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Apr 05 2012

Speaking finance improves career opportunities

After passing customs I walk into the main part of the Tianjin, China airport and enter a world of people speaking words I can’t understand and signs I can’t read. I must rely completely on my interpreters to help me make basic decisions.  (Asking for advice on where to site-see, ordering a meal, finding a taxi, etc.)  By not knowing Chinese I’m dependent on others and ignorant of much of what is going on around me.

In business the main language is finance.   Those that speak and understand it are more able to contribute and make decisions than those that don’t.  Learn to speak finance and you immediately become more employable and promotable.


From my hotel room window, I watch a soccer match between two Chinese teams.  It occurs to me that the language of soccer is the rules and the ways to keep score.  And a soccer player can’t perform well if he or she doesn’t know how the game is scored. In business, the way we keep score is found in finance.

In any aspect of life where money is involved the language is finance.  We are asked to make financial decisions in many areas; in our personal finances in the form of retirement planning, in the business context as a manager overseeing the budget of our department, or in the voting booth when the national debate is the size of the US debt.

Studies show a large fraction of the population is woefully underprepared to make these decisions. The US suffers from a low level of financial literacy. And yet, there’s a strong relationship between understanding financial concepts, better financial decisions, employability, promotability, and household well-being.


I suspect many of us are financially illiterate because accounting classes we took in school were boring, and we found it difficult to forge a personal connection to Generally Accepted Accounted Principles.

Now that we’re older, look for opportunities to learn finance with a “rule-of-thumb” approach that ties these best practices to real-world situations.

The client that has brought me to China does this better than most.  As a trans-national hotel corporation, they train all of its managers, regardless of country, in the common language of finance. Concepts and rules of thumb are taught, discussed, then applied in an interactive, competitive simulation where teams make dozens of decisions that have a direct impact on revenue, cost, market share, employee engagement and customer loyalty.

To build financial literacy:

  • Ask your manager to walk you through how the company keeps score. I.e., profit and loss statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement, dashboards, balanced scorecards
  • Learn how your manger’s performance is measured
  • Take basic classes in accounting and finance at local or online colleges
  • Read The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and the business section of The Arizona Republic
  • Learn how to build and read excel spreadsheets
  • To be considered for higher-level positions get experience managing a budget or the revenue and costs of a department

More so than ever, companies hire and promote people who understand the language of finance.  As you plan for that new job or promotion consider this; skills are like dollars: If they don’t grow they become less valuable over time.