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Key Characteristics of a Good Financial Controller

Key Characteristics of a Good Financial Controller


As a business owner, your auto dealership’s team must be comprised of people you trust to make the right decisions for the company. The reports derived from your accounting team are at the forefront of most major business decisions, so having a suitable controller in place will help ensure your dealership’s financial health and future.

The characteristics of a good controller fall into two distinct buckets: technical skills and leadership qualities. On the one hand, at their core, a controller must possess the proficiencies one would expect from an experienced accountant, such as a robust background and understanding of accounting principles and regulations, auto dealership best practices, and strong logic and problem-solving skills. On the other hand, a controller’s ability to strategically lead a team and effectively communicate with the entire organization is essential for your dealership’s growth and success.

Borrowing some insight from David Adragna, founder and CEO of AutoPeople, here are some of the key qualities every dealership owner should consider when searching for the perfect financial controller.

Technical Skills

A controller’s technical traits should essentially mimic those of a seasoned accountant. As the leader of the accounting department, a controller likely will be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), have an accounting or finance degree, and already will have senior-level work experience within the accounting profession.

In addition to non-negotiable traits such as numerical acumen, familiarity with accounting procedures, and general business knowledge, an ideal auto dealership controller will have additional skills, including:

• Efficiency in Excel and commonly used accounting software
• A proven history of timely preparation of monthly financial statements
• Experience reviewing and reconciling accounting schedules before the month-end close
• An ability to promptly reconcile bank accounts, at a minimum of once per month
• A high level of integrity and accuracy, especially under pressure

Leadership Qualities

As a senior-level executive, a controller must effectively lead and oversee the entire accounting function and its personnel.

For smaller, family-run, or boutique-sized dealerships, the controller likely will manage a few staff members and play a heavier role in day-to-day responsibilities such as budgeting, reporting, risk management, and forecasting. This requires a more nimble and flexible personality willing to take on multiple roles.

Larger-scale dealerships with more accounting staff, locations, or subsidiaries likely will require a more experienced leader and strategic thinker with a big-picture mentality.

Regardless of the size of your dealership’s operations, an ideal controller will exhibit specific traits indicative of a strong leader, including:

• The ability to think strategically and understand the inner workings of the entire dealership and its satellite locations
• A willingness to do more than the minimum process
• Highly analytical, strategic, and calculated decision-making processes
• The capacity to hire, train, and retain the right people for the right positions
• Impeccable communication skills and a positive, team-oriented attitude
• The ability to consistently meet deadlines, be on time and be accessible for the team
• Possess “pride of ownership” and a motivation to succeed
• Unafraid of tough conversations and constructive feedback
• Dedication to the dealership’s mission and values

Other Considerations

Remember, the perfect controller for your business will depend on the specific needs of your unique team and operation. While the above traits offer a basic guide to selecting a quality candidate, the ideal controller ultimately must be someone you trust to make decisions congruent with your mission and goals.

Please contact John Comunale via our online contact form for more information.

Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell (CBM) is a professional services firm delivering tax, accounting and business advisory expertise throughout the Mid-Atlantic region from offices in Bethesda, MD and Washington, DC.