Wal-Mart’s Michael Fung: Why Internal Auditors Make Good CFOs

To really know what drives value for a company and understand its business processes, Fung says, there may be no better training ground than internal audit.

Beatrice had gone through an LBO, and my claim to fame as a corporate controller was that the company had, say, $15 billion in revenue when I got there and $1 billion when I left, because we sold everything off.

[After four years at Bass Pro Shops] I was recruited by a company called Vanstar, which is a computer reseller and network integrator. I was there three years. My next CFO job was with Universal Foods, a diversified multinational manufacturer. Vanstar was a $3.5 billion company and Universal only $1 billion, but I wanted the chance to be a CEO with top-line and bottom-line responsibility, so I was willing to go to a smaller company.

But before that happened, you went to one of the largest companies of all. Why?

I was recruited to Wal-Mart as vice president and CFO over the global procurement division. I helped create and establish that. I was probably the third associate in the division, and there’s about a couple thousand now. I helped put in place the systems and strategy for how we source from around the world. Then I went into internal audit for four years.

Did you feel like that was taking a step backward in your career?

I was in internal audit with Beatrice way back when, and [at the time I was offered the chief internal audit role with Wal-Mart] I had been in a lot of financial leadership positions and I wanted to keep doing that. I was very happy in global procurement. But the CEO said, Mike, I think it will be a good move for the following reasons: You have a chance to help improve the business. You have a chance to build relationships with the board of directors and our major business leaders. You have a chance to move internal audit to more value-added processes and improve our controls. You have a chance to improve the development of the associates there. And you will build your own ability to manage relationships, work with cross-functional teams, and manage people overall.

After spending four years in internal audit, I can say he was absolutely correct. It really worked out. Internal audit offers a deep understanding of the value drivers of the business and the underlying business processes, whether in merchandising, store operations, the supply chain — all those things were worthwhile. [I saw that I had] minimized truly appreciating the decision-making process within the company, and our culture and how it permeates our decisions and how we operate. I gained those things in audit.

Sarbanes-Oxley came along when you were in internal audit. How did you handle that?
Everybody sort of wanted to run away from it. But [for me] Sox came at an opportune time. You had to learn to use your business judgment to understand the risk to the company, satisfy the legal requirements, and still in the end make sure value was added to the company. To this day both our outside accountants and other peer groups that we work with marvel at our ability to implement it as seamlessly as we did on a worldwide basis without a lot of rework.

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