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What is a corporate controller?
Group controllers work in the finance departments of national and international companies. Its task is to present operational management with a cumulative picture of the profitability of the entire company at regular intervals, based on the information collected from the affiliated companies and parts of the company.
Of course, corporate controllers – also known as groups or corporate controllers in English-American parlance – are primarily concerned with financial figures and data that they collect – many from accounting, but many already from ‘division controllers’ or the controllers from other parts of the group of companies. Group controllers use this to create group reports that inform management at regular intervals about the development of sales, costs and revenues. They provide statistics and profitability calculations, target/actual comparisons and variance analyses, but also evaluations on special topics that management needs to answer questions from investors, the supervisory board or other bodies.
And last but not least, the reports of the group controllers are also of great importance because they form an essential part of short and long-term planning, for M&A and for acquisitions. Group controllers are therefore always involved in the strategic decisions of a company and have a corresponding influence on the future course setting.
Group controllers…ensure comparable data collection
Conclusions and recommendations require a deep understanding of the procedures and processes in the companies for which group controllers are responsible – and how numbers are generated. Group controllers must work closely with the IT departments of the affiliated companies to ensure that uniform collection standards are implemented and adhered to. They are responsible for organizing existing database structures in such a way that there is an overview of all group-wide activities and thus an optimal form of group reporting is guaranteed. This is a special challenge, especially for internationally active companies. Examples of this are the cost allocation between group subsidiaries or the comparison of international salary and bonus structures.
…are responsible for acquiring and exchanging knowledge
An essential characteristic of good group controllers is the observation of current market developments and the ability to look ahead and outside the box. This initially requires curiosity, interest and openness, but also the ability to look for the right sources. In addition to the media and associations, the ‘specialist controllers’ that have meanwhile become commonplace also come into play here, with their special focal points such as e.g. B. production, sales, financial or logistics controlling are important suppliers of information. In larger corporations in particular, it is one of the tasks of the corporate controller to recognize the need for such specialist knowledge and to hire the appropriate specialists.
…must also be communication experts
The more extensive and detailed reports are, the greater the risk that they will become confusing. It is therefore the responsibility of corporate controllers to summarize numbers, data and statistics in such a way that meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them. The ability to reduce amounts of data to the essentials – to separate the data ‘chaff’ from the data ‘wheat’ – and to create ready-to-decide templates for decision-makers is therefore one of the basic requirements for corporate controllers.
Good, responsible corporate controllers use their detailed experience to control the big picture and contribute it. They prepare data in such a way that the management has a clear basis for forming an opinion based on their conclusions and recommendations – or, even better: their conclusions are already recommendations according to the motto: ‘Never show findings without conclusions’.
…are sparring partners of the management
Modern software today takes over many routine evaluations and creates reports largely independently. Experts believe that AI will accelerate this trend, making standard reports increasingly meaningful. The demands on corporate controllers generally increase with the size of the company and the complexity of the processes – they will continue to increase the more the ‘IT penetration’ of the company progresses.
It can be assumed that group controllers will be even more closely involved in corporate planning and management. They are management’s sparring partners because they can evaluate and interpret data and numerical developments with regard to their impact on the future and present them effectively. Thanks to these skills, it is also not surprising that many corporate controllers eventually become part of the management themselves or even lead the management team. There have often been examples in the past of corporate controllers being ‘promoted’ to the top after a management failure…
There’s nothing like numbers, but…
Group controllers are number-oriented, but by no means fixed on numbers. Their use is therefore fundamentally not tied to a particular industry – it is certainly possible to change industries. But: The greater their industry know-how, the more recognised, influential and consolidated their position within ‘their’ company becomes. Therefore, the path to corporate management often leads through management positions in branches at home or abroad.
The most important things in 5 seconds
- Education: Economics studies with a focus on controlling or comparable qualifications / several years of professional experience in accounting and/or controlling or in finance and accounting
- Starting salary: €75,000
- Top salary: €150,000
- Opportunities for advancement: Depending on the size of the company, head of finance, GF sub-area, promotion to (top) management
What does a corporate controller do?
- Coordination of the individual reports / preparation of the group reports / analysis and commenting on the business development
- Profitability calculations / forecast and planning calculations / short, medium and long-term budget planning
- Planning, implementation, coordination of statistical evaluations / professionalization of reporting
- Processing of group-relevant inquiries about performance, revenue and cost development
- Professional and technical support in data collection and in the creation of a uniform reporting system / coordination of individual activities / assumption of responsibility for the design of the group IT and the sub-areas or subsidiaries
- Expansion and further development of internal reporting / ensuring a uniform data structure
- Support in corporate planning / development of internal benchmarks / interpretation and comments
- Contact person for sub-areas or subsidiaries for controlling issues
- Preparation and/or commenting on planned management decisions / influencing the operational business areas
How do you become a corporate controller?
- Successfully completed business studies with a focus on controlling or comparable qualification
- Relevant professional experience in accounting and/or controlling or in finance and accounting
- Professionalism in dealing with analysis tools and in the processing and preparation of larger amounts of data / secure handling of databases
- Sound knowledge of methods and processes of financial control (planning, forecasting, KPI analysis, value-based management, cash flow, IFRS), ideally already professional experience in this area
What does a corporate controller earn?
up to €150,000
Group controllers earn no less than €75,000, provided they have 2-3 years of professional experience. Depending on the size of the company, the scope of tasks and the ‘scope of responsibility’, €150,000 can also be paid, although high rates of increase are possible – especially if group controllers are promoted to operational management.
What do you expect from the group controller?
Group controllers must have a high affinity for IT and numbers and the ability to reduce numbers and data to the essentials. They are able to quickly penetrate complex issues and, with their understanding of economic relationships and developments, derive the knowledge relevant to decision-making.
Analytical thinking and a structured, goal- and result-oriented way of working are just as indispensable for corporate controllers as a high degree of commitment and a sense of responsibility.
Group controllers are good at communication and know how to present their findings and conclusions in a nutshell.
You have a keen interest in digital developments, including AI. Fluent spoken and written English is a matter of course for corporate controllers.
Opportunities for advancement as corporate controller
Group controller is a logical career step after working as a controller in a smaller unit, which, however, requires one thing: management skills. If this is the case, corporate controllers have many options.
- You can move up to top positions in finance and operational management in your own company or you can manage sub-areas independently and on your own responsibility.
- You can be called to other companies as reorganizers.
- You can take on demanding projects in management consultancies, such as M&A, restructuring, reorganization, etc.
Since their experience is primarily based on numbers and facts, a change of industry (after an appropriate training period) is not a fundamental problem.
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