This post is part of our Behind the Books series where we introduce you to the incredibly talented and hardworking people that make up the Acuity team. We’re excited for you to get to know them.
In this edition of Behind the Books, we’re learning more about our controller, Cyndi Cole. If you’d like to skip the transcript, you can watch the full interview at the bottom of this post.
Hi, Cyndi! This past May marked three years that you’ve been at Acuity. How’s your experience been?
It’s been great. It’s been a fun experience. It’s actually been three years as an employee, and for a year and a half, I was working as a contractor. So I’ve been with the company a total of about four and a half years. It’s been a growth and learning experience. It’s been enjoyable because I started with just one or two clients and I’ve grown my client base quite a bit and have had some turnover, but some clients I’ve had from the very beginning. It’s been great helping clients and seeing their progression. I’ve had a chance to see clients grow and be sold as they’re going through their growth stages. But I’ve also seen clients, unfortunately, go the other direction.
It must be super exciting to see a company that you’ve had a hand in managing their finances and then all of a sudden they’re being sold and moving on to bigger and better things?
Yes, it has been exciting to be a small part of what they’re going through, whether it’s acquiring a product and growing or it’s being sold so that they can go onto bigger and better opportunities for themselves.
That’s awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?
I’m originally from New Jersey. I grew up there. I went away to college, came back, worked for several years there. After that, I lived and worked in Texas. Now I’m currently based in Tampa, Florida.
Where did you go to school?
I got my undergraduate degree from West Virginia University. Go, Mountaineers! I also have an MBA from the University of Florida.
Awesome! How did you end up in the accounting field?
When I went to college, I was interested in majoring in journalism. During my sophomore year, some of my professors were making sure that we knew that journalism isn’t for everybody. It’s a tough profession to break through, and they were painting this doom and gloom forecast for the future of journalism. I had been a bookkeeper in high school and realized that I didn’t have that passion for journalism. So I switched over after taking a couple of accounting classes and decided to be an accounting major.
That’s great! What was your first major job in the accounting field?
When I graduated from college, I was an auditor for Deloitte and Touche for several years. So that was my first real accounting job.
What was it like working there?
I loved it. I think that was probably the first time I was exposed to going out and working with clients and helping them understand their books and working with teams that rotated quite a bit. In some ways, it’s very parallel to working at Acuity, going from client to client, your teams switch up a little bit, and sometimes you’re remote. It’s fun and engaging to get a chance to switch things up. You don’t know what you’re going to do from day to day, what you’ll be working on, and what’s going to happen with your clients. So that’s one of the things that I liked about Deloitte that I also get to do here at Acuity.
What was your first controller job?
My first experience with doing controllership work was I worked at a company called Adams Respiratory Therapeutics. I was their assistant controller and joined the company at a time when they were going from cash accounting and switching over to GAAP-based accrual accounting. I worked with someone that was a manager of mine at Deloitte and Touche. We put the books together and ended up helping the company go public. We had the chance to help build the controllership and accounting function from the ground up. After that company eventually sold, I worked at Middlebrook Pharmaceuticals, and that was the first time where I was the lead controller and oversaw the full accounting function from SEC filings and doing all of the books and accounting.
Nice! So tell us how you ended up at Acuity.
I was working at a small startup company, where their books and records were excel files and receipts. And through that process in working with them to put together true financials, to get investors Acuity was referred to me as a good fit, who would help us be able to put everything together and start working in a cloud-based accounting system. That company didn’t work out because they ran out of cash to get the investments that they needed. A couple of months later Matthew May reached out to me as Acuity started to grow and asked if I had any interest in working with Acuity and that’s how I ended up here on a contracting basis.
Since you’ve been here, what would you say or who would you say has been your favorite client to work with, past or present?
I’m going to exclude the present clients right now. I would say the Encima Group. They were probably the one that I experienced the most with, which is why I enjoyed working with them the most — doing things very similar to what I had done at Adams, where I had the opportunity to work with their internal bookkeeper and put together a chart of accounts and put together GAAP-based accounting. I also helped them when they were looking at, possibly acquiring different companies and products. They continued to grow, and they eventually sold their business to another company. So while there were challenging times, it was fun to see them grow and to be a part of that excitement.
Okay, great. So tell us what is a typical day like for you?
I don’t necessarily know that there’s a typical day. Every day is a little bit different, which is again one of the things I enjoy. Every day the focus is on what the priorities are for my clients. At the beginning of the week, I’m focused on what commitments have been made and what deadlines are coming up, then I’m working towards getting them done along with other tasks that come up during the day. It’s balancing the multiple priorities of different clients and focusing on certain things that need to be done. But it’s fun. Some days my head’s down, and I’m in accounting systems and excel files. And then other days might be spent on conference calls and video calls, going over financials with clients or talking about projects that we have going on. Right now I’m working with a client in moving over all of their financials from one accounting system and then they’re shifting over to another one, a more robust accounting system. Every day’s a little bit different based on the projects going on. It’s just a matter of making sure that I understand what my clients’ expectations are and making sure that I fit that into what my schedule is and that I’m meeting their requirements and their deadlines.
As a controller, where do you find that you’re most helpful and effective when it comes to working with the company?
For my clients, I would say where I find that I’ve provided the most benefit to them is helping them to understand where their financials are. Most of the clients are so focused on the day-to-day operations and growing the business, but sometimes they forget or don’t have the time to look at a consolidated financial package and some key indicators that are going on in their financials. I’m able to pull that information together, do some analysis, and have a conversation with them about where they are. Many times they might not realize while they have cash coming in, their A/R aging is getting a little out of control because some of those older clients aren’t paying and may not realize that because there’s enough cash coming in that they can keep things moving along. It’s a big help to them to have someone come in and get an understanding of what’s going on and be able to break things down and make suggestions based on what’s going on with their finances.
When do you think is the best time for a company to look into bringing a controller onto its team?
I would say it’s probably earlier than most people think. It’s when they start realizing that looking at the financials is not their top priority because their focus is on doing the business and growing operations. It’s beneficial to have a second set of eyes, whether they have an internal bookkeeper or use an outsourced bookkeeper, having somebody review those, having somebody pull stuff together and making suggestions and offerings. That’s one of the benefits of a company like Acuity. You don’t need a full-time employee. You don’t need to bring on a fulltime controller. Sometimes you might only need somebody to look at the financials at the end of the month and to see what was done. There are those accounting projects where you’re looking to shift from cash accounting to GAAP-based accounting to get somebody in to understand and make sure things are getting cleaned up. It’s nice to have somebody to come in and look at things and make sure they’re genuinely in as good health as the client thinks they are. That’s why I would suggest bringing on a controller at the end of the month to take a high-level overview of the financials. I think that’s helpful to clients and for companies in general.