The recent plight of Steve Shaw and Ric Serrenho probably sounds familiar. The pair, co-owners of Visual Concepts Media, a $1.1-million corporate-communications firm in Bloomfield, Conn., used to personally pursue overdue accounts receivable, balance the books, and write the checks, while handling marketing, video production, and other key functions of the company.

The company's fast growth -- it won a place on the 1992 Inc. 500 list -- didn't make it immune to problems. A messy (and expensive) sales-tax audit and a growing awareness that they didn't understand their monthly operating costs persuaded Shaw and Serrenho to embark upon a major overhaul of Visual Concepts' internal financial systems. The ultimate goal: "To become less reliant on our certified public accountant," says Shaw. The vital ingredient: hiring an in-house controller to handle the day-to-day finances and carry out the financial analysis previously done by the company's outside CPA. "This will save us money and improve our management abilities," says Shaw.

As the co-owners began the search for a controller, they had in mind three characteristics: financial skills, relevant job experience, and if possible, familiarity with their company. Randy LaVigne, whom they discovered by networking with clients and hired last November, met all three requirements: he has an accounting degree from the state university as well as a rÉsumÉ that includes a stint in the corporate-audit division of a Big Six accounting firm and employment as the chief financial officer of a small local company. "He was even familiar with our business," notes Shaw.

LaVigne's early involvement is part-time; he is working at the company's offices one day a week, a schedule that will soon intensify as he becomes more involved in management issues. "Initially, he'll work on producing monthly financial reports that analyze our receivables, payables, and balance sheet," says Shaw. To prevent the new controller from getting bogged down in paperwork, the company intends to continue outsourcing its payroll, a cost-effective strategy.

The company will soon start to make better use of LaVigne's expertise as he turns to "what-if" strategic analyses, such as how much Visual Concepts could save if its many little video purchases were consolidated into one annual $30,000 order. Shaw, a television newsman by training, also hopes LaVigne will be able to teach him more about how to understand and use the company's financial reports.

Visual Concepts also recently revamped its financial software, which should make LaVigne's tasks more manageable; it purchased a comprehensive package called MacP&L. "We had been working with two different financial-software packages that didn't know how to communicate with each other," Shaw recalls.

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