Bridging the Operations/Accounting Gap
Accountants aren’t generally known for working outside the lines, or the columns. Yet John G. Rogoz III, CPA, CMA, CCIFP, has invested a significant part of his career on erasing the unproductive divisions between accounting and construction operations professionals.
Rogoz was guest lecturer March 2 at the Jackson Leadership Lecture Series at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. As Vice President of Finance & Information Technology for Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, Rogoz demonstrates his commitment to mentoring the next generation of construction industry leaders, serving as adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas and at Dunwoody.
Rogoz focused his presentation on assets: That is, making the most of the human assets that are making their careers in construction, and construction accounting; helping them maximize their development, and bridging their disciplines to mutual benefit.
Rogoz began by noting the distinctive characteristics of the construction industry that can contribute to its cultural dynamics.
- Operations occur at remote jobsites;
- Every project is unique;
- Projects are subject to long-term contracts, which means mistakes leading to non-profitable projects play out over a long time;
- Actual costs are known only after project completion; and finally,
We are all Risk Managers
Whether we are financial managers, operations managers or business managers, we are all essentially, risk managers, and we need to understand how risk impacts us, Rogoz stated.
At the beginning of his career, an accounting degree in hand, Rogoz went to work for Nooter Construction in St. Louis. At that time accounting and operations functions were largely separated; in fact, accounting was physically located on a separate floor from operations. Grasping the world of engineering and operations was a challenging learning curve.
After 13 years at Nooter, Rogoz joined Turner Construction, one of the largest contractors in the nation. While Turner’s high-profile projects such as stadiums made their work more relatable; there was still a notable divide in understanding between accounting and operations disciplines. With guidance from a mentor, Rogoz realized that a culture shift was necessary in order to progress toward better cross-disciplinary understanding: a shift toward making accounting professionals more visible, more approachable, and more collaborative with operations.
Moving Away from the Desk
“Accountants are known to be introverts…I had to get away from my desk. I needed to be known as somebody helpful,” Rogoz reflected. “So I became known as that person.”
Recalling how intimidating construction operations can be for a newcomer, Rogoz strives to help new people acclimate and work in a more collaborative way.
When Rogoz joined KA, its accounting systems were completely separated from operations. “Now we have an integrated ERP system,” he said.
Integrating Accounting into the Operations Team
In addition to technology systems, today’s accounting teams are becoming more integrated into the physical operations world as well. Along with a desk, a key fob and an email, new accounting employees get a hard hat and other PPE.
“When I go out to a job site, I’m taking off my audit hat and putting on a hardhat—I’m part of this team,” said Rogoz. “I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing wrong, I’m here to help you do things a little differently to make you more profitable.”
KA accounting professionals are engaged to take ownership of their projects just like the rest of the project team, working on assigned projects from start to finish.
“Every quarter we go out to a jobsite and have an accounting meeting, then tour the site.”
KA serves notable clients in high-profile markets including healthcare, K-12 schools, and public sector projects. One of the most exciting mixed-use projects now underway is the redevelopment of the KA Block in downtown Minneapolis. For decades the headquarters locale of Kraus-Anderson, the block is now being transformed to include a 17-story apartment building; a hotel; microbrewery and a new five-story Kraus-Anderson headquarters building. The entire block project will be served by two levels of underground parking. When the new office building opens this fall, the accounting teams will be integrated with operations teams, seated with the project teams they work with.
Helping Employees Grow Professionally- In Any Direction
Bridging the gap also increases professional development opportunities. Rogoz cited a new project accountant who, after working at KA for a year and a half, decided he wanted to transition into project engineering. “We put him in a PM program and now he’s an assistant PM,” Rogoz said.
In addition, KA’s intern program has proven to be an excellent resource for attracting and grooming top job candidates for the construction management team. The KA intern program has now expanded to include accounting interns.
Addressing the audience of students and soon-to-be-graduates, and acknowledging Dunwoody’s very high placement rate for its Construction Management program graduates, Rogoz was asked what attributes he looks for in a new employee.
“Ambition,” he said. “Don’t go in with the attitude that the company owes you; you own your career,” Rogoz said. “And don’t limit yourself. Seek out other ideas, and mentors, even if they aren’t from your own discipline.”
“After all, he added, “my mentor was an engineer.”