My Experience As A Controller At A Tech Company So Far

The tech company I work for was publicly traded until a U.S.-based private equity firm acquired it and took it private. This transition opened up new opportunities, and I was promoted from Senior Accountant to Controller. Along with my promotion, we also expanded our team by hiring a new accountant, giving me oversight of a team of two. I report directly to our CFO/COO.

It has only been a month since I officially stepped into my first management role, but I’ve already made the necessary behavior and mindset change. The ownership change and our focus on profitability have shaped my working environment. As I mark my first month as a controller, I’m writing this post to share my initial observations.

Team Management

While I haven’t had much official management experience, I’m familiar with training and mentoring. My drive to exceed expectations and streamline processes naturally led me to take on mentorship roles, even when they were never part of my formal job responsibilities.

However, being someone’s official manager is different. As a manager, you are accountable for your team’s performance—both good and bad. The praise you once received for merely assisting a colleague now evolves into a responsibility for setting clear expectations and ensuring their work meets the required standards. Moreover, your evaluation now encompasses not only your performance but also that of your team. Fortunately, my team is relatively small, which is an advantage given the current stage of our company. A significant part of ensuring our success involves clarifying our priorities to the team. With so many potential improvements and tasks, my primary role now includes training, providing feedback, and helping to prioritize tasks to align with the company’s goals.

Thus, one of the most significant changes since becoming a controller is this: I now need to take responsibility for more than just myself.

Prioritizing & Clear Communications

After becoming a controller, I quickly realized that I needed to do more than just prioritize my own day; I also had to assist my team in prioritizing theirs.

This need doesn’t stem from a lack of ability on their part to prioritize independently. Rather, it’s a crucial part of my role as their manager to guide them in aligning their priorities with the company’s needs. Personally, I’ve always appreciated it when my managers would highlight tasks that were particularly important or time-sensitive, advising me to focus exclusively on those. Clear communication has always helped me organize my day more effectively, and I aim to provide the same clarity for my team. This approach also opens the door for them to be transparent and inform me if there are any obstacles hindering their progress.

Avoiding Burnout By Avoiding Overtime

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed before my promotion. In fact, it was the most stressed I had ever been in my career. While I was 100% confident in my abilities as an individual contributor, I had doubts about my capability to lead a team effectively without burning out. I’ve previously shared my experiences with working minimal overtime in an industry where overtime is unfortunately common. I never want a promotion or raise to change that—I would even turn down a raise or promotion if it meant having to work overtime regularly. So, my biggest concern was whether I could deliver as a controller while maintaining the work/life balance I’ve cherished for the last seven years.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve managed to maintain my work/life balance while training a new team member by:

  • Holding regular check-ins with my team (daily syncs lasting anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes). I’m not a micro-manager, but given our stage of constant changes, these regular meetings help keep the team on track.
  • Being open with my manager. I intentionally share details to ensure that both my manager and I are aligned regarding my team’s priorities and capacities.
  • Focus on improving processes by streamlining and/or automating. I’m constantly looking for ways to leverage ChatGPT, Power Query and integration to get more done with less.
  • Understanding my job responsibilities and the criteria for my evaluation.
  • Being a team player, ready to assist whenever possible. However, there are times when I must decline requests if they conflict with my priorities. I keep in mind that ‘your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part,’ although this isn’t a rule I apply indiscriminately, it guides me when evaluating requests from various directions.

Final Thoughts On Becoming A Controller

I’m glad I seized this opportunity, despite my internal doubts.

Although there’s still much for me to learn and achieve, I now truly feel that this step was the right one for me. I’ve enjoyed my role as an individual contributor for the past seven years, but deep down, I knew I was ready for a different challenge. Earlier this year, two former managers approached me with management opportunities—as a controller and an assistant controller. They sparked something within me and encouraged me to pursue the controller path, even though I had previously considered advancing further as an individual contributor in analysis.

I can’t predict how I’ll feel about this change in the next 6 to 12 months. For now, however, I am concentrating on acquiring valuable skills like team and project management, which will serve me well wherever my career takes me next.

*I was the team lead for an AP team briefly few years ago so this is technically my second; but since the experiencw was so short, I consider my recent promotion my first official management role