Mark Ellis, CPA, ACA

CFO, Michael C. Fina Co., New York
BY LINDA SEGALL

Mark Ellis

In these worrying economic times, I must admit I feel invigorated. This is when finance can really have a huge impact. In good times, everybody does well. It’s not so easy to stand out in the good times; it’s easier to stand out in the bad times.

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit as an accountant, so I’m always looking for ways to make our business better. I am a big believer in following the concepts in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. One of those is finding out what you are great at, not what you want to be great at.

My company is actually comprised of two distinct businesses. We have our retail business, a place known for fine gifts where we have developed our reputation over many years. It’s been a great business for us. The other business, which has grown dramatically in more recent years, is the management of employee recognition programs for large companies. About five years ago, we saw that these companies needed a global supplier. We were one of the first in our industry to open a fully functioning operation in Europe. I was given the task of developing the model for that business.

As CFO I see my role as a mapmaker. My team takes information from each department and develops a budget that brings together plans and initiatives developed from throughout the organization. As we move through the year, the organization uses this map to guide us and judge performance. My passion is in using financial information we create to help drive effective decisions in the business.

I’ve been with the company 10 years. During that time our business has been on a fascinating journey of growth—400%. Moving the company from a regional to a national to a global business has been incredible because the business has had to change at different size plateaus.

In addition to my passion for accounting, I have a passion for promoting the idea that members in private industry should have a strong voice within the profession. This has led to my becoming the secretary of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, a member of the AICPA task force on GAAP for private businesses, my appointment to the FASB Small Business Advisory Committee and then to the IASB [International Accounting Standards Board] working group on GAAP for private entities. It is rewarding to work alongside so many talented people.

Balancing work and a personal life is hard. I play soccer each week and coach my kids’ soccer teams. I also run. I even ran the New York City Marathon in 2008 and raised $10,000 in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Fortunately, I am blessed with a great wife and two wonderful children who are very tolerant that dad comes home late or is not always there. We all support each other’s endeavors and when we are together, we maximize the fun.

Many people say they didn’t know what they wanted to do until after they graduated from college. Me? I’m the opposite. I’ve wanted to be an accountant. When I was a small boy, my father, a vice president at a national retailer in the United Kingdom, used to take me to his work, where I met the president of his company. The president was an inspiring individual who was a chartered accountant. I became convinced that being an accountant gave you a great grounding in business, and I was not wrong.

I haven’t asked my kids, who are 8 and 10, if they want to be accountants, but I know they are proud of me. My advice to them is, “Focus on what you want to do.” After I graduated from university in the U.K., I traveled to New York and knew I wanted to work there. Later, I was given that opportunity. I was able to do what I wanted to do. I want my children to do the same.

—As told to Linda Segall

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