Rick Arpin

ENSURING THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION UNDERSTANDS FINANCE

I am a finance professional by training and background. I received a degree in business administration, majoring in accounting and finance, and I spent seven years in public accounting. My first 15 years were in traditional accounting and finance roles like financial reporting, treasury, accounting shared services and capital markets. While I also spent some time in operations, my roots are clearly in finance.

One thing I came to appreciate in this industry was the importance of finance in all areas of the business and the need for all employees to understand it. During my time in public accounting, I was generally around others who had similar backgrounds, so they understood not only the basics of finance and accounting but higher-level concepts as well. Once in a while, when interacting with client personnel who were in operations, we’d run into a situation where we had to explain finance concepts, although these were the exception.

Even when I moved to industry, my initial time was still spent largely around other finance experts, so when I trained our staff, we were still speaking their language. But then something happened as I moved up and around in different roles – I started spending much more time with non-finance leaders and employees. These folks weren’t always trained in accounting or finance topics. Some had what you might call an “innate” business sense, and they made good decisions based on logic and the situation at hand. But others struggled to understand financial statements or how their decisions resulted in financial outcomes.

We realized we could help by transferring our knowledge. And as an aside, I believe all functional areas of a company find more success when they make it part of their job to educate the organization on their function. How many of us, for example, think of ourselves as knowledgeable about IT? I get scared every time an upgrade happens on my phone, so I certainly am not well versed on the latest cloud storage concepts or cyber security risks. Functional areas that educate others within the organization can help develop more well-rounded leaders and employees.

So why is it important for everyone to understand finance? (Or as I noted above, insert your own function’s name for “finance” in the above sentence and complete the next paragraphs for yourself.) Here’s my take on why finance is important for everyone in an organization:

  • It is the measurement by which a company ultimately lives or dies. At some point – tech-bubbles notwithstanding – companies must make a profit, and it needs to be a properly-sized one to ensure a return on investment for its owners. Ultimately, none of us have jobs if we don’t focus on results.
  • Operating decisions always involve financial results. The link is sometimes direct (such as deciding whether to spend money on supplies) and sometimes indirect (such as reducing the training budget for the sales team, which leads to less sales in the future), but a link is always there.
  • Analysis leads to better decision-making. There is a famous saying, “what gets measured gets done.” But really what gets measured needs to be understood. If operating managers understand their financial statements and other analysis of the business, they can make better decisions in the future.

Working the equation forward – understanding finance leads to better operational decisions. And since operating decisions affect financial results, better operating decisions lead to better financial results.

Based on this information, we built a training class discussing the basics of finance. It takes about three to four hours to complete and has worked well with many audiences – from HR teams to operating personnel to newly-hired managers.

I believe the key to teaching finance to non-finance professionals is a top-down approach. Our class starts by discussing industry trends.

We don’t begin discussing finance at all. I want participants to understand the business, and finance is merely the scorekeeper and storyteller. After discussing industry trends, we spend a decent amount of time on corporate finance concepts like capital, debt, valuations, analyzing industry and company financial statements. This gives the leaders and employees the link to how their individual/department/operating unit results roll up and contribute to the overall company. I feel like this connection, and the attitudes and skills it fosters, are critical components to energizing operating units to make decisions that are best overall for the company.

Finally, we work through exercises that help with day-to-day financial acumen. We review an operating department’s financial statements and do variance analysis, ratio analysis and analyze statistics. We also do some ROI calculations, so participants can be aware of and understand how finance can help them evaluate capital improvements.

We’ve received good feedback on these classes, and the best feeling is seeing the difference in the reactions of those who have taken the class when the words “accounting” or “finance” are used. They stop looking so anguished, and a bit of relief comes over them knowing they might stand a chance in the next operating review meeting.

As mentioned earlier, this type of functional teaching process can develop more well-rounded leaders and employees. I also feel it can help bridge gaps in communication and expectations between functional groups and operational groups and make future interactions more productive, whether in day-to-day operations or when working together on projects.

Rick Arpin is a seasoned finance and operations executive with over 20 years of experience. Most recently he was Senior Vice President of Entertainment with MGM Resorts, and also held senior finance positions at MGM, after starting his career in public accounting. Contact Rick