Navigating Tough Decisions:  When Letting Go may be the Only Option

As the founder of CEFO Advisors and over 25 years of experience in financial management, my career has spanned roles from controller to CFO and then to CEO, giving me a comprehensive view of the challenges in our field. One of the most common yet difficult situations is when a controller’s role outgrows their capabilities. This not only affects the individual but also the entire organization. It’s essential for a management team to trust and collaborate in finding the right solution, whether it’s transitioning the individual to a better-suited role or supporting their departure. My journey has taught me valuable lessons in making these tough decisions.

Loyalty and Its Complexities

Controllers become trusted confidants and become the keepers of the historical knowledge of systems, processes, and the various “bones” that may be buried over the years. Their loyalty is often unquestionable. However, as companies grow, the controller’s skills may remain stagnant or are no longer able to meet the needs of the changes in the company dynamics.  The challenge for CEO’s and Management teams alike, become blurred between acknowledging the controller’s past contributions but also about making a decision that would benefit the company’s future.

Historical knowledge is a rare asset. However, when faced with modern financial challenges, this knowledge alone isn’t enough. A controller must adapt and grow with the company and in many cases a controller who is comfortable with keeping things as they are will be resistant to new financial software and analytic tools needed to keep the financial information moving forward.

Outdated systems and processes often result in inaccurate financial reporting.  These inaccuracies will directly affect the company’s future. We often read about publicly held companies who must restate prior year financial statements due to material errors in past financial reporting. This leads to a loss of investor confidence but also legal repercussions. This is not only an issue for larger, publicly traded companies, but can also be true for small to mid-sized companies. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of accuracy and the costly implications of failing to maintain it.

Addressing Poor Behavior

Behavior impacts more than just the individual; it affects the entire team.  We often hear about situations where a controller’s negative attitude created a toxic work environment. Despite the controller’s technical expertise, the team’s morale and productivity plummeted, forcing the company to make the difficult decision to make a change.  This also affects the morale of all other areas of the company as they too need to deal directly this the controller.  Working together to define the underlying reasons for the poor behavior is of utmost importance.  The controller may realize they are in over their head, and they are nervous about how that will impact their position.  This alone would weigh heavily on that controller and their sense of confidence.

Facing the Fear of Letting Go

Letting go of a key financial employee is daunting. The fear of a knowledge vacuum and operational disruption is real. However, in my experience, turning to fractional and outsourced financial services can be a lifesaver. These services provide not just a stop-gap but also an opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives and skills that might be lacking internally.

Making the Decision: Performance vs. Potential

Balancing current performance with the potential for improvement is crucial. I recall mentoring a struggling controller, and providing training and support. While we saw some improvement, it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the company’s growth, leading to the difficult decision to let them go. Companies with a solid succession plan build in the inevitability of change.  They spend time reviewing the performance of the controller and others and can often find another position for them that makes good sense.  It doesn’t have to mean the end of their career with the company.

The Termination Process

Terminating an employee should always be handled with dignity and respect. In these situations, the controller should not be surprised as regular conversations should be occurring. They may even be relieved that they can finally move on. Facilitating a smooth termination where the company provides support in their transition helps to show the company’s appreciation for the controller’s years of service.

Every termination is an opportunity to learn and improve. Reflecting on these situations has continually shaped my approach to hiring and talent development, emphasizing the need for adaptability and ongoing training.


Deciding to let go of a controller for poor performance is complex, requiring a balance between compassion and practicality. My experiences across different roles have highlighted the importance of these decisions for the health and sustainability of the organization. It’s never an easy decision, but sometimes, it is the most responsible course of action for all involved.

Additional Resources

The books noted below offer a blend of practical advice, strategic insight, and broader management principles that can be extremely helpful in understanding the complexities of a controller’s role and how to evaluate their success or failure effectively.

Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean” by Karen Berman and Joe Knight

This book is an excellent resource for understanding the nuances of financial reporting and analysis. It offers clear explanations of financial metrics and how to interpret them, which is crucial for assessing a controller’s performance. The authors also provide practical advice on how to use this financial understanding to make better business decisions.

The Effective Controller: 10 Easy Ways to Increase Profitability and Cash Flow” by Stephen A. Arbaugh

Arbaugh’s book focuses specifically on the role of the controller, offering insights into how to improve efficiency and effectiveness in this position. It outlines key strategies and best practices for controllers, which can be used as benchmarks for success. This book is particularly useful for understanding what distinguishes a high-performing controller from an underperforming one.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t” by Jim Collins

While not specifically about the role of a controller, “Good to Great” provides valuable lessons on leadership and management that can be applied to any role, including that of a controller. Collins’ research into what makes companies successful over the long term can offer insights into how to define and measure success in key positions, including the role of a controller.

CEFO Advisors is often called to help clients assess people, processes, and systems within an organization.  We provide valuable guidance in working with CEOs and Management Teams in evaluating the overall strength of their people within the finance function.  This is often an opportunity to assist in training the controller to become more effective or adding the CEFO staff to assist with the monthly duties to help keep the controller in place. For more information, please visit or reach out to the office at 518.698.4264.

Mastering the Fluid Landscape of Financial Hiring: Insights from CEFO Advisors

In the ever-shifting world of finance, staying ahead of the curve isn’t just a goal – it’s a necessity. At CEFO Advisors, we’ve turned this challenge into our forte. Every day, we navigate the complex waters of financial hiring, where the right talent can make the difference between staying afloat and soaring high. In this industry, change is the only constant, and adapting to it requires not just skill, but foresight and innovation.

Finding the right talent in finance is like trying to capture the essence of a moving target. You need someone who’s not just right for today’s tasks but can adapt to what the future might hold. In this industry, where regulations and technologies are always shifting, finding that perfect fit is a fascinating challenge.

Once you have the right people on board, the journey doesn’t end there. The financial landscape never stops shifting, and keeping your team up to date is a continuous commitment. It’s about fostering a culture of learning and growth, ensuring that your team is always at the forefront of the industry.

Then comes the crucial part – retaining your top talent. In the dynamic world of finance, where new opportunities are abundant, it’s about more than just offering competitive salaries. Creating an environment where people can grow, feel valued, and see a future is key to keeping your best and brightest.

The Wisdom in Fractional Hiring:

This is where our approach at CEFO Advisors really shines. We’ve embraced the concept of fractional hiring – bringing in seasoned professionals on an as-needed basis. It’s a strategy that has allowed us to remain agile and effective, providing our clients with top-notch expertise without the overhead of full-time hires. These fractional professionals are not just temporary solutions; they bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge, enriching our entire team, and also yours.

A Personal Note:

Over the years, I’ve learned that sticking to traditional methods isn’t always the answer. By being open to innovative approaches like fractional hiring, we’ve been able to navigate the complexities of financial management with greater ease and effectiveness. It’s a strategy that has not only benefited our operations but also provided immense value to our clients.

If the challenges of financial hiring and management resonate with you, I’d love to share more about how we at CEFO Advisors approach these challenges. Reach out, and let’s explore how our experiences and strategies could benefit your business. Let’s have a real conversation about finding real solutions in the ever-evolving world of finance.

Riding the Wave: The Future of Finance and the Transformative Role of CFOs

In the dynamic world of finance, technology and global trends are creating transformative waves. This evolution is redefining the role of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) from traditional financial stewards to strategic navigators. With CEFO’s Assessment Program, prepare for this new financial era.

The Digital Revolution in Finance

The finance sector is undergoing a digital revolution. Innovations like blockchain, digital currencies, and AI are reshaping financial transactions and decision-making. As a business owner, it’s crucial to navigate these changes effectively. Are you leveraging the right technologies? Are your financial strategies adapting?

The Evolving Role of the CFO

The modern CFO transcends traditional roles, becoming a key player in strategic decision-making. They are not just finance managers but change architects, driving agility and innovation. The question is, does your current financial team embody this evolution? Could a fractional CFO be the solution you need?

Welcome to the Era of the Fractional CFO

Fractional CFOs offer strategic expertise without the cost of a full-time position. This model provides targeted guidance for critical business decisions – from cash flow planning to budget management. At CEFO Advisors, we’ve seen firsthand how fractional CFOs bring efficiency and focus, transforming financial management for businesses of all sizes.

CEFO’s Assessment Program

In today’s fast-paced financial landscape, CEOs need tools to stay ahead. CEFO’s Assessment Program evaluates your readiness for emerging challenges, identifies skill gaps, and assesses technology impacts. It’s a cornerstone for risk management and informed decision-making.

A Success Story in Action

CEFO recently transformed into a construction firm struggling with rapid growth. Through our comprehensive assessment, we implemented modern ERP solutions, introduced effective financial systems, and provided fractional CFO and Controller services. The results? Enhanced decision-making capabilities and continued growth.

Preparing for Tomorrow

The future of finance demands adaptability and foresight. Embrace change, stay abreast of technological advancements, and consider innovative financial strategies. If you’re looking to navigate these waters successfully, let CEFO Advisors be your guide. Contact us to harness the power of strategic financial management and steer your business towards success.