Today’s Accounting Crop: Spoiled Rotten?

Finance chiefs try to cope with a new cadre of finance and accounting employees who just can't sit still.

Enter the “millennium generation” of finance and accounting professionals. Born in 1982 and later, they’re high-maintenance types, requiring a great deal of hand-holding, mentoring, and immediate attention. Even after all that parental supervision, they can be incredibly fickle, choosing to stay at your company just until a better-paying, faster-growing offer comes along. Some may throw a tantrum if they feel like it.

Well, maybe not throw a tantrum. But many senior finance executives complain loudly that the millennials and their slightly older peers are a willful, pampered bunch with scant loyalty to their employers. Other top executives find them rigid and rules-based in their thinking, lacking the proper creativity to move beyond pre-set tasks.

Yet despite such liabilities, many CFOs seem happy to sign on more talented beginners because the competition for employees with finance or accounting smarts is fierce, especially in mature public companies, privately held outfits, and audit firms. In the current recruiting frenzy, students showing accounting aptitude are wined and dined by audit firms when they’re as young as sophomores, professors say.

Given the huge demand for talent and what many see as the short supply of maturity, senior finance executives often find themselves working overtime on staff development. To be sure, Melissa Morales seems young for a curmudgeon. But after two years of constant interviewing to fill her frequently churning 15-person accounting and finance staff at The MC Companies, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based real estate developer, the 36-year-old CFO sounds like the vestige of a prior generation.

Of course, she acknowledges, there are some strong self-starters. But much of the new crop of hirees “definitely need ‘thatta boys’ and ‘thatta girls,’” she says, adding with some exasperation that “you don’t need to be recognized for everything you do.”

Morales also cites a lack of fortitude in the work habits of a few recent recruits. “Some people I’ve worked with, in trying to think something through, get to a point and just throw their hands up,” she says.

By early October, Morales was actually breathing a sigh of relief because her staff had finally reached full strength. But she still regards the current crop as a “picky” one, for whom there constantly “must be something better. They’re always looking for the next thing. There’s no investment of time or commitment” to the employer.

Most rankling was the case of a recent youthful hire who had worked for a small company and a larger, publicly traded one before Morales hired her at privately held MC Cos. After 60 days there, she left for another publicly traded company. Such jumping around was “not the way I was brought up,” the finance chief adds.

True, a fair amount of the wanderlust is likely being generated by recent shifts in the economy. William Kurtz, CFO of Novellus Systems, a semiconductor maker based in San Jose, California, says that he saw a 20 percent turnover in his 100-person finance department in both 2005 and 2006. That upheaval roughly tracks the resurgence of startups and initial public offerings in Silicon Valley after years of slow post-tech-bubble growth. Promising growth rates of 50 percent or more, such companies have been snatching accountants and future controllers from Novellus, which is shooting for growth rates of 15 percent. “These people were high potential people for further growth and development,” he says. “We didn’t expect them to leave.”

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