Looking back on the 28 years that he spent inside IBM’s finance function, Russ Porter notes that his career climb paralleled the evolution of FP&A inside the giant technology provider.
Turn back the clock to the early to mid-1990s and, Porter tells us, many of IBM’s FP&A professionals were more or less serving as budget managers for the company’s many business units.
However, in the years that followed, they began being tasked with broader, more operational duties.Read More
“FP&A became the gearbox for the financial and operational management of each division,” explains Porter, who describes the role of IBM’s FP&A professionals as becoming more “navigational” over time.
“Each week, I sat down with my general managers—we would go through all of our sales performance numbers and review which contracts were coming on and which ones were coming off,” reports Porter, recalling the routine.
Along the way, Porter recalls, FP&A professionals seeking advancement within the company would need to demonstrate that they could do more than drop red flags when problems surfaced.
“FP&A would very often be the centerpiece of conducting troubled contract reviews,” remarks Porter, who adds that finance professionals were expected to not only make recommendations regarding what actions might be required to remedy a struggling contract but also follow up to determine whether the prescribed actions were being taken.
For Porter, who eventually oversaw FP&A for IBM’s $30 billion global technology services division, the troubleshooting experiences gleaned during contract review sessions became even more valuable as his growing leadership responsibilities no longer permitted him to sit in on them.
Says Porter: “I knew what was going on at the ground level in terms of how the team reviewed a contract, so I was able to say, ‘Here are the questions that we should now be asking in order to get the answers that we need to better manage the broader portfolio.’” –Jack Sweeney
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CFOTL: Many of our audience members know the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), but for those who have yet to attend an IMA event or class, would you please tell us about the IMA’s mission and how it serves the finance community today?
Porter: The Institute of Management Accountants, or IMA, is a little over 100 years old now. One of our big things, specifically, is certifying, educating around, and advancing professional management accounting. Sometimes people aren’t exactly sure what this term means. Management accounting is the use of basically all of the financial skills that virtually every accountant and financial professional can use. We don’t specialize in the areas of CPAs, external assurance, and personal tax, but the rest of the skills that we are advocating for and trying to bring out in the profession are all useful by almost every other financial discipline in companies and organizations around the world. A lot of people think “management accountant” and think that this is just about cost accounting, but it’s also FP&A, it’s internal audit, it’s prediction.Read More
There are elements of M&A in it. A lot of what IMA and the CMA—our Certified Management Accountant designation—is all about is making sure that we have the right financial skills to help our organizations.
The CMA is our signature product—it’s a certification that we’ve been doing for 50 years. This requires an examination and continuing professional education that help to identify to employers that a CMA holder knows what they’re doing. They’ve got the education, they’ve got at least 2 years of work experience, and they’ve passed a fairly rigorous exam that tests their knowledge of a variety of skills across financial disciplines, including those needed for controls, technology, economics, financial accounting, cost accounting, and more. The examination really runs the gamut of skills that are needed by today’s management accountants.
…My number one priority is to grow our profession. I want to grow the membership here at IMA. I want to do so by having our team create some great education and making the CMA the most desirable accounting certification that anybody can have. That’s the big-picture goal of what we want to do, but underlying this is the fact that I want to inspire people to be really happy in their profession—because there’s a lot of pride in the profession today. I want to get people excited about it again.
The last couple of years, in the pandemic, have been rough. As finance professionals, a lot of us have been able to work remotely really effectively, but it’s that personal touch, the connections in the office, that many companies are not back into yet. As we do all come back into the office, I want to make sure to generate a lot more enthusiasm about what our profession adds to the world, about how we can make change in the world, about how what we’re doing is important, and about the potential to add incremental value throughout our careers is ever increasing.
“Act with urgency, but don’t try to change everything at once. The organization evolved in the way it did for a reason, and understanding those reasons and the underlying culture are critical to advance any necessary changes.” -Russ Porter, CFO, IMA
Institute of Management Accountants | www.imanet.org | Montvale, N.J