Financial Leadership at Cintas: Accountants Do More Than Record Transactions, Comply with Rules, and Analyze Data. They Provide Leadership That Defines a Vision for the Finance Department and Drives the Organizational Change to Achieve the Vision

By Carmichael, Paul; Brewer, Peter C. | Strategic Finance, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Financial Leadership at Cintas: Accountants Do More Than Record Transactions, Comply with Rules, and Analyze Data. They Provide Leadership That Defines a Vision for the Finance Department and Drives the Organizational Change to Achieve the Vision


Carmichael, Paul, Brewer, Peter C., Strategic Finance


CEOs of successful companies are frequently praised for their leadership abilities, such as defining a vision and motivating employees to pursue that vision, but how often do you hear of accountants being similarly recognized? The unfortunate answer is not enough because the accounting profession tends to overlook leadership skills as a core competency. In fact, to stretch your memory for a moment, how often do you recall hearing the word "leadership" in your college accounting curriculum? The answer is probably never. Professors taught undeniably important auditing, reporting, and compliance skills that you have refined to this point in your career.What they didn't tell you was that someday you would assume a leadership position in an organization that requires you to manage a team of people effectively. This reality begs an important question: How do you prepare for the next stage of your career? How do you complement your technical skills with the leadership skills needed to advance your career?

We'll help you develop your leadership skills by describing strategies the finance department uses at Cintas Corporation's rental division. Cintas provides uniforms, entrance mats, restroom services, promotional products, first aid and safety products, fire protection services, and document management services for approximately 800,000 businesses. Total Cintas sales in fiscal 2009 were $3.8 billion. The rental accounting department consists of roughly 40 partners (Cintas refers to all employees as partners) who support more than 250 plants and branch offices generating approximately $3 billion in annual sales.

What Makes an Accountant Tick?

Did you ever stop to contemplate what makes an accountant tick? While late-night talk show hosts might have some fun answering this question, what makes accountants tick is the same thing that makes all employees in organization tick: Accountants want to make a difference! They want to be respected as value-added business partners who help drive the organization's success rather than being viewed as back-office resources who simply close the books, reconcile accounts, roll up budgets, calculate variances, and hand off numerical analyses to others who actually make decisions. If you aspire to be an upwardly mobile financial leader and want to exert more influence at every stage of your career, then step one is to embrace the principle that you are leading people who sincerely want to be valuable contributors to your company. Step two in your development process is to understand that financial leaders need a means of translating this principle into strategically aligned employee actions. To do so, Cintas established a framework, featured in Figure 1, that we'll call the Leadership Cycle.We'll discuss the four steps in this cycle.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

STEP 1: Creating the Vision

Most employees want to do the right things for their company, but problems often arise because well-intended employees end up investing time in day-to-day activities or longer-term initiatives that aren't strategically relevant. Financial leaders need to begin by creating a vision statement that gives all partners in the finance department a common purpose and ensures that they are directing their efforts to the most important opportunities. The vision statement needs to be consistent with the corporate vision, be easily understood, and signal to all partners that their goal is to help drive the company's financial success. It must inspire a sense of purpose in leading the organization through good times and bad.

In the finance department at Cintas, the vision statement is to become a world-class finance department and a valued business partner. The term world-class inspires a sense of being best-in-class in serving internal customers and driving business performance. The idea of being a valued business partner explicitly creates the expectation that the finance department will collaborate with operations to drive the company's success.

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Financial Leadership at Cintas: Accountants Do More Than Record Transactions, Comply with Rules, and Analyze Data. They Provide Leadership That Defines a Vision for the Finance Department and Drives the Organizational Change to Achieve the Vision
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