler guards a Kit-Kat bar. But in the pursuit of fiscal responsibility, some finance departments go overboard. In fact, Johnsson observes that poorly run finance organizations often fall into the trap of killing every new idea solely because it costs too much money up front.

Conversely, first-rate finance departments try to find ways to turn a great — but seemingly unprofitable — idea into a money-maker.

Johnsson tells of an experience at a food company that wanted to increase its sales of barbecue sauce. The food business, notes Johnsson, is often governed by “lore” — that is, there’s a lot of “We’ve tried this before, and it doesn’t work for this reason.” At this company, the wisdom held that chicken consumption is linked to barbecue consumption, and yet, chicken consumers weren’t buying barbecue sauce. Maybe people don’t like barbecue sauce?

When a new sauce was proposed by the company, however, the finance team didn’t nix the idea outright. Instead, the team did some research of its own. Through in-depth regression analysis, the finance department found that in fact, the favorite meat of barbecue fans is not chicken — it’s pork. The company was able to increase sales of barbecue sauce by encouraging pork consumption.

8. Your Staff Is Laughing with You, Not at You

For Chris Pergola’s finance staff, a sign of a great workplace is the option of knocking off early for a taping of “The Daily Show.” But then, Pergola’s staff works for Comedy Central.

Still, anyone who’s worked anywhere can attest that a great workplace vibe does wonders for productivity and quality and of work. Work was knee-deep at the Comedy Central finance offices when we spoke to Pergola. The cable network was in the throes of completing a sale of half the company to Viacom (which already owned the other half).

“I’m not exaggerating, because I’m looking at it as I’m talking to you,” CFO Pergola told us in a telephone interview at the time. “There’s a stack of documentation about three feet high — HR documents, employment contracts, vendor contracts, etc. — and it was all put together in one week.” He attributes this accomplishment to the spirit of teamwork and collegiality he’s fostered within his finance department.

Pergola and other Comedy Central executives help maintain this atmosphere with morale-boosting perks such as free coffee, summer hours, company outings, and a softball team. But a key step in cultivating team spirit is a practical one: a two-week operations training program. In addition to fortifying finance with operations experience, the system also creates a backup network within the department by requiring finance workers to pick up the slack for absent colleagues.

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