Job Title: Controller
Education: attended 4 year university, but no degree received
Previous Experience: I started out doing clerical work for various companies, then moved into office management at a small start-up publishing company. I was then trained/mentored on the job (same company) to take on accounting work by a contracted CPA & further on by a CFO. After ten plus years at a successful entrepreneurial company, I was on the market for a new job due to buyout/consolidation and I focused my search on companies that involve a product or service that appealed to me.
Job Tasks: My current employer is a 100 year old family owned seafood processor selling fresh and frozen seafood to high end restaurants, hotels and specialty grocers. I am the controller for two companies under the same ownership (different locations). My primary responsibility is managing the accounting cycle, and overseeing Human Resources and Office management functions. Since I work at a small company (light on administrative staff) my job is very hands-on with regard to the accounting function. I supervise two accounting clerks and an office manager.
My daily tasks involve managing cash, signing checks, on-line banking, creating and posting General Ledger entries, reviewing daily account activity, and processing some of the payroll and Human Resource paperwork. I am responsible for weekly check runs (to our vendors and whole fish purveyors) including reviewing, approving and signing the checks. On a monthly basis I prepare and generate financial statements, reports and analysis. I use a networked computer all day, but there is also a great deal of paperwork that we are required to use and keep on file.
We have an integrated custom software package that is industry specific, so our entire operational activities are all encompassed into one database, for each company, which allows us to generate many different reports that help manage our business. Everything from sales to inventory to accounting is recorded through input in database. We start each day with assumptions and history on customer purchasing needs so that we are continually buying enough fresh and frozen product to fulfill our sales orders. (We have a seasonal product so we must keep an eye on our inventory to assure that we can stock up on frozen seafood as it is available.) Those purchases from our vendors then are funneled into Accounts Payable and to be paid per set schedules. The next step is where production/fulfillment occurs, the orders are shipped out, customer invoices are generated and those funnel into Accounts Receivable showing us what our customers owe on their accounts. Both Accounts Payable and Receivable post under the General Ledger to complete the bulk of the accounting function.
Since there are two companies under the same ownership, I double the accounting responsibilities each week/month. I work closely with the owners, our independent auditors and manage other corporate filings and paperwork associated with our business.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Accounting involves a great deal of repetitive and detail oriented tasks, and it's very cyclical in nature. This can be good if you like some consistency in knowing what your day is likely to entail. It can at times also be a bit mundane. The cycles are mostly predictable although there are usually projects and different government reporting issues that fill in the gaps. There are also the stressful periods when audits are happening, taxes to be filed, and big money/cash flow issues to be managed.
I have, throughout my working life, enjoyed a smaller sized company and this one is no exception. You are never irreplaceable but you are also more valued for your contribution. In my experience, working at a small company with nice people, you tend to have a more relaxed and enjoyable environment, which helps when the job itself has it's less than exciting moments.
Job Tips: It can be good to be a generalist, but having a degree specializing in a certain type of accounting seems to be what most employers are seeking. Smaller companies seem to be a bit more open to generalists because they don't have the budget to hire several specialists.
Find a mentor, especially in your first job(s), and learn as much as you can. It's rare and great opportunity that is not always going to be available as you move farther into your career path.
Figure out what types of companies you want to work for. This may go without saying but if you're not interested in what they produce or the type of corporate model they utilize (including the culture) then it's probably not a good match for long term employment.
Additional Thoughts: You have to like details and be organized. You don't have to be a math wiz but you should like dealing with the practical, methods, including numbers. Accountants will always be needed and you can pick the type of company/industry wherever life leads you.
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