There is one word that should send a chill up the spines of every member of the finance department at the Carlson Companies: benchmarking. Since the mid-1990s, Carlson, a privately held concern with an assortment of properties in hospitality, travel and marketing, has undergone three waves of substantial restructuring in finance, each triggered by a benchmarking analysis.

The most recent overhaul followed a benchmarking evaluation by The Hackett Group, a leader in such testing, which showed Carlson's finance costs to be in the top quartile of big spenders on finance. Ouch!

Then again, Carlson faces complexities that most other companies do not. According to Martyn Redgrave, Carlson's CFO, the costs partly reflect the fact that the $20.9 billion company has 19 divisions and seven major units, each operating in a different business. "Because of the wide diversity of the businesses and their decentralized natures, there was only so much we could do within each of the business units to reduce costs," Redgrave explains. So the answer was to think bigger. To achieve the necessary cost savings, Redgrave has embarked on a massive centralization. He first moved the group controllers and all employees reporting to them out of the operating units and into a single location. "Bringing everyone into a common location changes the eyesight–the way they see things and think about things," he says. "It definitely changes morale and the attitude toward change. They get it: We've burned the bridges." Next, he is working to standardize all of the processes that fall under the controller's function.

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Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is a business journalist who has written for Treasury & Risk, FierceCFO, Global Finance, Financial Week, Bridge News and The Bond Buyer.