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What is a controller?
The controller accompanies company decisions in the role of »business conscience«. Contrary to what the title suggests, however, only a small area of responsibility of the controller has to do with control. Rather, his analyzes serve to derive recommendations for action for the management of the company, to communicate them to the management and to act as a competent sparring partner for possible decisions.
The most important things in 5 seconds
- Education: Successfully completed business studies, ideally with a focus on controlling or alternatively finance/accounting
- Starting salary: €45,000
- Top salary: €100,000
- Opportunities for advancement: Senior Controller, Corporate Controller, Head of Controlling, CFO
What does a controller do?
The tasks in controlling are often distributed in terms of content, e.g. according to business units, subsidiaries or departments such as production, sales, supply chain, purchasing, human resources, etc. Here the controller acts as a business partner, develops specific key figure systems and analyzes the key figures relevant to control support area management.
Controller responsibilities include:
- Responsibility for budget planning and, if necessary, forecasts for the areas to be supported
- Carrying out target/actual analyzes of the planned budgets or forecasts and deriving recommendations for countermeasures
- Presentation of the analyzes and derived recommendations to company decision-makers and/or external stakeholders (e.g. banks)
- Further development of the control-relevant key figures (KPIs) and the relevant IT tools
- Optimization of processes and methods in controlling
- Observation of relevant developments in the market, with the competition or at the legal level
- (Partial) responsibility and support for projects relevant to controlling (IT introduction, corporate transaction, etc.)
- Processing of ad hoc requests
- Commercial support for projects in the department
How do you become a controller?
- Successfully completed business studies, ideally with a focus on controlling or alternatively finance/accounting
- Depending on the controlling role, another focus may also be relevant: for example, logistics for supply chain controlling, sales for distribution controlling, engineering for production/plant controlling
- alternatively: successfully completed commercial training and further training(s) in controlling ((I)HK, CA Controller Academy)
- Practical experience in controlling, starting with internships/working student jobs or from related areas (e.g. auditing)
- Very good MS Excel skills
- Experience in using presentation tools as well as ERP and/or BI tools
- at least good knowledge of English; possibly other foreign languages
What does a controller earn?
up to €100,000
The salary range for controllers is very broad and ranges from around € 45,000 to €100,000 per year. In addition to personal qualifications, the salary depends on several factors, such as professional experience, the location and industry of the employer, as well as individual negotiation skills and the current labor market conditions.
Below are some salary examples:
- Experience: A controller with two years of professional experience usually earns less than a controller with 15 years of experience.
- Location: Salaries are higher in Hamburg than in Schwerin.
- Industry: Companies in the pharmaceutical, armaments and tobacco industries usually pay higher salaries than companies in the publishing, fashion or retail sectors.
- Negotiation skills: Selling yourself and your achievements to your manager at the right time in order to raise your salary works better for some than for others. It is important to address it actively and justify it with performance.
- Earnings situation of the company: Particularly profitable companies often reward their employees separately in monetary terms, for example with an additional salary. Other monetary benefits (in-house coffee bar, payment for a fitness studio subscription, meal allowances, subsidized canteen, etc.) may also be offered.
- Change of company: The increase in salary is often particularly high when the employer changes.
- Competition on the market: The lower the competition on the job market, the greater the chances of a higher salary. In Hamburg, for example, there are few industrial companies, so experienced factory/production controllers are hard to find. Even if the company requires special foreign language or IT skills, the suitably qualified candidate will be happy about their higher market value.
What do you expect from the controller?
The controller should primarily be analytical and have an affinity for numbers. Combined with a high level of perception, he can record, analyze and accompany possible business decisions of the company. In order to be accepted as a sought-after sparring partner, you need to be able to communicate confidently.
He fills the degrees of freedom in the design of control instruments reliably, proactively and creatively. Good resilience helps to deliver well-founded and reliable results even in peak periods (such as budget planning, ad hoc analyzes for management, projects such as company acquisitions and sales).
Opportunities for advancement as controller
A communicative, proactive and likeable controller is a welcome contact person within the area to be looked after or with management in a short time. The resulting professional network can only be beneficial for the professional development of the controller within the company. A change to a more responsible role in the area to be supervised (for a financial controller eg the management of a working capital project, for the investment controller eg the team leader of the controlling of the subsidiary) often proves to be a promising first step on the career ladder.
The role of head of controlling is desirable for many and therefore associated with high competition. Proving yourself on the job, assuming responsibility and above-average professional commitment are essential prerequisites for qualifying as a manager in controlling.
Controllers are potential managing directors
Depending on your ambition, you may not yet have reached the top of the career ladder in the management of a controlling department. The next steps are the overall management of the finance team up to the CFO, then the overall commercial management or entry into the management.
In order to achieve ambitious career goals, controllers should not only be self-motivated but also have a high degree of flexibility, both in relation to the place of work, the industry and the choice of employer.
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