Business control is vital – or you’ll go from hero to zero says CFO Centre

AFTER the first flush of start-up, many business owners find themselves faced with common problems caused by business control.

Those problems tend to polarise into coping with potential failure or run-away success – the ‘zero or hero’ scenario, according to The CFO Centre managing director Andrew Crealy. 

“The heroes are fast-growing, successful businesses, usually with considerable drive and enthusiasm from business owners,” Mr Crealy said. “Heroes are clearly going in the right direction, and appear to be getting there rapidly.

“However, like a fast train, without good control systems, knowing when to slow down or accelerate and understanding all the signals – a hero-business can easily run out of track and suffer a spectacular crash.” 

Mr Crealy described the ‘zeros’ as “those businesses that, for some reason, are finding life difficult”.

“ These can often be potentially great businesses, but they find themselves in a situation where their viability may be threatened, again by poor business control,” he said.

“It is immaterial whether businesses fail with a huge fall or sink slowly and uncontrollably – the result is always the same.”



Mr Crealy said the CFO Centre often found hero-business owners to be extremely enthusiastic, have great business ideas, products or services and they were consumed with ambitions for growth.

“Such businesses, led by their highly driven business owners, are usually great to work in, customers and suppliers alike are impressed with the never say die attitudes,” Mr Crealy said.

“Prime amongst the issues for the fast growing start up is being under-capitalised – the great idea can often die as a result of just not having enough cash.

“The enthusiastic owner whose vision drives the business can suffer from a lack of vision for coping with growth.”

Mr Crealy described ‘zero’ businesses as “strugglers”.

“They can be fallen heroes; however they are usually businesses that have striven to survive almost from day one,” he said. “They often adopt a wait and see policy, hoping that things will get better.

“They are usually characterised by a lack of profitability and cash. The constant pressure of trying to juggle cash to make ends meet overshadows the viability of the business and the potential success that lies within.” 



As with the medical profession, prevention is always better than cure. However, even business cases that may appear terminal can often be rescued, Mr Crealy said. 

“The solution lies in business-based financial support and advice,” he said. “The problem facing both heroes and zeros is finding and funding that advice.

“Frequently, business owners bemoan the difficulty in finding and sourcing affordable advice. However, in some cases they cannot afford to be without that advice.

“As with so many other things, the business owner should go for experience. Someone who has ‘been there, seen it and done it’.

“One immediate response is to hand the problem to the accountant. This can provide a solution, but in reality, most external accountants are not experienced in running a business.”

Mr Crealy said was where the CFO Centre came into the picture – outsourcing such problems to highly experienced financial and business managers

“An experienced chief financial officer (CFO) is invaluable in recognising the danger signals and providing solutions, they know how to finance a business, deal with growth, present meaningful monthly numbers and get the best deals from banks,” Mr Crealy said.

“At some point both heroes and zeros need this experience but they probably don’t need it full time – this is where an outsourced CFO provides the best solution.”

Mr Crealy said owners of hero to zero businesses were prime candidates for an outsourced part time CFO solution.

“With the outsource option, business owners can access a financial management skill set, that is experienced in dealing with problems and opportunities, able to organise both the in-house and external accounts functions, and provide the necessary business advice,” Mr Crealy said.

“The outsourced CFO has the skill set to plan and implement the controls needed to help the zero business survive and the hero business to grow positively. Additionally, an outsourced or virtual solution does not impact payroll or headcount with the business only charged for the days worked – which may only be a few days per month.

“Business owners – zeros or heroes – cannot afford to be without business-based financial advice. The outsourced CFO should be their first priority, before they hit the problems, after all the more time a business has to rectify a situation the more chance of success.”



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IPA finds ATO culture ‘improving’

THE CONSULTATION  paper released by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) proposing a ‘one chance’ rule to relieve individuals and small business of first-time tax penalties is a positive move according to the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).

IPA chief executive Andrew Conway said it was another example of “the cultural shift that is occurring within the ATO”. 

“The ‘one chance’ rule proposal is a clear sign that the ATO recognises that in the past, it may have been too heavy handed on taxpayers trying to do the right thing, by not taking into account individual circumstances” Mr Conway said.

“In real life, mistakes can be made and people should be entitled to learn from their mistakes especially if the individual circumstances are clear that the mistakes were inadvertently made. The ATO has the luxury of time and expertise so the balance of power is heavily weighted in their favour.

 “If someone has failed to take reasonable care or failed to lodge an activity statement or an income tax return on time, this proposed rule gives a first-time offender a break. This is a good sign for a small business that is time-poor and drowning in regulatory responsibilities.

“The reality is that the ATO remits a substantial number of penalties down the track after they are disputed which normally involves a great deal of time, effort and stress,” Mr Conway said.

“Not levying the penalty in the first instance will result in a reduction in the administrative burden facing individuals and small business.\

“The ATO is to be commended for this approach and it is a positive sign that the working culture of the ATO is improving,” Mr Conway said.




Workplaces now ‘adult day care’?

MIKE IRVING believes “staff day care is becoming a reality” as an increasing number of business owners and manager feel forced to fix their employees’ personal problems to keep them focused on the job.

“Many workers are bringing issues at home to work – unloading to their colleagues about relationship breakdowns, financial debt and family fights, interrupting work and forcing the boss to intervene,” business mentor Mr Irving said.

“It’s a common theme I’m hearing among frustrated employers who find staff are focussed on their own problems and therefore not being supportive of the team,” Advanced Business Abilities founder Mr Irving said.

“Instead of bosses focusing on growing their business they’re babysitting workers, ensuring their mental health is ok and taking steps to reassure them everything will be fine. 

“While this is admirable, it hurts their business as it takes their attention away from the direction they’re heading.

“I’m not surprised this is happening because there is a large number of people who lack self leadership in society.

“There is so much choice and a lack of applied delayed gratification with credit cards enabling people to buy things now even though they might not have the money,” Mr Irving said.

“In school sports every child is now given a participation trophy setting them up to believe things come easy in life not necessarily through hard work.

“We’ve set up generation Y and Millennials to not take responsibility for their life, and expecting others to fix their problems as well as helping them to complete their set tasks at work.

“This is also why many in this generation of workers seem to lack loyalty, opting to stay in a job for only six or 12 months … they’re constantly wanting to move onto something bigger and better.”

Mr Irving said bosses wanting to foster a productive work environment will be best placed if they avoid hiring staff who lack self leadership. The signs to look out for, he said, were:


1.     Critical: These people are quick to find fault in others and let the rest of the workforce know about it.

2.     Negative: Their outlook is the glass is always half empty. They see problems rather than solutions.

3.     Blame: Nothing is their fault even if it happened on their watch. They’ll be quick to distance themselves from the work colleague they’re pointing the finger at.

4.     Dishonesty: Will happily lie about a decision or a discussion to cover their tracks.

5.     Unsupportive:  They are more interested in looking after themselves than supporting the boss or following the company’s stated agenda. They will be unsupportive in a team environment choosing to do what’s best for themselves instead of what’s best for the team


“With increasing rates of mental health, drug use on the rise and one in three marriages ending in divorce there is no surprise personal problems are spilling into the workplace,” Mr Irving said.

“If you’d like to build a business that works, it’s important to choose the right people to support you.”




About Mike Irving


Mike Irving runs Leadership Skills Accelerator workshops around the country as well as individual coaching – the next workshops are scheduled for Perth and Byron Bay in August and September. For more information visit


Fear, anxiety constricts firms – Uni Syd research

AMBITIOUS corporate incentive schemes and performance goals can cause anxious employees to lie about results – and this has a negative impact on productivity, according to University of Sydney Business School research.

Professor of accounting, Wai Fong Chua used the example of the Finnish multinational, Nokia, which suffered financially because of the fear that it generated amongst middle and senior managers.

“Shared fear was so strong amongst Nokia’s middle managers that they withheld important information about the viability of its technology from senior managers,” Prof. Chua said. “The company suffered significant losses as a result and was forced to exit the smartphone market.”

Prof. Chua’s own research relating to the Australian subsidiary of a global computer company has confirmed the need to better understand ‘affective technologies’. These she described as processes, information systems, and performance/financial goals that “have an emotional impact and economic consequences”..

“Take, for example, a billion dollar revenue target that is to be achieved within 18 months,” Prof Chua said. “This tends to produce an affective outcome. Graphic Stock image purchased by Screamer Media Pty Ltd.

“It could be anxiety, it could be fear, it could be excitement, it could be all of these things and that, in turn, affects the way people work in an organisation.

“I believe there is considerable fear and anxiety in today’s corporations, especially those experiencing financial challenges. When corporate distress is not well handled it can have quite adverse consequences.”

Explaining her interest in ‘affective technologies’, Prof. Chua said financial managers today played a key role in designing performance management systems.

“We’re fundamentally interested in ensuring that the systems we design and the goals that are set enable people to develop their potential and achieve to the best of their ability,” Prof. Chua said.

“Stretch goals can motivate staff.  But, when tied to incentive schemes that operate in unsupportive corporate cultures, this can prompt fraud.”

For example, she said, investigations were continuing into the incentive schemes at the Wells Fargo bank in the United States, where about 5000 employees were thought to have created fictitious customers in order to meet or exceed their performance goals.

While researching affective technologies, Prof. Chua has also looked specifically at innovative start-ups and the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors.

“When passionate entrepreneurs, who are really keen on developing their product, turn to venture capitalists, the focus of their project may change in an unwelcome manner,” she said. “Investors are generally interested in earning a quick rate of return and their shorter-term focus may differ significantly from the passion of entrepreneurs.”

Prof. Chua said companies “need to be aware of levels of anxiety and fear and enable folks to discuss processes and goals without being so afraid that they fabricate an answer”. 

“Organisations are emotional arenas, not just economic entities,” she said.