This past week, I attended a National Business Officer Institute conference at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee. I had the opportunity to connect with business officers from across the nation during our week-long immersion of study covering accounting, finance, tax, human resources, risk management, facilities and technology.

Apparently, the path to business officer generally occurs indirectly and fills by individuals of various backgrounds, some of whom are CPAs. At our INCPAS Leadership Cabinet and Emerging Leaders meetings, we discuss the importance of attracting younger generations to the CPA profession and routinely brainstorm ways to engage them. I encourage you to share this career path with them as yet another option for future CPAs.

As I move forward with my new role as CFO at Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne, I find it fascinating to engage first-hand in the operations of a private independent school. At our conference, we discussed several important concepts with regard to staffing a business office. To help paint a picture, the business office staff generally consists of accounts receivable, accounts payable, controller and human resources. Direct reports to the CFO/business officer usually include tuition management and enrollment, financial aid, facilities, information technology, dining services, security, transportation, auxiliary and summer programs, health staff, bookstore/campus stores, post office and support staff.

Several of the highlights covered last week straddle what I experienced in public accounting:

  • Build a strong team – Referring to Jim Collins’ Good to Great, we discussed getting the right people on the bus in the correct seats.
  • Ensure that your team has the necessary skills to perform its functions properly.
  • Stay connected with departmental direct reports to remain informed. Schedule recurring meetings when appropriate.
  • Follow best practices by networking and staying informed through external sources including associations, journals and vendors.
  • Outsource when it makes sense and increases efficiency. For example, private schools must consider the pros and cons of managing dining services in-house or hiring a third party. Similarly, several vendors provide payroll services that a school can outsource.

At independent schools, a strong partnership must exist between the head of the school (the executive director) and the chief financial officer. We reviewed the importance of maintaining open, frequent and timely communication. Through collaboration, mutual respect and trust, each should appreciate different job responsibilities and demands while seeking out each other’s viewpoints. This helps ensure including both the head of school and CFO in important decisions. Each should honor his or her commitments through a shared alignment of mission, vision and priorities.

Sound familiar? What would you add to the list for your organization? Is an education business officer a role you have ever considered, or do you know someone who has?

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