More than pushing numbers: New tasks for controllers

Number crunchers, sticklers, innovation killers: the list of clichés about controllers is long. But what does a controller really do? Prof Dr Thomas Röhm, head of the dual studies master’s in controlling at IUBH, gives insight about a profession that involves far more than just counting beans.

IUBH: Controllers count beans. This stereotype about your profession is persistent.

Röhm: It used to be like that. The main task of controllers did actually focus on checking and controlling numbers. Controllers were quasi-internal auditors, hence the proverbial name bean counters. In the meantime, things look very different: nowadays in addition to the classical tasks, a controller acts more as an internal consultant to management.

IUBH: Why do companies need controllers?

Röhm: Controllers are responsible for measuring the profitability of the entire company using performance indicator systems. Based on this, they must identify risks, weaknesses and potential for improvement in the company. They also need to recognise opportunities to develop and evaluate solutions, including alternatives, and often work in cooperation with other departments. Controllers are also involved when it comes to implementation: they record and evaluate the progress and success of the implementation process, and when necessary, propose adaptive measures.

IUBH: What skills do controllers need?

Röhm: To fulfil the classic tasks of a controller, he/she needs a high affinity for numbers and the professional competence to develop, analyse and interpret performance indicators. In other words, the classic tools. To meet the new challenges, a controller requires more social-communicative skills. This could mean, for example, managing the implementation of a production site relocation and actively supporting management in negotiating with employees about staff reductions at their headquarters.

IUBH: So what are the most important characteristics of a successful controller?

Röhm: A comprehensive overview of the company and its business model, its value and positioning in the market, and an overview of the competition and societal context as a whole. One also must be able to identify, analyse and translate the most important factors and levers for corporate success into practical action. A controller always has to keep an eye on the big picture.

IUBH: Accounting also has to do with numbers – what is the difference to controlling?

Röhm: Accounting is primarily responsible for recording the financial flows of the company to external parties, for example to customers, suppliers, the government, banks as well as employees. Results are aimed at external parties, especially financial authorities. A controller analyses economic viability and the success of an organisation. Results are usually only internally available – to senior management and executives.

IUBH: There are many educational possibilities – what makes the degree programme in controlling at IUBH special?

Röhm: The curriculum of the degree programme is designed so that both the classic as well as the newer requirements for controllers are taken into account. In addition to performance based controlling, strategic management, organisational development and digital business models are an important part of programme. Since controllers need a solid understanding of controlling tools and, if possible, experience in practical application and implementation, the dual studies master’s programme in controlling at IUBH offers a decisive advantage: students can put their newly acquired knowledge directly into practice. Especially in the first years of employment, this can be a decisive plus when competing on the labour market.

IUBH: What is the current job market for controllers?

Röhm: They have very good prospects for an interesting and challenging job, especially if they already have some practical professional experience. Nowadays, in addition to large corporations, midsized companies are reporting a need and are looking for qualified personnel.

IUBH: That sounds like a job with a future. Thank you professor Röhm, for taking the time for this interview.

The interview was conducted by Anneke Söpper.

Note that this study course is just in German available.

More on this topic