The People Who Count

With too few accountants to go around, companies are grabbing people wherever they can find them.

Another response is to focus on job content — in particular, splitting up onerous jobs among several people or even outsourcing certain tasks to avoid burning out one person. That’s what TiVo did last year when it finally filled that internal-audit position. While the previous person in that role had responsibility for internal controls and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, West says that the job has been reconfigured to include coordinating internal resources as well as outside service providers. “We felt that was an important way to make the position attractive,” says West, “and it’s better for controls to have more checks and balances.” And, after job burnout compelled its previous controller to leave the profession, TiVo has also focused on lightening the load of current controller Anna Brunelle by boosting the skills of employees reporting to her.

In addition to recrafting jobs, CFOs also face the more daunting task of recrafting entire career paths. Creating “promotability” has become “the biggest challenge in keeping existing employees satisfied,” says Lanny Baker, senior vice president and CFO at Monster Worldwide. Most of the 25 people who report to him at Monster’s New York headquarters spent four to seven years at CPA firms and have been with Monster for about three years, making them ripe for a change. The dilemma is that new jobs would likely mean global relocation and travel — the other 100 finance positions are in units across the United States and Europe — and “it’s hard to get people in corporate to feel like they’re getting ahead by going out in the field,” Baker says.

That’s true even at the largest companies. “You have to show them they have a career path here or they might go somewhere else,” says Dell CFO Jim Schneider. To keep his international finance team of 4,500 from “feeling like the only way they can get promoted is to wait for someone to move or retire,” Schneider relies on formal job categories that make it easier for him to track available positions, and he holds quarterly discussions with other top managers regarding the career prospects for a group of 60 to 100 finance employees. “We don’t want to have everyone ‘stovepiped.’ We’re trying to look at people across the organization and provide rotational assignments,” he explains. “It could be an international assignment or movement from one area of finance to another to enhance employee development and have people who understand all parts of our business.” He has also tried to instill a sense of ownership into his team by having as many as 100 of his nearly 2,000 U.S. finance employees serve on committees associated with employee retention, training, and career development.

Still, Schneider is the first to admit that carving out attractive career-development paths is not a foolproof method of keeping staff. He recently lost three top finance managers, including former chief accounting officer Bob Davis (now CFO of CA), to “companies that want to leverage what we’ve been doing.”

When it comes to battling accounting firms, though, CFOs may find that success hinges less on offering the same pay and benefits and more on offering a different challenge. When Tom McGauley left PwC last November to become manager of financial reporting at Decode Genetics, a small biotech firm based in Reykjavik, Iceland, he welcomed the chance to play a more strategic role. “Sarbanes-Oxley changed the landscape of what you could do for a client,” he says. “It made us the accounting police rather than a trusted business adviser.” If CFOs hope to lure more finance staffers away from accounting firms, they will have to take those words to heart and learn how to accentuate the positive — augmented by a competitive compensation package, of course.

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