A typical job that an eager-to-leave Big 4 auditor might come across is that of an internal auditor. These jobs are plentiful within public companies large and small, but there tends to be a stigma that internal auditors are merely corporate hall monitors with limited upward mobility.
After speaking to Megan Scheiderich, Director of Internal Audit at PulteGroup, we have a different outlook on the benefits and potential of a career path in internal audit. She discussed the path to her position at the company, the transition from a Big 4 position to industry, what makes for a good internal auditor, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GC: First, we should get some background — What’s the arc of your career been so far?
Megan Scheiderich: Going way back, I started at University of Tennessee as an engineering major, but switched to accounting due to the ability to see and understand businesses. I got a double major in accounting and international management and skipped the masters since I had the CPA hours.
I was with Deloitte for ten years, and left as a senior manager. I worked solely in our real estate group, with clients ranging from homebuilders to public and private REITs in multifamily, office, industrial, and retail. My favorite Deloitte experience is still working on Augusta National, which was in the real estate group.
I loved public accounting – I had great clients and teams. But, I needed to take a step more for my personal life and achieve more balance. I started a program at Deloitte (WIN -Women’s Initiative Network) that helps high performing senior managers prepare for the partner process. It was going through that program that helped me clarify that, while I truly enjoyed what I did, I didn’t want to be in public forever. That was a really difficult choice because I enjoyed public accounting and I always saw myself as a partner at Deloitte. However, when I looked up to those I worked with as partner, they worked just as hard as I did. The balance didn’t seem to come with the partner promotion and with that, I didn’t see myself being able to achieve my personal goals staying at Deloitte.
Before I truly pulled the plug with Deloitte, I took nearly six months off (through a leave of absence program with Deloitte) and traveled, did volunteer work… it is a huge benefit of being with a large firm. I spent a month in Spain.
When I left, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted in my next role, but defined my search by what I didn’t want: a public company in SEC reporting or internal audit. My goal was to find a private company in real estate with a role that wasn’t siloed within the accounting function. I wanted to get to know the business and operations within my next role. I found the perfect role (after a lot of looking) at a small regional homebuilder as the corporate controller. There, I was able to help take a small private accounting function and help transform it into a more timely and accurate department. I was also able to get my hands into other areas – sales and purchasing, to name a couple. The builder had been purchased by outside investors from its original founder. The investors knew they wanted an exit event eventually, and upgrading the accounting was part of this.
PulteGroup purchased the builder in January 2016, and I came along with it to help lead the integration. As Director of Finance for the Southeast Area, my role was very different from any I previously held, primarily in that I went from having a team of direct reports, to having nearly none as we completed the integration. Additionally, the role was very opportunistic, as I was able to define and work through projects in the area, even acting as an interim VP of Finance for two of our divisions as theirs were out on maternity and paternity leaves, providing direct exposure to the division’s operations.
Originally, my plan was to find a VP of Finance role in a division after about two years. Two things changed – (1) I met my husband, who isn’t able to relocate right now; and (2) the internal audit job became available. I never would have considered this role from the outside – but I’ve been nothing but impressed by the tone of the organization and the level of respect for the finance function. Within Pulte, the finance function has a seat at the table.
Check out available jobs with PulteGroup here.
GC: We recently interviewed a slew of controllers about their transition from public accounting to an industry job? How would you describe your experience of moving on to a career outside the Big 4?
MS: It’s a huge transition – My biggest surprises in a small accounting shop at a private company were the ability of my team to shift and change. In public, if you ask your team to shift gears and explain why, it’s a matter of how long it takes to do it. In a small private company (in this case, with some of my staff tenured over 30 years), change can be difficult. I found change management was one of the biggest obstacles I had to work through as you didn’t have the immediate buy-in like in public, you had to paint the picture of why things had to change.
Second, the perspective – I think as public accountants we can lose sight of what is important to the operators of the business. Yes, the numbers are important – but as a controller often my hottest fire was finding a new staff accountant and training them versus ensuring the audit team had the debt rollforward the minute they needed it.
GC: What attracted you to the internal audit position?
MS: A few things. First, the ability to shape a team once more. At Deloitte, I was highly involved in training our new hires to seniors. I missed having a team where I could have an impact on their development. Additionally, exposure to senior leadership. This role is highly visible in the organization. I have more opportunity to meet with the leadership throughout the company, not just the region.
GC: What attributes make for a good internal auditor?
MS: We look for the skills of the auditor, but we look ahead to people who can be successful in the next role as well. The audit role isn’t a far leap from what someone would see in public, so that’s the basics for me – having some audit experience.
So, in addition …I look for people who are intellectually curious. I want a team who wants to really understand the business – who wants to not just understand the audit role, but wants to jump in the car with the VP Of Construction and go see what we’re doing in the field. I look for people who are creative and dynamic. For example, people who can bring their experience to the table and make connections to our company and department, bring new ideas to the group, good problem solvers.
GC: Can you talk about the culture of your internal team and how that fits into the broader company?
MS: Culturally, we are similar to an engagement team in public accounting in that we work in a smaller team and work closely with each other. We travel together, so there is a lot of opportunity to get to know one another. Because the group is rotational, we always have new ideas coming in with new people. Again, because of the rotational nature, I think the group doesn’t get complacent as well. As the leader of the team, I try to give the group opportunities to see more than just the audit, for example – working with a division on an M&A project, or filling in at a division in an area where they are interested to gain experience.
In terms of how our culture fits in – two responses: Finance is key to the organization, as we talked about, so there is a lot of respect for what we do and a desire to get to know the audit team;
Internal promotion isn’t limited to finance – when we have openings, the company first looks internally to see if it can be filled, so there is a desire to build the skillset of our team members so they can be attractive choices to fill those roles.
GC: What kind of questions should a person ask themselves before considering an internal audit position?
MS: I would focus on the career path and the goals of the individual – some internal audit groups are more long-term in nature. That’s a wonderful path for those who want it, they can become experts in the company and the field – and many of the groups offer the opportunity to do many types of audits which can keep the variety and ability to grow high. These roles can offer work/life balance, but perhaps the trajectory gets a little shallower from public.
I think our group offers the best of many things – you can continue to see a path to some exciting roles to keep career momentum for those who want that, but you can get more work/life balance than public, and (perhaps) a little less travel. Our audit charter includes that we are a pipeline of finance talent for the organization. Graduates of the internal audit group include Division Presidents, VP of Finance, Land Managers, Controllers, among many others.
GC: You’ve mentioned the importance of the internal audit group as a pipeline to the rest of the company. Can you explain this in more detail and how it developed?
MS: It goes back to the founding of the company. When Bill Pulte started the company, he began surrounding himself with a finance team at the suggestion of his first CFO. That team took more and more progressive roles throughout the company, including Division Presidents, at the time. Leadership continued to find that finance talent were great leaders all around and solid business people. When the audit group started, it was a natural fit to continue to develop and train finance professionals to maintain a pipeline for talent in the organization, as we continue to promote extensively from within. As an example, our CEO and COO both started as controllers in various markets, and continued onto progressively larger roles until they ended up in the C-suite, something I think is very unique to our organization.