Count On This

How one young professional blends bean counting and financial controls with business savvy

Name: Stacey Ryan-Cornelius
Title: Senior Partner, Regional Controller Corporate
Finance, Ogilvy and Mather
Location: New York
Age: 38
Power Play: Manages a cost portfolio of over $70 million in key categories including real estate and IT
How do you ensure your position as a strategic partner as opposed to a cash counter?
With all the cost-control measures, we’ve had to find ways to cut costs. So, to have a significant investment, we ask: What’s the best way to go about it—What’s the timing? What’s the financing that we need? What do we need from an accounting standpoint to get a favorable financial statement impact? That’s one of the things I bring to the table. I have the dual understanding of what I need to show in the financial statements [and] what’s good for the business as well. Being able to look at the literature and figure out how we could make it work is one of the ways I find that I’m valuable to the organization.

In addition to client pressures, there have also been the regulatory pressures of Sarbanes-Oxley. [Sarbanes-Oxley, or SOX, is legislation that came into effect in the wake of accounting improprieties that became public at Enron, WorldCom, and others.]
Sarbanes-Oxley was huge. It has become a requirement from our auditors and our contracts to have a strong internal control environment–and we do. We have great senior management buy-in, which is extremely key. You can’t have an internal control environment unless senior management agrees with it, supports it, and provides the head count and the money you need to make it happen.

What are the elements of good internal control ?
Good segregation of duties across the board: It could be in security of information; traffic people who come up with estimates of a particular job that we’re doing for our client. They need to be separate from the people who are actually paying the invoices. You also need checks and balances and reviews of financial information at different points in time, a strong purchase order and procurement system, and strong disaster recovery, especially after 9/11. If everything goes down, how are you going to continue to do business?

How do you ensure accountability in your business?
We have a code of conduct that our senior people are required to sign annually. They call me the “SOX Queen,” so I’m a sort of watchdog for our region. Auditors want evidence that things have been reviewed, and the best evidence I have is someone’s signature. So every quarter I have all the finance directors of the operating units and the actual managing directors of the units who are the operational partners sign a letter, and they have to submit it every quarter with their financial information. Each quarter my team reviews that information and asks questions if we don’t understand something. Included therein is their balance sheet and their income statement for the quarter, as well as other detailed information, like accounts receivable or their inventory.

Some financial executives say SOX squelches innovation.
Is it accountability vs. innovation?
For us, SOX has given

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