Our Being Planful podcast has become a great forum for conversations about the people, processes, and purpose of finance, accounting, and FP&A. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can scan our growing list of episodes here and subscribe using your podcast app of choice.
I was joined by Terrell Turner on a recent episode (listen here) to talk about the influence Finance and Accounting can have on an organization. Terrell is an entrepreneur who runs his own consultancy to help other entrepreneurs build more effective, more profitable businesses. He’s also a CPA, has a master’s degree in accounting, produces the Business Talk Library with his spouse, and has worked in FP&A at companies like GE Aviation, Navistar, Ernst & Young, and even a tech startup.
Terrell has seen a lot in his career, but his biggest takeaway has been the power FP&A can have in guiding and influencing business leaders. All it takes is a little trust.
Here are a few highlights of this episode.
Not Everyone Understands Finance
Terrell began his career in Accounting but soon wanted to do more. That led him to FP&A where he started looking for opportunities within the numbers. Much of his early career was spent at large enterprise corporations with big FP&A teams. That gave him a chance to hone his skills and learn different areas of the business.
“I went through a finance leadership program where I started doing finance analysis in R&D, working with the engineering team and doing what-if scenario analysis,” Terrell recalled. “What if we redesign this? Or what if we came up with this new feature? Then, working with the marketing team to understand what we could sell. It was running a ton of what-if scenarios, cash flow models, NPVs, and all of those great things.”
From there, he moved into investor relations, working with the C-suite to navigate technical accounting concepts, revenue recognition, accounting standards, and more. It was then Terrell realized even top leaders at a huge company likely don’t have detailed finance skills or understanding.
“That forced me to see finance from the eyes of a non-finance person,” said Terrell.
Building Trust With the Business
Terrell eventually moved to a fast growing startup, where he was thrown into the mix of integrating acquisitions and raising investment capital.
“When you’re in a smaller company, you have to wear a ton of hats and know how to move between roles,” Terrell explained. “You have to be the doer and the teacher at the same time. But everybody’s wearing so many different hats. They don’t really have time to sit down and listen to you explain something they don’t understand. They’re running full speed.”
So Terrell took the opposite tack and worked to learn the business from the perspective of his counterparts.
“I wanted to hear what (Marketing) was thinking about, the types of discussions they were having, and then go back and look at the numbers and say, ‘Okay, how do I translate what I know into something that makes sense?’,” Terrell recalled. “I did the same thing with the sales team, just attending some of their meetings and talking to the sales manager. At first, it was strange. They said, ‘Are you trying to check up on us?’”
He explained that he wanted to understand their worlds so he could translate financial concepts and knowledge into something they could use. That’s how he started to build trust with those teams. And, across Marketing, Sales, Engineering, and other teams, he began translating ideas into the common language of money.
“Once you understand what’s important to them, you look at the numbers and you will inevitably find opportunities,” added Terrell. “And in bringing those ideas back to them, they start to realize, ‘Hey, Terrell is over there looking for opportunities to help me get where I’m going.’ It starts to build that level of trust where they start to bring you into the conversations on the front end. They’re then saying, ‘This is what we’re thinking, will it get us to our goal faster?’”
Everyone Understands Money
The role of Finance is to enable good decision-making. But before you can understand what’s needed to make better decisions, you have to understand the business from the perspective of each team. When you know their priorities and goals, only then can you look at the numbers and find relevant opportunities. And, to make those opportunities impactful to the entire organization, it all comes back to money.
“I had spent time working with a sales team, but then separately the engineering team brought up an idea,” Terrell recalled. “It was going to hurt the sales team, but Sales didn’t know how to translate it financially. So I talked about the financial implications. I became like the Rosetta Stone.”
Terrell’s willingness to learn the business first earns him the trust to then elevate their financial IQ, and do so for the better of the entire organization. He shared a few more stories of being the common connection between teams. Without having Terrell explain the financial implications, those teams would have likely made poor decisions. Maybe not for their own team, and maybe they never would have realized, but it would have negatively impacted the organization. Only FP&A has the wide purview to see where these team-level decisions overlap.
“On the finance side, you’ve got to start breaking that wall down by first understanding their priorities and then bringing them ideas,” concluded Terrell. “When the non-finance people are responsible for making a decision, you can help them do it more confidently. It brings so much more peace of mind to everybody.”
Subscribe to Being Planful
To hear more insights from Terrell and learn how he built trust with the business, listen to this episode of Being Planful.
This podcast series explores the benefits of adopting a “Planful” mindset by inviting your FP&A, finance, and accounting peers, analysts, industry experts, and more to share their experiences and insights. To subscribe, click on your podcast platform of choice (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify), or just search for “Planful” wherever you listen. We release new episodes often, so be sure to subscribe. And, if you have any comments, questions, or think you’d make a great guest, send me an email at email@example.com