Growing Up — Job Descriptions

Job descriptions, really, Big Red Car?

Big Red Car here on a gorgeous, sunny Texas day. All the rain has lowered temperatures, everything is green, and it feels like fall already (which doesn’t normally happen until mid-October). Houston is still flooded, but it is starting to drain. Now, the real work begins.

I had a hard time figuring out the right title for this bit of wisdom, so I used Growing Up – Job Descriptions. I would have to give myself a D- on the title. Sorry. The message is deeper than that.

I am seeing a lot of successful startups failing to improve their basic functions as they get out of the cradle into the crawl, walk, run continuum. I am also seeing some struggling to make it so.

Working with a more mature, serial entrepreneur on a largish turnaround, it became apparent how different it is when a startup is using crayons and a more mature enterprise — even a turnaround — is able to operate at a higher level, using fine point pen competence.

So, when do you know that you have to take off the training wheels? Not important, as long as you know you have to one day. Here is an example.

Financial Controller duties

The serial entrepreneur was debating with himself the duties of a Financial Controller to be retained from the turnaround, going concern. The entrepreneur is a seasoned type who actually issues job descriptions BEFORE he hires people. Imagine that?

So, he asks, “Big Red, you have a decent List of Duties for a Financial Controller, do you?” The entrepreneur is Irish and speaks with a lovely Irish accent. Other than Southern accents, the Irish accent is the nicest touch of one’s ear. He’s a shrewd operator, and negotiated a substantial Irish Discount knowing this fact. Those Galway men are a savvy bunch.

“Well, yes, Irish, I do indeed.” The Big Red Car (Brennan from the Country Cork on his mother’s side) will fall into an Irish cadence when speaking to a full-blooded kinsman.

So, he sent him this List of Duties of a Financial Controller. Click on the link.

Financial Controller duties

The duties are not as comprehensive as others might make, but they are more than sufficient to inform a CEO and his Financial Controller as to what the job might entail.

They were drawn up about five years ago when a similar situation presented itself. [Note: This is not a job description. This is a list of duties to be incorporated into a Job Description and Basis of Employment. The BRC can send you an exemplar of that if one is needed.]

OK, job descriptions, why, Big Red Car?

Here’s the core message, y’all: You will not always be a cute, spindly startup. One day, someone will invite you to eat at the adult’s table and this is the kind of stuff the adults are doing.

Secondarily, this has nothing to do with your product. A Financial Controller is someone who facilitates the product and is purely support. A good controller doesn’t even have to understand what you do as long as the money comes in, goes out, piles up, and gets invested or distributed.

You can be a product wizard and still fail because you can’t get the cash flowing in the right pipes. It’s all connected.

Discouraged?

When this description was first slapped together, the recipient (first time founder/CEO whose company had achieved a bit of traction) was scared out of his wits. He said, “Oh my God! I don’t even know what half of that stuff means.”

That’s the crawl part of the crawl, walk, run continuum. Not to worry. It is fine. Nobody knows that stuff until they’ve been blooded in business for a few years, but you can learn and there is no time to begin learning like NOW.

In that instance, the CEO did something else. He hired an outside service to keep his books, but — wait for it — when he was ready to hire a Financial Controller, he did and he did it with style, class, and aplomb. He had kept the document. He made the switch from walk to run.

If you are a startup, treading water, do not be afraid. It’s fine.

Here is what you need to know about how you assimilate financial talent. This blog post corresponds in time to the initial draft of the FC duties. See how that works.

Building an organization — financial talent

Let’s end with this — there is a big, cruel world out there which doesn’t care that you are a cute, furry, adorable startup. If they compete with you, they intend to crush you, make your loved ones howl with lamentations, pile your skulls up, and piss on your grave.

As you grow, you will have to grow up and learn to operate on an infinitely more sophisticated playing field. Thought you would want to know.

OK, don’t feel bad. It’s going to be fine. Keep that list of Financial Controller duties handy and when the time comes, you will be ready — with style, class, and aplomb. If you get stuck, I will coach you through the Valley of Death.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Houston, God bless Houston.

  • Adam Sher

    I read your 2013 post in conjunction with this and that post included a hiring timeline for financial professionals. Unless 1 or 2 people perform all of the duties in the 20-person+ companies, I find it hard to imagine affording so many back-of-house employees.

    Thanks for the post.

    • JLM

      .
      At first the focus should be on part timers. Do not hire real people, hire services and part timers.

      Make your transition to full time people only when you can afford it.

      You will get the feel for it.

      The big point is to upgrade your talent before you really need it. Be one skill level ahead of where you are — if you can afford it.

      BRC
      http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

  • sigmaalgebra

    Yup, thanks. A keeper.

    I downloaded, abstracted, indexed the PDF on the financial controller duties. I didn’t understand all of it — e.g., I know nothing about Sarbanes-Oxley. But I at least recognized more than just half of it!

    The PDF ended with “This is a difficult job.” Yup, before the end, that was obvious.

    For

    Let’s end with this — there is a big, cruel world out there which doesn’t care that you are a cute, furry, adorable startup. If they compete with you, they intend to crush you, make your loved ones howl with lamentations, pile your skulls up, and piss on your grave.

    I’d wondered about just that. I’ve heard of nuisance law suits but wondered if there could be more ways to be attacked by enemies.

    So, maybe one way to be attacked would be to have, call it, messy books and then get dragged into some official situation where suddenly need squeaky clean books.

    Gee, as a start, I did look into, see, try, and was successful at downloading a file of my bank transactions! Yup, the file was dirt simple to parse; it would be really easy to write a little software to do routine things with that data. But, yup, there is accounting software that can read that data and make the appropriate uses of it.

    For those financial controller duties, just the computing part is challenging:

    Backup? A biggie. I have a good solution now, but some of it was not so easy to get right.

    Computer security? A huge pain. Don’t want just any angry employee taking home the crown jewel, trade secret, intellectual property of the company on a USB thumb drive!

    For

    Secondarily, this has nothing to do with your product. A Financial Controller is someone who facilitates the product and is purely support. A good controller doesn’t even have to understand what you do as long as the money comes in, goes out, piles up, and gets invested or distributed.

    reading the duties, etc., I wondered about that. Then for

    He hired an outside service to keep his books,

    So the bookkeeping part is essentially generic. Okay. And some of the rest can be fairly general across lots of companies even if not fully generic. So, some of those duties could be done by some outside organizations, maybe at first, the books by a town storefront CPA.

    The downside would be? Security? Cost? Have to cough up cash to get the old data so that can move to an in-house solution?

    And, maybe, I’d guess yes, there are some software packages that do the generic parts of those duties.

    Generally I’ve heard that lots of earnings provide options that can help to solve lots of such problems! So, one approach — lots of earnings!

    One book I read on startups was from an example in Texas. His approach to the financial duties was essentially a cigar box. When it was nicely green, he was okay. When it started to be less green, he wasn’t! I guess that was well before Sarbanes-Oxley, etc.!

    Once I was the applied math, statistics guy at GE Information Services and happened to visit the accounting department. It was packed with filing cabinets and huge stacks of paper and had almost no empty floor area left! In awe, I asked the main guy,

    “Is all of this really necessary?”.

    His answer was:

    “It can all also be done with just a checkbook.”

    Hmm …. Guess that was also well before Sarbanes-Oxley or having to respond to a tax audit quickly!

    And I’ve wondered about the HR stuff — policies, record keeping, etc. My main experience with HR was as an employee or person looking for a job.

    When looking, HR was mostly socially polished, expert young women who knew nothing about the job I was applying for and apparently immediately concluded I was socially awkward and I should not be hired. They were right about the first and maybe wrong about the second!

    As an employee, HR seemed to be people who wanted to judge people only on social polish — one of my D- subjects!

    But social polish aside, apparently it can be from important up to crucial to have good enough HR record keeping.

    My guess is that a lot of US small business guys keep the “financial duties” just dirt simple, break, bend, ignore, or never read a lot of the rules, fill out the required forms with dirty hands and a short, dull pencil, and make corrections later if and only if some tax guy raises hell!

    Right, the post was aimed at companies starting to become significant! Got that! I’ll read it again when and if my business becomes significant!

    In the meanwhile, work on becoming significant!

    Latest: For a production computer, main memory with error correcting coding (ECC) can be important. Well, Intel has supported ECC only on their high end, really expensive, server processors, but AMD has long supported ECC on nearly every processor, e.g., their $140 or so 8 core, 4.0 GHz, FX-8350. The motherboards for AMD processors have also supported ECC, even on a $100 motherboard. And the memory suppliers, e.g., Kingston, Crucial, have also offered appropriate ECC memory.

    But now (1) Microsoft wants ECC for full support for their Windows Server 2016 and (2) cheap processors, motherboards, and main memory with ECC suddenly have “Gone with the Wind”.

    So, I’m getting sour on Windows Server and, then, also SQL Server. I’ve written my software using SQL Server, really as an investment in the future; e.g., much of the financial duties will want SQL Server or the equivalent.

    But so far my software really needs only some simple direct access files with fixed length records, and just programming that stands to be easier than just installing SQL Server and/or Windows Server. So, I looked into just doing direct access I/O: Piece of cake. Then for the relevant files, one of the new solid state disks (in production, the files are read-only) should be terrific!

    Ah, with the sudden ECC problems, got a shot in the foot that only hurt the boot and found a solution good enough for a long time!

    Ah, before the financial duties must come some finance, that is, revenue!

  • JLM

    .
    What happens when you are no longer a cuddly startup and you have to compete against the big boys? Read about an example here.

    http://themusingsofthebigredcar.com/growing-up/

    BRC
    http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com