The Barrington Products, Inc. case study involves management control issues such as the design of responsibility centers, budgeting, measurement and reporting, and other behavioral considerations.
David W. Young
Harvard Business Review (TCG033-PDF-ENG)
January 24, 2014
Case questions answered:
- You are an investor looking for a company with an after-tax return of at least 15 percent. Is Barrington Products Inc. such a company? How do you know?
- What kind of responsibility center is a division at Barrington Products Inc (BPI)? How do you know? Is the responsibility center design a good one? Why or why not?
- Exhibit 2 shows negative variances in sales volume, raw materials usage, and advertising and sales promotion during the month of April. What plausible explanation for each negative variance?
- Why might the most capable Division General manager (DGM) show the poorest financial performance? Why might a DGM who is doing a poor job show good financial performance? Please be specific about this matter for the cotton textile division. What additional information would you like to have to assist you in your assessment of this division’s performance?
- What changes should be made to the management control system to make it more responsive to Mr. Baum’s concerns and BPI’s needs?
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Barrington Products, Inc. Case Answers
Barrington Products, Inc. is a manufacturing company with five divisions- cotton textiles, Knitted goods, woolen goods, artificial fiber products, and artificial leather. Each division is headed by a Division General Manager who is also the deputy president of Barrington Products, Inc.
It is mentioned that each division maintains accounting records and submits a balance sheet and income statement to the main headquarters once every month. The case notes that corporate staff are not directly involved in the division activities but only help when needed to coordinate division activities, such as preparing an estimate of annual sales.
Each division has a management control system where individual divisions forecast sales, then an estimate of sales is prepared by corporate staff, and the division general manager reviews the estimates and makes necessary changes.
After approval by the division general managers, the summary of the estimates is forwarded to the president of Barrington Products, Inc. for final approval.
The last stage of the approval process is that the budgets from all divisions are integrated into a profit budget and presented to the company’s board of directors for final and last approval, and it becomes a basis for evaluating each division’s performance and paying out bonuses for the first time.
Key Problem(s) Faced by Barrington Products, Inc.
Barrington Products, Inc. is a multiple-product company with a management control system that is not properly operating. The top management is concerned about the huge variances seen in its budget.
Some divisions are showing favorable and unfavorable variances, and even though there are some favorable variances, the work done in the divisions is not satisfactory.
It is stated that the management control system was recently introduced, and the controller of the company had thought that the system would work well for the division’s products because it had worked well for the industrial products.
The monthly report reveals that sales volume revenues were not budgeted well or inaccurate, and it shows huge revenue variances. The president notes that either sales volume had gone up or down than the budget.
Another problem is that the costs are varied, which is unusual, and there is a need to explain the reason for the variances. Again, the artificial leather division has revealed some problems. Even though it is showing a favorable sales volume variance compared to other divisions, it is generally performing poorly.
Generally, there are lots of issues to be resolved by Barrington Products, Inc.’s management.
Analysis of the Variances
Profit Variance – Unfavorable
The decrease in profit in the profit to be accounted for is ($54,000) unfavorable, which arises from the difference between the budgeted and the actual profits and reduces profit. These differences between the budgeted and the actual profits can be explained in terms of sales price variance, sales volume variance, and cost variance.
The division general manager of the cotton textile can explain the unfavorable profit variance. The manager might have sold a lower total number of units than the budgeted, or the less profitable products were sold than what was anticipated in the budget.
Some of the other reasons may be due to a decrease in demand for the products or increased competition in the market. The manager can also explain why the materials purchased were too expensive, or there was no discount offered due to small order sizes.
Sales Volume Variances – Unfavorable
This is the difference between the flexible budget amount for the clothes and the amount for the clothes reflected in the master budget for the month of April.
From the flexible budget variance, the sales volume variance for the month of April ($65,000) is unfavorable. This means that the standard profit of the cotton textiles division is lower than the amount budgeted.
This might be attributed to a lower quantity of items sold than the budgeted quantity, or the demand for the more profitable products became lower than expected. It might also be because of a decrease in the production of high-profit margin products due to a shortage of raw materials or labor.
The division also might have failed to set proper goals for the month. Also, the division may have set inappropriate selling prices for the clothes, and the marketing and promotion programs were not effective.
Raw Materials Variance
This is the difference between the actual direct materials cost and the total standard direct materials cost for the month.
Usage – Unfavorable
The raw materials usage variance for the month of April is ($3,000) which means that the actual quantity of materials used was more than the budgeted quantity.
The manager in charge can explain why the workers used too many materials to make the fabrics, why the materials were of low quality, causing the fabrics to be rejected, or why the workers wasted materials in making fabrics. Barrington Products Inc.’s top management needs to understand this kind of information to come up with a solution.
Pricing – Favorable
The materials price variance for the month of April is $4,000, meaning that the actual price of buying materials was lower than the budgeted amount.
This might have been due to discounts received that were not expected when the budget was prepared. Or was there a positive change in the standard of materials?
Direct Labor Variance
It results from the total direct labor cost for the period being different from the total standard direct labor cost. There was a positive variance in direct labor of $10,000, and this can be explained in terms of the rate of labor or efficiency of labor.
Factors that might have led to favorable variance are the use of higher nix of skilled workers, the use of high-quality materials, which resulted in less time spent working with fabric waste, the division might have purchased more efficient machines, and employee training programs improved the efficient use of time.
Variable Overhead Variance
This is the difference between the total variable cost incurred during the month of April and the total variable cost in the flexible budget. The variable overhead reflected a favorable variance of $5,000, which can be explained in terms of overhead expenditure and overhead efficiency.
The division general manager can explain the reasons for this variance. This might be due, for example, to better control of costs, or the output might have differed from the budgeted.
Advertising and promotion variance – Unfavorable
The advertising and promotion variance for the month of April is ($16,000) which means that the actual cost was more than the budgeted cost.
The division general manager can explain the reasons for the variances in terms of intense advertising and promotion to bring back declining sales volume. Maybe the manager chose the wrong advertising medium, hence spending a lot of money and hurting the business.
- Timing of variance recognition – Division general managers of Barrington Products, Inc. should be able to identify variances at an early stage. Recognition of variances will help them to be aware of deviations from expected performance and exercise maximum control. For example, a direct material price variance can be identified either at the time of purchase or the time the materials are issued to production. Understanding the price variance at the point of purchase allows the division to take proper actions to prevent the continuation of an unfavorable price variance or attain the most benefit from a favorable price variance.
- Rewarding the division general managers based on the accuracy of sales and forecasting. Compensating each manager according to how much his or her actual sales exceed the budgeted sales of the other division manager. It is mentioned that the evaluation would have been used as a basis for rewarding bonuses to the managers. If the idea had been introduced earlier, then each division manager would have been careful in ensuring that there were no large unfavorable variances in the budget. However, managers who have self-interest might reward themselves with bonuses even when their performance is not satisfactory.
- Rewriting the budget – regardless of whether the variances are favorable or unfavorable, rewriting it can be an important step to undertake when dealing with budget losses. For example, if the sales volume has gone down in the market, rewrite the budget to compensate for the lower sales. It is also important to investigate why the variances were favorable to find ways to make them more favorable in the future and continue with this trend in the future. The process of identifying and rewriting each variance can be time-consuming.
The plausible solution here to deal with the variances is to rewrite the budget variance, both favorable and unfavorable. In this way, it is easier to identify the extent of the losses and act to prevent them from being a trend and rewriting areas of favorable variances can help management to come up with strategies to make permanent favorable variances.
1. Investor looking for a company with after tax-return of at least 15%
There is not enough information to determine the return on investment for Barrington Products, Inc. We are unable to determine the average operating assets such as cash, inventory, accounts receivable, and fixed assets (usually provided in the balance sheet) used by Barrington to conduct its business operations.
Assuming the net operating income is equal to the net profit after tax, then the return on investment would be Net operating income divided by the total assets.
So, unless we are provided with the missing information, we cannot determine either average operating assets or the turnover, which will help in calculating the return on investment and, therefore, a basis for the decision on whether to invest in Barrington products to gain an after-tax return of at least 15%.
2. Barrington Products, Inc. is a profit center
Each company’s division is a profit center because its aim is to generate profits/revenues and incur costs such as variable and fixed costs to produce the desired revenue. Each of the 5 divisions is headed by the division general manager, who is responsible for the revenues generated and costs incurred in the division.
The division general manager is also accountable for aligning the division goals directly with the top management (president) goals to make the company profitable. The responsibility center design is a good one because it clearly defines the superiors and subordinates and their duties.
The reports clearly define which division general manager is responsible for the performance and for investigating the variances in the budget.
For example, it is mentioned that the Artificial leather division general manager has been performing poorly and shows favorable variance.
Another good thing about the design is that each division generates profits directly from its activities. It is stated that the cotton textiles division produces fabric and sells them directly to manufacturers.
With this design, it is possible to control the budget because each division is evaluated based on deducting actual costs from the budgeted costs, therefore offering more budgetary control.
3. Reasons for the variances in performances of DGM’s
From the profit performance budget report for the cotton textiles division, for example, the total direct materials variance reports a favorable variance of $1,000, but it is shown that the materials price variance was $4000, and the usage of the materials was an unfavorable variance of ($3000).
This may mean that the division general manager authorized the purchase of materials that seemed like a good deal but were of low quality, resulting in waste during production.
The report shows unfavorable direct materials usage variance, but it was offset by favorable direct material price variance. This may have led a division general manager to report a favorable total materials variance and may be thought that profits were not affected.
In this case, variances should be used as a guide for the investigation of both favorable and unfavorable variances and corrective actions. The additional information required to assess the performance of the cotton textile division is the performance budget reports from the other four divisions showing the breakdown of the variances because it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is doing a bad or good job without doing the variance analysis of each division.
Again, it does not necessarily mean that if a profit center division is performing well or earning more profits than the other, then the overall profits of the company are optimized. So, knowing the performance in terms of profit contribution margins of each division will be helpful in identifying areas that need corrective actions.
4. Changes that should be made to the current management control system
Barrington Products, Inc. should introduce financial and non-financial measures such as quality and customer satisfaction to their management control system. From the report, most of the variances are due to the quality of materials used, which might have caused unfavorable results, or the sales volume variance came about due to customers demanding fewer items, which may be due to quality.
Setting performance targets- targets should be specified for every performance dimension that is measured. This will ensure that each division’s general manager and other employees are aware of what the company wants from them, so individuals will act in the best way possible and assess their performance.
Variances analysis helps managers focus their attention on areas that are not operating as expected and give less attention to areas operating as expected. By identifying the areas that have deviated most from the expectations, variances enable managers to focus their efforts on the most critical areas that need correction or improvement.
Variance analysis is also used in performance evaluation based on the management control system to motivate managers to improve their competitive performance, enhance their profit consciousness, and contribute in many ways to making the decision-making process more effective.