• Finance

Finance for the Intimidated

Michigan Ross offers a cure for managers lacking confidence with numbers


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While mathematicians can sometimes be innovative and empathetic leaders, other talented executives with great creativity and leadership skills can often be intimidated by numbers and things financial.

Typically, high-potential executives, who have excelled in a functional role, are promoted to leadership without any significant training in finance and this can be a tough place to be, because numbers are the common language of business.

Furthermore, the proliferation of digital data and the trend towards organizations becoming leaner and less hierarchical, pile ever greater pressure on the financially-phobic. Organizations increasingly require decisions backed by analytics and also expect important decisions to be taken by executives at all levels.

To analyse data accurately and take responsibility for budgets, executives need to understand the basics of finance and be able to express themselves clearly with numbers. Addressing this issue, two Michigan Ross professors Gautam Kaul and Greg Miller have developed a unique hybrid program – Finance for Strategic Decision Making – which uses a combination of online courses and in-person coaching to equip its participants with a strong grounding in finance and accounting, enabling them to perform well in a fast-paced world of proliferating data.

“Companies want their leaders to bring everything they can to the table, but you can’t do that if you don’t know some fundamentals of finance and accounting,” says Kaul, professor of finance and Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration. “Even if you are very talented you will be short-changed.”

The program allows people to take two MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) first and pass the tests, on accounting and finance, on their own schedule before attending the classroom portion. Since everyone in the room is then on the same page, the two-day, in-person session is intense and focuses on exercises that put their new skills to work. (Passing the online tests is required to attend the in-person portion.)

“When you show up I’m not explaining what a balance sheet is or how to read an income statement,” says Miller, Ernst and Young Professor of Accounting. “We’re all talking the same language by this point. We’re going to probe your thoughts and show you how to convince other people of your viewpoint using what you’ve learned. You need to do more than analyse information. You need to put it together in a way other people can understand. That’s what we do after the online portion.”

This digitally-savvy approach saves time and money – as traditional ‘finance for non-financial managers’ programs involve a full week in the classroom. In the future Michigan Ross hopes this flexibility will allow the program to be exported to places – companies or countries – where there’s high demand for managers who need to learn financial acumen.

“We want this to be accessible,” says Miller. “I see a lot of managers hide from numbers. What I want is for every manager and leader to contribute everything they can. And the common language in business is numbers. You need to speak the language if you’re going to get anywhere.”

Professors Gautam Kaul and Greg Miller introduce Finance for Strategic Decision Making in this 4 minute video:

Corporate cliches are for yesterday’s business. Today's business calls for a new kind of leadership, one that sees beyond yesterday’s cliches and creates meaningful change, the kind of change that yields long-term, sustainable results.

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