Carla McRae - Comptroller at Barn Light Electric Company & Playalinda Brewing Company

Perfecting Your Craft: A CGMA’s Perspective

If sampling a flight of craft beers after a hard day at the office sounds like your idea of a good time, you’d have plenty to chat about with management accountant and beer enthusiast Carla McRae, CPA, CGMA, comptroller for Playalinda Brewing Company in Titusville, Fla.

McRae also chairs the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce, sits on a hospital foundation board, leads a young professionals networking group, and frequently volunteers for local charities. On weekends she can be found on the family boat with her husband and three children ages 4, 5 and 10, including one with special needs. “I see pursuing things I enjoy as key to my success in my career and life in general,” says McRae.

How do you get into a niche industry like craft beer?     
The craft beer business kind of fell into my lap—I love it! The owners of the Playalinda Brewing Company had a craft beer hobby and decided that they wanted to open a brewery. They asked for my help with the finances, and I came on board. Then, they hired a professional brew master and have been in production two years now. Since then, I’ve connected with CFOs of breweries across the country, even at the AICPA’s CFO Conference. I’ve been able to tap into them for help with things like distribution, kegs and software. Now we have launched a brewpub, and I’m leveraging my AICPA contacts to learn more about the food and beverage business. The craft beer industry has been seeing double digit growth for the past several years. In the mid-1980s, there were only about 125 breweries in the whole country. Now there are over 4,000 breweries and craft beer sales make up over 12% of all US beer sales.

How do you learn to be a leader?   
The key is to be actively involved in your career.  Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In says, “Bring your whole self to work…. It is all professional and it is all personal.” Really take time to understand theory and develop your foundation—the skills the CGMA covers. Because if you skimp in the beginning, you’re not going to be strong at the top. Also, seek mentorship. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of professional mentors indirectly and directly in my career. You can even have multiple mentors who can provide different things for you.

Your approach to team building?
I have one entry level position reporting to me and it turns over because we move people up from there. I’ll sit down with a new hire at their desk and we do things together as necessary. I’m always open to suggested changes, especially if they improve efficiency. And every time I train a new hire, I learn something new to improve the position. I think it comes from having a high level of respect for people and realizing that we all bring in a different background, a different perspective, a different life experience, and we all have value to add in what we do.

What’s the key to managing growth?
Our owners are very direct about moving forward quickly. But they look to me, as head of finance, to advise them on whether particular opportunities are smart financially. This is where the management accounting skills of understanding both the technical aspects of finance and business strategy are so important. Sometimes I’m the voice of caution. We’ve done some things at a slower pace than perhaps some would have liked. For example, our third business venture includes opening a draft distillery and I advocated for establishing the brewpub before opening the distillery even though the organizations were formed at the same time. I think our measured approach has proven to be the right one because of the outcomes we’re seeing.

You’re also very active in the community. How does that play in?
When I started getting involved with the local chamber of commerce, I attended a lot of events that helped me get to know people and build business relationships that led to what I’m doing now. So, developing professional relationships through community involvement has been critical to my success in both public and management accounting. But I also found that I really enjoyed giving back to the community.

In addition to her role at Playalinda Brewing Co., Carla leads a team of seven finance professionals at Barn Light Electric Company, which is wholly owned by Bryan and Donna Scott who are also co-owners with Ron and Katie Raike of Playalinda Brewing Company.