Accountant’s role in OROs and FROs

OWNER Run Organisations (OROs) and Founder Run Organisations (FROs) range from a one-business set up with small or non-existent management structures to big multi-business arrangements.

In both cases, founders, owners and/or their close associates or family members run the show on an active basis. OROs and FROs are unique in that those running them have vested interests that often go beyond business into the emotional and or sentimental side of things.

The emotional and or sentimental side of things comes up frequently in those who birthed and nursed the business.

The accountant, by contrast, is often an outsider hired, not for his love for the organisation, but rather for the value that he or she has to add to the business. He or she is placed in the centre of stakeholder management including instances where the interests of some stakeholders may interfere with, or interrupt and at times threaten the benefits that the owners aim to get from the business.

Most owners and founders “think” with their hearts while most accountants, by training, think with their heads.

In the normal state of affairs, the head is often placed higher than the heart as is the case in the human body structure. OROs and FROs have it differently as the accountant is subordinate to the owners which may then create an atmosphere for collision as the owners often decide the level of involvement in decision-making that the accountant can attain.

The degree of involvement ranges from outright participation in every decision-making process to the other extreme end where they are a persona non grata in the processes.

In the second case, the owners make and execute their decisions without involving the accountant who then only comes in by request to ensure that outcomes meet various stakeholders’ requirements.

The poor soul has to battle to understand the business rationale of the decisions let alone the ramifications for the other stakeholders.

I have heard of instances where advice from the accountant is spurned, and he or she is spanked into his “correct place”. In this instance, the “correct place” or role is one of counting and accounting for outcomes from decisions made by the owners and not of trying to tell them neither what things to do nor how to do them.

The accountant’s role becomes very much similar to diaper management where the “manager” neither causes the diaper incidents nor knows when they occur but has a responsibility to keep the wearer clean and dry. Failed diaper management affects the one putting them on and the manager while undoubtedly offending many surrounding stakeholders.

 Opposites do not often cancel out perfectly and so is the case in the other instance where the accountant is involved in every activity that takes place in the organisations.

Some of the awkward and comical decisions that the accountant may be called into include whether to incinerate or bin a snake killed on the company premises or whether to buy sliced or unsliced bread.

In such circumstances, everyone else parks their decision-making mental equipment thereby transferring the burden to the poor accountant who also has to possess mystic powers to forecast and provide for expenses that spring from nowhere like mushrooms.

 Being completely left out of or overly involved in decision making is a Morton’s fork for the accountant. A Morton’s fork is a false dilemma, which leads to the same unpleasant outcome.

The accountant does not get into this situation by choice as in my more than two decades of corporate experience, I am yet to see a company advertisement that describes itself to be in distress.

Most do not even come out clear that the accounting person they would be looking for has to be either desperate or daring or both.

The closest I got to that kind of disclosure was during a final interview when I was informed that my sole role would be to keep the company’s doors open at all costs.

In most circumstances he or she sometimes leaves a steady job somewhere on the promise of a better salary, change in title and other whistles and bells and they walk in equipped with the attitude and technical resources to change things.

They only realise very late that it may be them that would need to change and become “street wise” and malleable to meet the requirements of the owners.

The global, and more closely national, socio-economic circumstances sometimes make it very difficult for the person to jump ship given the limited prospects of going back to their previous job as well as the arduous process to get an alternative job.

For one to opt out they would have to look and relook before they leap out thereby becoming a cliff hanger with neither the energy or means to go back to the top nor the confidence to let go of their grip and fall to the unknown ground below.

The end result may be a fearful and prayerful accountant who constantly hopes that the decision makers do not make and execute decisions that cross the redlines for the various stakeholders.

At the end of it all, the role of the accountant in OROs and FROs decision-making arena remains relevant as all activities end in either dollars and cents or dust and tears.

The best case is where the owners include and invite the accountant, in and to, key decision-making processes.

On his or her part, the accountant has to demonstrate the value that they can bring to the table. In short, the accountant has to account for the benefits accruing from their presence and participation in business processes.

Chipangura is a fellow member of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe  with more than 20 years of post-graduate working and consulting experience in the manufacturing, mining and NGO sectors in Africa and the MENA region. He is an accountant by training and storyteller by birth. — [email protected].

Related Topics