Like most remodelers, Steve Ramaekers wears a lot of hats. The president of Mainstreet Restorations & Remodeling in Birmingham, Mich., not only runs the company and handles sales, he makes coffee and runs to the store when necessary. But since hiring a controller five years ago, he no longer spends time buried in the company's books. “I wanted to free myself up for sales and overseeing the company,” Ramaekers says. He used to spend 30% of his time on accounting tasks —time that he now devotes to sales.

Tim Thompson, owner of Thompson Building Associates, Columbus, Ohio, knew it was time to hire a controller when he realized that the company had grown but was having trouble making a profit. “We knew we should be making money,” Thompson says. Peers at other companies explained to him what a controller would do.

With a controller, “you know the temperature of the company every day,” says Jason Larson, who hired a controller more than one and a half years ago for Lars Construction in La Mesa, Calif., where he is president. In addition to generating profit-loss statements and financial reports such as cash flow forecasting, balance, liquidity ratio trending, working capital trending, and job costing, controllers can weave the numbers into the daily decision-making framework of the company.

“An accountant can tell you that something is wrong,” Thompson says. “A controller can tell you why and how to fix it before it's broken.”

That's because good controllers dive headfirst into the business. Thompson's controller, for example, handles not just the accounting department but also most of the administrative department; he tracks benefits and helps determine the level of risk for each project. Ramaekers' controller also functions as office manager and oversees advertising. “We put a lot of emphasis on the sales and production managers,” Thompson says. “The controller is as important as any of those.”