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Enabling a 3-Day Close & Error-Free Audits

Starting in 1999, Big Ass Fans pioneered the high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fan industry by introducing large industrial fans to agricultural spaces.

The Challenge

In 2017, private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg acquired Big Ass Fans, the world leader in HVLS fans since 1999. Soon after the acquisition, the company’s new CFO, Eric Evans, realized that Big Ass Fans’ existing finance and business processes were “completely substandard.”

“The business was fantastic, but there literally wasn’t an area of the Finance and Accounting operation that was fit for purpose for the expectations of the new management team.”

After a material weakness was found in Big Ass Fans’ first audit as a new company, Evans was tasked with transforming finance processes.

“I’m passionate about transforming companies, and finance transformation for me is, quite frankly, an existential need. And I’m surrounded by really smart people who don’t accept the idea that ‘this is just the way it’s been done’. Even if you are the CFO of the best business on earth, if you have control issues, nobody’s going to listen to you. With control issues, your entire foundation is fractured.”

Why BlackLine

Big Ass Fans’ auditors suggested that the company implement software to automate and increase the accuracy and visibility of the close. “We did demos with Vena Solutions and FloQast, but BlackLine stood out as being the industry leader,” says Evans. “BlackLine was more intuitive and user friendly than the others.

In 2018, Big Ass Fans began implementing BlackLine’s Account Reconciliations and Task Management solutions, a process Evans calls “seamless.”

“We had good support from our BlackLine client relationship manager and flexible trainers that accommodated our internal schedules. BlackLine never left us in the dark, and we were surprised at how little IT involvement was needed on our end, besides enabling BlackLine to talk with our ERP system.”

Big Ass Fans rolled out Account Reconciliations to the company’s largest US subsidiary first, and Task Management soon followed. Users were trained via BlackLine’s learning platform, BlackLine U. “BlackLine U gave staff access to a lot of training material,” says Evans. “And our internal project manager became our BlackLine ‘expert’ and was able to train the rest of our users.”

Today, all general ledger balance sheet accounts are reconciled in BlackLine (“our primary goal,” says Evans), and BlackLine is used by a range of Finance and Accounting staff both in the United States and across the globe. Reconciliation preparers and approvers, general accountants, and the company’s Global Controller all rely on BlackLine to manage the close.

And F&A teams love BlackLine, as evidenced by their insistence the company keep the platform when pandemic-related budget cuts forced a closer look at expenditures.

“We had to determine what was critical. Everything was on the table, every piece of software, every person, the whole nine yards,” says Evans. “When I asked my team if we really needed BlackLine, they stood up for it. That’s really the ultimate validation, when you’re cutting expenses and your staff says this platform, BlackLine, is critical to the way they operate.”

The Results

Reduced close time to three days. Previously, the company’s reliance on spreadsheets resulted in an inefficient, drawn-out close process that required a tremendous amount of manual work.

“BlackLine, in conjunction with other reporting improvements, has enabled Big Ass Fans to close our books in three days at month end. This, in turn, has enabled timely reporting to owners and faster access to financial information to make faster decisions,” says Evans.

“BlackLine has been a critical part in creating a best-in-class operation in just over two years.”

Reduced headcount by 30%. Reducing headcount wasn’t a primary goal when Big Ass Fans implemented BlackLine. But the company has since realized a 30% reduction in staff.

“When an employee left, we realized we didn’t have to necessarily fill that position. With BlackLine, we had enough bandwidth, even with fewer people,” says Evans. “Over time, we realized we were able to do 200% of the output with 30% less staff.”

Enabled error-free audits. A less-than-stellar audit in 2017 was a driving factor in Big Ass Fans’ implementation of BlackLine. “BlackLine facilitated us fully mitigating our material weakness control risk in the first year,” says Evans. “Our last two audits have been error free.”  

Developed an “insightful” close process. Evans says that BlackLine has enabled a reliable, insightful process, one that reduces the ever-present stress of a manual monthly close.

“It’s the hidden dividend of BlackLine, the ability to streamline these core business processes. I’m not worried about if we’re closing the books on time or if everything is accurate. When it comes to the close, I sleep well at night.”

Freed staff to spend more time on value-added work. Implementing BlackLine was an important part of Evans’ and the company’s desire to engage people, process, and technology in service of building a better finance function.

“We have great people at Big Ass Fans, but great people require technology and process to stay engaged. If they’re stuck doing manual work, activities that aren’t engaging or fulfilling, you’ll run them into the ground,” says Evans.

“Once you invest in the right technology, you can really build momentum and begin to add value in other areas. You have more time to put brains to work on things that are both engaging and important.”

Engaging people in their work also fosters a positive workplace culture—and that culture attracts more great people. “When people interview with Big Ass Fans, they feel the energy of the team. They can tell that staff work proper hours, that they don’t put in ungodly hours to close the books.”

Facilitated remote work. BlackLine has enabled employees who might be temporarily working remotely to perform the same structured close process, without the need to be in the office.

“Remote employees have real-time access to BlackLine,” says Evans. “They can easily pull prior period account information and submit an account reconciliation to an approver with just the click of a button.”