Reflections on FUSION 2011 – Part 1

Posted by Andrew Bartolini on May 13th, 2011
Stored in Articles, Events, General, Procure-to-Pay

Dateline: May 8-12

Event: FUSION 2011

Host: The Institute of Financial Operations

Place: Orlando Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center

The newly rebranded Institute of Financial Operations (“IFO”) hosted its 21st Annual conference this past week with nearly 2,000 attendees in tow. It was an event to remember. Since it is newly rebranded, it probably makes sense to provide a quick overview of the IFO.

The Institute of Financial Operations

In its own words, “The Institute of Financial Operations is the umbrella organization comprising four membership associations for finance professionals: International Accounts Payable Professionals (IAPP), International Accounts Receivable Professionals (IARP), the National Association of Purchasing and Payables (NAPP), and The Association for Work Process Improvement (TAWPI). “

This is an organization that has deep, deep roots in accounts payable; it is “ISM” equivalent in the AP world with a large membership and accreditation program. When the new management team came on board a few years ago, it began a very smart and proactive approach to consolidating the association market by rolling up several associations that shared similar orientations and memberships. With its AP members and own board of directors increasingly pushing it to broaden its focus to the larger P2P business process, it was no surprise when the IFO announced that the NAPP would become part of its organization. Many of you may know the NAPP for its conferences and its holistic P2P orientation. I have spoken at several of the NAPP conferences and covered event speakers from MillerCoors, Meadwestvaco, and Google last year.

As you may have read earlier this week, the IFO is now an official partner of Ardent Partners. We’ll share more on what we believe are the tremendous synergies and opportunities for the partnership and why our readership should care in the days and weeks ahead. But now, back to the event

Keynote Strikes the Right Chord

Monday’s keynote was delivered by Cynthia Cooper, the former VP of Internal Audit at WorldCom who led the team that uncovered the largest accounting fraud event in corporate history (the final figure was ~$11 billion).

In a story that was one part “The Insider” and one part “The Firm,” Cooper gave a stirring [which is really hard to do in the world of internal audit] firsthand account of the process that led her team to first identify a series of questionable accounting entries and begin pulling the strings which ultimately unraveled the company (WorldCom was delisted and later filed for bankruptcy) and sent several top executives including CEO, Bernie Ebbers and CFO, Scott Sullivan to jail.

In almost any context, Cooper’s actions were bold, courageous, and heroic and yet, in her speech, she amazingly downplayed what she and her team did and accomplished. “We have to take action when we think something is wrong,” she simply explained [Since the title of her 2008 book about the entire chain of events is called Extraordinary Circumstances not Extraordinary Actions, it is clear that she feels she just reacted appropriately to the events as they happened].

Cooper also discussed the maneuvering and manipulations of the senior executives while highlighting many of the real world practical and ethical dilemmas and trade-offs faced by the middle managers who knowingly assisted their bosses (or looked the other way). While sharing the collaborators side of the story may have generated some empathy from the crowd [workers in a small community with families] Cooper was extremely critical of these pawns, maybe even more so than the corrupt executives. For me and the table of AP managers I sat with, these anecdotes and the final and direct confrontation with David Myers, the company’s controller, resigned to answering truthfully once he knew the fraud had been exposed and according to Cooper said, “ was easy in the beginning and it just got harder and harder to stop.”

As the only financial operations professional who has also been named Time Magazine Person of the Year (2002), I could not think of a more appropriate speaker than Ms. Cooper. I am certain that her message hit home.

Postscript: Cooper’s story was also written up in this archived Wall Street Journal article and has become a case study used at many Business Schools

Postscript II: For those interested in other fraud articles on CPO Rising, click here

Postscript III: Back to Orlando for another full week: I’m speaking on Monday at SAPPHIRE and I also hope to spend some time walking the exhibitor hall at the ISM Conference – hope to run into many of you down there….

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