As part of the Meet the Controller/CFO series, the Controllers Council recently interviewed Christie Kozlik, Chief Accounting Officer for Accel Entertainment, a leading distributed gaming operator in the United States. Prior roles included Vice President of Consolidations and SEC Reporting at Assurant and Director of Shareholder Reporting at Allstate. Christie got her start in public accounting at KPMG, where she worked in three offices and worked with various audit and advisory clients across numerous industries. She earned a BS accounting and legal studies from Indiana University – Bloomington.
Following are questions from moderator Neil Brown, and answers from Christie Kozlik. If you are interested in learning more, view the full interview video archive here.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in Corporate Accounting?
A: I think like most people when I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer or an accountant. Why those two choices were what I was thinking, I have absolutely no idea, but once I got into college, I really enjoyed my business school classes. I very much enjoyed my accounting classes when I was in school and thought, “Hey, this is going to be great for me. I really am enjoying it. It makes sense.” I always joke around, all our schools were sponsored by KPMG, Deloitte, PWC, I mean they were on campus all the time. So, as I started looking at my career pathing, I thought, “I think I’m going to go the path of public accounting.” I loved what I was doing. And then lo and behold, suddenly, I got an email from a recruiter that just said, “Allstate was looking for its director of shareholder reporting.” So, it took me a few years in my career to move over to the corporate side. You feel part of the team on the corporate side. I mean, not that I wasn’t as auditors before or an advisor, but once you’re on the other side working directly with the corporation, hearing what their goals are, what they want to do. And I went into Allstate as their director of SEC reporting, shareholder reporting. So doing all the SEC filings really gives you the insight as to what the company’s trying to accomplish, what their results look like, what is leadership trying to get the investors to understand where’s the growth opportunity. So, suddenly you get in and start learning stuff at a very high level very quickly. And I realized very quickly that I made the right call. For me, it’s been an absolute fantastic journey. And then ending up as the chief accounting officer at Accel has been just an absolute dream job for me.
Q: What are the roles and responsibilities of a Chief Accounting Officer, and how do they differ from public accounting?
A: My role here as the chief accounting officer, it’s broad as you can imagine. I have the accounting team. I also have the treasury functions under me as well as taxes, SEC, reporting, and then processing. So Accel is a leading distributor of gaming equipment, gaming, and amusement. It’s a unique business model that we work with and very fascinating.
I would say how it’s very similar is I deal with accounting and treasury function stuff you’re going to deal with in public accounting. As you look at your companies, what they’re doing, how they’re putting their financials together, what’s been unique and rewarding is getting on the operational side as well, because I sometimes feel like as accountants, we’re not always thrown into the operational side of the business. How should we be going? How many machines do we have out there? What should be coming back? What are our routes look like? So, it’s really put me into a different frame of mind and really stretching me in ways I hadn’t thought I’d get to touch before, but really in the best way, it’s been very rewarding working on the ops side and with my corporate teams.
Q: What have been the most significant keys to success?
- Awesome support team
- Ask questions
Q: Are there any tools or solutions that help you be more effective in your role?
A: I am a huge fan of technology. I think it makes our world a lot easier to work in. The new chief accounting officer, CFO, everything out there is saying you’ve got to automate more, you’ve got to do more with less. Think outside the box. The way you did it before may not be the way you want to do it tomorrow.
Q: Do you have any overarching guiding principles of what to keep in mind when choosing a new tech solution (or introducing it to a team)?
A: My overarching principles are buy-in at the beginning. I think that upfront collaboration, and you also feel it too when you do that rollout without that discussion, some of the pain points you just might be causing more… that’s causing more issue in people’s world because you didn’t understand it to start with. buy-in from the top really makes sense that collaboration and engagement. And then the other piece, and I kind of alluded to it earlier, was what is the solution and what can that solution do?
Q: What advice would you give to others that seek a career in corporate accounting?
- You don’t have to be a technical accounting genius to get into accounting. If you have a right attitude, if you are excited about what you’re trying to learn, we can teach you the technical side of things.
- Always focus on communication, whether written, oral, or other.
To learn more, view the full interview here.