Episode 13 – How to Get Promoted to Corporate Controller Fast

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There is a ton of information to learn when it comes to preparing for the CMA accounting exam. But how can you absorb so much information and then be able to actually apply it?

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Nathan: Hey, everybody. Thank you so much for joining me in this episode of the CMA Exam Mastery Course Podcast. My name is Nathan Liao and I'm here to help you accelerate your career and skyrocket your income to six figures per year as a management accountant.
Today's featured guest is Josefina Garcia, who is a Controller over at Foster Hospitality Group in Springfield, Missouri. She holds the Certified Management Accountant designation and the Certified Public Accountant license as well. We'll talk more about why she chose to obtain both designations later in the show.
A fun fact about Josefina is that she volunteers as a treasurer of the Toastmasters chapter club in Springfield. So that's pretty cool to know. So without further ado, here she is. Josefina, welcome to the Show.
Josefina: Thank you, Nathan. How are you?
Nathan: I'm doing great. I'm glad you are here with us. How are you?
Josefina: Thank you. I'm doing fantastic.
Nathan: All right, Josefina, so if you are ready, let's get right into the show. Could you tell us about how long ago you earned your CMA designation?
Josefina: Sure. I actually became licensed officially or within my designation on August 12, 2016.
Nathan: Not that long ago. Congratulations.
Josefina: No, not at all. Thank you.
Nathan: And what were you doing prior to obtaining your CMA designation?
Josefina: Well, I was an accountant for about 10 years before I actually went back and started studying for the CMA designation. But I had earned my undergraduate degree and graduated back in 2008. So I went from earning my degree training into industry and working. And then many years later, I went back and worked for the CMA designation.
Nathan: Okay. And what made you choose the CMA over other designations?
Josefina: Actually, I had considered going back and taking the exams earlier on as a professor while I was working on my undergraduate, I mentioned it, but, you know, I had that mentality of, you know, just graduate, just graduate. And even after I graduated, I felt that my career could be advancing a little bit faster.
And I remember that the CMA exams who were eligible to take them with an undergraduate degree whereas some other certifications you were required to take more college level classes or had more intricate requirements.
So probably six years ago, I looked back into doing the CMA and kind of steered myself into waiting. So, you know, some more years went by and again, I felt like my career could have been advancing a little bit better. So I went back in and I started reviewing the designation and what was required for it and went in full force. I started studying in 2015, late 2015 and, of course, you know, received the designation in 2016.
Nathan: All right. Yeah, it's...the great thing about the CMA is that the requirements to take the exams is not high. But, of course, to get officially certified, there are certain requirements that had to be fulfilled but to take the exam could be done anytime, really, even people who are in college as well.
Josefina: Yeah, and I wish I had done it then.
Nathan: Right. Yeah, me too. It would have definitely accelerated things to add more than what it was. So were you a CPA at that time or did you get your CPA after the CMA?
Josefina: Yeah, I actually earned my CPA license after and it was definitely an afterthought. I wanted to work in industries. No part of me has ever been drawn to public accounting. The reason that I actually went back and took the exams is because I was always in exam mode whenever I did the CMA part one and part two.
So I figured since I was on that mode already, I may as well go out and do the CPA exams afterward. So it was really an afterthought and so not something that I list first. As a matter of fact, I always took my CMA credentials first. I believe in my line of work it's more important. But, yeah, I actually earned it afterward and it kind of just there.
Nathan: Okay. So was there an unexpected upside to earning your CMA?
Josefina: Certainly, you know, as I mentioned, I had been working in accounting for about 10 years before I started looking into earning the CMA. And I would do traditional accounting then, you know, I had my cubicle, I had my PC, and my calculator and that's all I needed. You know, I didn't need to see the world or anything.
Nathan: And lots of coffee probably.
Josefina: Yeah, and so becoming involved with the IMA, I started networking more, and talking to people and reached out to some individuals that were already certified, so developed my networking side and then once I earned my credentials, it definitely gave me some more credibility. And the way that I always started of, you know, as a student may earn a bachelor's degree over, you know, three, four years, maybe seven, you know, as they, you know, get scattered a little bit.
And, you know, six years in this and this, whereas the designation you can always prove that you have this body of knowledge and you're able to sit down and in one go, visit all these areas of accounting. So it's always proved more beneficial whenever I tell somebody that I'm certified as a management accountant, than when I tell them I have degrees in accounting.
Nathan: I see. And was there an unexpected upside to earning your CPA license?
Josefina: Not really. I had already got the job that I wanted as a Controller before I earned my license. So, you know, yeah. And it because of the CMA and because of my abilities through knowledge that I acquired plus the review that I did for the CMA, I was able to already get the position that I wanted and, you know, emphasizes more on the fact that the CPA license was definitely an afterthought.
Nathan: Got you. Yes, so then what you are saying is...what I'm hearing you say is that you had the position as a Controller with your CMA and you earned the CPA because it was an afterthought but you thought you would need it at some point but the CMA made more sense for you in your current role.
Josefina: Certainly, and actually, what I was thinking of the CPA was, asI mentioned, you know, I was already in test-taking mode, but then also the CPA license allowed me to kind of look behind the scenes to help my employer a little bit better. So when I'm working as a CMA, preparing a report, I can think like a CPA, thinking if a CPA could be here and they want to audit this, "How will they look at this?" So it was more, you know, to run myself, but certainly not that I would be pursuing a career in public accounting, but to give myself a behind-the-scenes from the outsider's point of view.
Nathan: Absolutely. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Could you tell us a little bit about Foster Hospitality and what you guys do?
Josefina: Yes, Foster Hospitality Group is a piece of private company, they developed in assisted living facilities. They've been in business for about 16 years. So, you know, well before I came on board and it's very fantastic work that they do because they create projects from non-existent to fully working assisted living facility. The owner of the company will travel across the country and find areas that are in need of, you know, the company's bed for Assisted Living facilities.
And once he finds an area that's appropriate for us and seems that its good investment, then he will travel again to that area and find a piece of land and we handle everything from, you know, non-existent, we build it, we manage it and we operate it once its set residents inside.
Nathan: And so what's your day-to-day as a Controller for Foster Hospitality?
Josefina: It's just in our company I wear many hats. I do a lot of accounting, of course, I do a lot of financial accounting because I do handle the typical accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payrolls, but also because of the nature of the company, I delve in construction accounting for the projects as well as service accounting for, you know, invoicing residents.
And then, you know, outside of the accounting spectrum, I do a lot of communication with both internal and external parties. I review contracts in advance whenever we're doing loans. I'm currently writing some financial policies and procedures for the facility so that whenever we have an accounting team in the facility, they have stuff that they may follow. I do some research with the software that we would be using in the facility.
So now because we have a new software that they're going to be using, I will be building the policies and procedures manual about this through the new software. So it will be more directed through the software and specifically the individuals that will be doing financial related tasks at the facility.
Nathan: What software is this?
Josefina: It's Alice.
Nathan: Alice?
Josefina: Yes, Alice. It's specifically designated to Assisted Living. It's kind of hard to learn, yeah, in my career that I've had to use dedicated software to different industries. And this one is specific for Assisted Living. I've worked with, you know, tracking company software or, you know, livestock tracking software but always from the accounting view of it.
Nathan: Interesting. So just so I can get a better understanding, when you were interviewing for this role as a Controller, did you know you were going to wear all these hats? Or did the role evolve as time went by?
Josefina: It was a little bit of both. I had the luck that I knew the owner of the company before I started working here. Yeah, so he sought me out whenever the position became available, he had seen my work before. And he knew that I had earned my CMA recently and was the person, you know, envisioning me after that.
So we actually sat down and talked quite a bit about what he needed from me as an accountant, but then also once I started working here and my capabilities were exhibited, you know, where he could see all the things that I could do, then I started doing more and more things. And even so I'll do different tasks, I'll complete the report, you know, they had a little bit a lag, so I worked on something and just self-assign a little task at hand there to expedite and organize or something.
Nathan: Gotcha. I'm assuming this is not your first position as a Controller, you were a Controller before?
Josefina: I've had the responsibilities before. I've had different titles. I worked for a private company right out of college and I was assistant CFO for them. A lot of my responsibilities were the same, a little bit less and I had less of an expected role in them, but I did a lot of the background work and it taught me quite a bit.
I didn't get a seat at the table until this time around though. And so after I did my CMA and until after going through that decision, that's when I got a seat at the table. Before that, I got to do some of the work but I didn't get to put fences the way I do now.
Nathan: So you were doing all the leg work, you were making the bosses look good and doing the heavy lifting and now, you're like, "Okay, I've made it. Okay, I'm part of management accountants now, part of the executive team."
Josefina: Yeah, that's exactly it.
Nathan: The way it's kind of like paying your dues in a way I suppose, right?
Josefina: Yes, and it's good to know, you know, whenever you hold this role as an executive, you know, knowing first-hand what it's like to do the grunt work, it's very good, but nothing beats getting up here, I'll tell you.
Nathan: So this is fascinating. So this is your first time officially as a Corporate Controller. So what's your biggest challenge at work that you face as a Controller, that you didn't expect that you would face?
Josefina: I think what gets me most is trying to find more challenges, but I think that's an individual thing with me, less so than a broad description. I think what I find challenging for myself is that I want to...because I have acquired so much broad knowledge, I want to get my hand in everything.
I want to do a little bit of this, and a little of that and a little...and it can get a little bit overwhelming. So it's still a matter of, yes, I have all these knowledge, but I need to delegate. I need to let somebody else do some of the current work that I'm used to, you know, seeing and all that stuff.
So that I think that's my most challenge and it seems like, I know how to do this but, you know, Nathan, from that I have to let it go, I have to let somebody else do that so that I can sleep on the more intricate tasks of the project.
Nathan: Yeah, it's like a blessing and a curse at the same time because, as a Controller, you have insights and access to all parts of the business, right? And then you're like, your problem-solving skills are like, "Okay, I can solve that, I can solve this," but we only have so many hours in the day.
Josefina: Exactly.
Nathan: Yeah, I can totally understand that. So thinking back to your career trajectory, okay, so what would you have done differently to get to your current role as a controller faster than you have.
Josefina: Okay, two things. I would have worked on my credentials sooner. Like I mentioned before right going to college is not right out of college. And second, I would have developed my soft skills earlier on. As I mentioned, you know, I was a typical accountant. I'd just sit in my cubicle, play with my calculator and my computer, and not talk to anybody all day long.
That was actually detrimental because, you know, a computer can crunch numbers but that human interaction, that ability to communicate and any explain what the numbers are, and not only explain it to one person who may be familiar with it but then explain it to somebody else who may not have an accounting background is developing those skills. If I had done that sooner, I know I actually I would have taken off a lot sooner
Nathan: Is that why you joined Toastmasters?
Josefina: Yes, it was a little bit of that. I think at that point in time when I joined them, I was already on track to networking, but I do have a leaning and I wanted this in the future. So I wanted to go ahead and get used to getting in front of people and just talking and communicating at all levels as I mentioned. I also went to school for as an undergraduate statistical insurance and planning.
So through my forensic classes, I would discuss a lot of about the possibility of having to see it perhaps in a courtroom or in front of a jury and having to explain accounting to people at all levels of knowledge. So it was part of that evolving from this technical accountant to a communicator and then taking that to the next level of being able to communicate, enter my seat, and articulate what my thoughts are while making sure that the people who are listening to me grasp what I'm saying.
Nathan: For those who don't know, what's Toastmasters?
Josefina: Well, Toastmasters International is an organization that helps people with public speaking and leadership. It's fantastic especially for people, you know, I always think of accountants and IC people, part of the numbers, you know, the few top people that I think they don't need that. For the most part, people tend to be introverts in our field and Toastmasters give people a safe environment where they can develop their communication skills and some leadership skills.
And, you know, it just gives a safe area where you can go give a speech and have people give you feedback, you know, constructive criticism and just evolve that side of you that, you know, maybe a little bit nervous about that. And it is very beneficial no matter what. So you're probably want to speak well with communicating with people, whether it's our boss or a co-worker or when a client comes, you know, you're always talking.
So it's definitely, you know, an organization that helps develop those skills that you may not think you need, but you use all the time.
Nathan: How big is your team at Foster Hospitality?
Josefina: We have a group of seven people here at the office.
Nathan: Seven people that work under you. Okay. And what do you look for in a candidate when it comes... when it's time to hire someone new or promote someone?
Josefina: Yes, certainly. I think it always comes down to the well-rounded accountant. I definitely want somebody who has the technical skills to do the job. That's always good. But by the time the candidate gets to me, they've applied because they feel they have the technical skills. So at that point, what separates one from the next is going the extra mile.
You just have a college degree or you're pursuing more knowledge, how do you conceive your professional development? Then also the communication skills. If I send you out there, you know, to present work that you've done, will you be able to communicate your thoughts and what you've done with the report to somebody else? How do you apply your technical knowledge and how do you apply your soft skills in everyday settings? And just kind of watching the individual and see how comfortable they are with different areas. So those are at the very top of my list.
Nathan: Very good. Thank you for that. Very insightful tips for those who are looking to work in an accounting firm or a prestigious company like yours. So they know, "Okay, so this is what a controller looks for in a candidate." I'm hoping everyone is taking notes right now. And for those who...go ahead.
Josefina: Just saying, it's important to note, to remember.
Nathan: Yes, right. So for those who are out there who are determined to make their way up to the controllership position like you have, what would you say is the one skill they should focus on right now?
Josefina: You know, it's a little bit broad also. I would say [inaudible 00:19:16] because the knowledge will come one way or the other, and actually has been this random quote that said, you know, "If somebody asks you to do something and you're not sure of it or how to do it, say yes and then figure it out." I think as an accountant, we tend to be very analytical and very cautious and err on the side of being conservative, but when it comes to acquiring knowledge in advancing your careers, you really should face those, you know, challenges head on and be willing to put yourself out there.
You know being a wallflower isn't going to get you to that top management position. Hiding in the back, or, you know, creating great reports. You know, nowadays the technology, a computer can do that and it's very risky to feel comfortable with just those technical skills. So take risks and put yourself out there at any chance you get, then go the extra mile because the management will notice that, clients will notice for sure.
Nathan: Absolutely. Now, as a last question, Josefina, if you had to start all over again like right out of college, but you know everything you know now, what would you do differently?
Josefina: Other than getting my credentials right away? It would be, yes, that, putting myself out there, not waiting for opportunity to come knocking. Go knock yourself. You know, acquire all the knowledge that you can, you know, don't sit back and you feel that because, you know,you've acquired a college degree, you've got everything you need. It still happens to me where, you know, I kind of look back and say, "Wow, I thought I was really smart back then."
And I still learn something every day. So don't settle for the knowledge. You know, I never have settled for the knowledge that I had, I would have never settled for this position. I would have continued that professional development and I certainly would have started working for a certification a lot sooner.
Nathan: That's great. So there you go, guys. Don't settle. Don't settle for what you know now. Keep going forward, keep learning and don't settle for the... even for the job you have now. Keep going forward and trying to get better jobs and high-paying jobs with more responsibilities and you'll get to the level where Josefina is today. I really want to thank you for coming on the show today, Josefina, and sharing your journey with us. Where can our listeners find more about you and connect?
Josefina: Sure. Well, I'm on LinkedIn at LinkedIn/accountantjgarcia. But if you want to go ahead and look at our website, the website is fosterhospitalitygroup.net. It has a short biography of our company and of myself also. So reach out, say hi.
Nathan: All right. I'll add those links to the show notes. Thank you, Josefina, I appreciate you.
Josefina: Thank you, Nathan.
Nathan: Well, that was the show for today. To get all the links in the show notes, go to CMAExamAcademy.com/ep13, and EP stands for episode. So, ep13. And if you are interested in learning more about this certified management accountant designation and how to pass exam, I have a free mini-course that you can get immediate access to. All you have to do is go to cmacoach.com and enter your email to get access to it.
Thank you for joining us today and don't forget to subscribe to the show if you haven't already, and a big shout out to everyone who has left a review on iTunes. I appreciate it so much. I look forward to serving you in the next episode. Bye.


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Here’s What You’ll Learn in this Week’s Episode:

  • Why you should pursue the CMA while still in college
  • Why access to the IMA network is crucial to your career
  • How to get promoted to Controller – fast.
  • CMA vs CPA – Which one to choose? Not as obvious as you think.
  • The one thing you need to focus on today to get promoted to Controller tomorrow.
  • Why public speaking is a soft skill management accountants must polish.


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