How to Hire an Amazing Controller for Your High-Growth SMB By Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments November 2, 2022 As a CFO, one of my main responsibilities is building and managing the finance team at Mesh. Recently, we hired a new employee to fill the role of controller at our company. Fortunately for Mesh and for me, we were able to find an incredible candidate, Asaf Hanegby, and he has hit the ground running in his role. Honestly, this recent process was one of the smoothest I’ve experienced in my career as I was immediately impressed by Asaf and was sure I wanted to hire him after our first call. But, it won’t be so clear-cut for others. The controller position is one of the most impactful hires you can make. They are responsible for ensuring the financials are accurate and complete and for managing the monthly close process. Controllers make sure that all of the financial information has been captured and entered correctly, and they need to be highly skilled and experienced in accounting. Critically, controllers are responsible for ensuring compliance from a tax and audit perspective, and that the company is recognizing everything according to relevant accounting standards. To say that this is one of the most important decisions for CFOs or VPs of Finance is an understatement. So I wanted to share some of my perspectives and insights on what to look for when you hire a controller and how you can ensure you find an awesome employee for the role. Contents hide How to know it’s time to hire a controller Finding a great controller that’s right for your business What to look for in candidates Culture fit How to know it’s time to hire a controller To start, you need to ask yourself whether your business is ready for a controller. It’s common for smaller or new businesses to rely on an external resource to enter information and manage the monthly close. But even then, there still needs to be an internal employee reviewing the process — sometimes the VP of Finance, CEO, or COO, depending on the size and stage of the business. It’s company-specific, but if you feel that your business has a good product-market fit or you’re starting to onboard customers, it’s probably time to bring in an internal resource, and that might be a controller or VP of Finance, who will then start building out the finance team. You might think those external resources could be sufficient, but in my experience, I would recommend hiring a controller sooner than you think you need. This is especially true for high-growth companies. You’re going to want to have someone in place who can build the processes you need to manage financial reporting. If you wait too long, you can end up in a challenging situation with tons of work catching up and cleaning up reporting that wasn’t done properly but could have been had the role been filled in time. Bottom line, If you see the need for a controller on the horizon, it’s actually right around the corner, so be proactive. Finding a great controller that’s right for your business The controller is critical to the finance team, and because of that, the CFO or VP of Finance is naturally going to lead the process. You will of course collaborate with HR, and they will usually do an initial screening, so it’s important to clearly pass along the criteria you are looking for so that you can focus on the best candidates. Keep in mind that you aren’t just hiring a controller – you’re hiring a controller specifically for your company. You need to understand if they have the experience to solve the pain points they are going to experience at your organization. Ask yourself what tools does the candidate have to not only accomplish the general goals of their role but also deal with the unique challenges of your organization. So, in interviews with candidates, I asked questions about how candidates would solve the problems we were facing at Mesh, not just theoretical questions about what a generic controller would face. The controller is responsible for month end, so I would ask what their ideal month-end close process looked like and that helped me see if they truly understood the different steps in the process and how valuable they are, and the sequence they would follow. What to look for in candidates There are lots of different ways to evaluate candidates, but I like to look for three main skill sets when interviewing for the controller position. 1 – They need amazing accounting skills It was a top priority for me to find someone who understood the fundamentals of being a controller, who understood how to produce accurate financials, and who understood GAAP. So that meant I was looking for someone who was a CPA and had prior experience either at a public accounting firm or as a controller. CPAs have the training and appreciation of relevant accounting standards — whether that’s GAAP in the US or IFRS internationally. They will be able to understand those rules and implement them in the financials. 2 – They need great technical skills For anyone I hire, it’s important they have exceptional technical skills — to be comfortable with Excel, to be comfortable with data, and how to drive insights from the data. And the best hires I’ve made in my career have all excelled (pun intended) in those areas. In practice, this means being hands-on, writing formulas, pulling data into a pivot table, and deriving insights that way. With Asaf, when I interviewed him, he took the lead to show me spreadsheets and reports he had created, as well as describing how he would build the reporting infrastructure. That familiarity and technical skill and his initiative were the main factors in our hiring decision. I left my call with him and wanted to hire him straight away. 3 – Team and interpersonal skills It’s easy to say that every employee should be a team player, but the controller is a critical role, and not just for the finance team. There are some roles in a company that are siloed away from other departments, but the controller is the opposite of that. They work with all the departments. They need to understand the requirements, in terms of reporting and building KPIs and metrics, of marketing, sales, and R&D — the whole company. So it’s important to have someone who has the right personality. Someone who can communicate with teams, and help them communicate results. They also need to find ways to illuminate how the spend of the different departments has helped them accomplish their goals and achieve KPIs. That ability, to help teams understand their goals and what they need to be successful, is key. Those are just the criteria I use in evaluating candidates. You will of course need to find criteria that work for you as a hiring manager and fit your company. Culture fit To set the candidate or any new hire up for success, they should understand the challenges of the company. Don’t try to paint a rosy picture, be honest. Share the good parts and the negative ones — and we all know every company has its challenges. The best candidates will be prepared and ready to tackle those challenges with all the energy that comes with knowing the path that lies ahead. Transparency is an incredible value in any relationship, and the relationship between a candidate and a company, or an employee and a manager, is no exception. So show both sides; the opportunities and the challenges. You don’t want someone to start and then realize they aren’t prepared for the challenges they will face. Beyond that, challenges are opportunities — especially to the right candidate. If your company is just getting started, the right candidate will leap at the chance to build something new. If your company is older and set in its ways or saddled with bureaucracy — the right candidate will be excited about streamlining processes or bringing new ways of thinking. These are just a few of the lessons that I’ve learned from hiring controllers. But I’ve come to all of them through experience and by following my instincts. You know your business and the most important single lesson is finding the person who is the best fit at your company, and who can match that with experience and the necessary skills to help your business succeed. Get the latest blogs from Mesh by subscribing to our newsletter Manage Your Payments With Full Control & Visibility Get Started Anna King, CFO, Mesh Payments Anna King is the CFO of Mesh Payments. She has over a dozen years of experience utilizing data and analytics to achieve greater financial control and implement strategic initiatives. At Mesh Payments she puts that experience to use helping finance teams take control and gain key insights into their spend in real-time. Prior to Mesh, Anna was the long-time CFO for Transactis, a billing and payments processing company acquired by Mastercard.