On Wednesday some high school business spoke with a Southeast High School graduate who now leads a team that performs audits for a multi-billion dollar business that stretches across the world.
Ben Burns is the son of retired Weir Elementary School teacher Connie Burns and is a 1996 graduate of Southeast High School. He is now the Vice President of Internal Audit & Due Diligence at Leggett & Platt.
“Leggett & Platt is a $4 billion industry with locations all around the world right in our own backyard of Carthage, Missouri,” said Southeast High School business teacher Cherie Witt. “Through various fields in business, Ben is able to travel and see parts of the world that many people only dream.”
But like many students, Burns said that when he was still in high school he was not sure what he wanted to do for a living.
“I knew I wanted to go to college and explore some options, but it wasn’t until the beginning of my junior year at PSU that I even declared a major (accounting),” Burns said. “Towards the end of my four years of undergraduate work I began to feel that the internal audit side of the accounting profession might be a good fit for me.”
“At the time, one of the professors there was beginning a specialized internal audit curriculum and I decided to stay an extra year, get my MBA, and complete that internal audit program. Fortunately for me, there was a robust hiring market when I was graduating, which was just before the worst of the dot.com bubble bursting, the Enron scandal, and the 9/11 tragedy. I had a handful of offers to choose from in the internal audit field.”
Burns narrowed his decision between Leggett & Platt in Carthage or the Allstate Corporation in the Chicago area.
“I really liked both companies and my choice became more about location than anything,” Burns said. “I chose the big city and had a great experience at Allstate and in the Chicago area. I have no regrets about my time there, as I know I gained valuable experience that has helped me throughout my career. But after a couple of years away, I knew that eventually I would want to return to this area to be closer to family and friends. Luckily, I knew there was a great company in the area, Leggett & Platt, and I was extremely fortunate to be given a second chance at joining them. I’ll be forever grateful for being allowed that opportunity.”
“I hope that students understand that business doesn’t just require sitting in a cubicle and calculating numbers,” Mrs. Witt said. “Coming from Southeast Kansas, we have great school systems and options post-high school right in our back door, and great businesses that are ran around here that provide these type of travel opportunities.”
“(My) department serves as the independent function within the company that reviews and provides assurance to our management and board of directors on the effectiveness and efficiency of operational and financial controls,” Burns said. “I lead a team of about 25 people who perform audits of our locations world-wide. Our main areas of focus are on financial and accounting processes and controls, information technology processes and controls, and prevention, detection and investigation of fraud. Annually our team conducts about 100 audits, mostly in the US, Europe, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and China.”
One of the things the Internal Audit & Due Diligence Department at Leggett & Platt is responsible for is reinforcing the company’s value of taking ownership and “doing the right thing”.
“I personally think that if someone is going to be successful over the long-haul, they have act with integrity and be accountable for their actions and results – at Leggett & Platt, these are two of our core values,” Burns said. “These are not just things that we say, but principles that we live every day. For today’s students, I believe these characteristics are vital if they wish to achieve long-term success and happiness. If you don’t act with integrity, I think it eventually catches up to you. Taking ownership means having personal responsibility for your job. If you take that mindset and work hard towards you and your organization’s goals, I believe you will find many satisfying rewards.”
This past fall, Burns was honored by Pittsburg State University with a 2014 Dr. Kenneth K. Bateman Outstanding Alumni Award
“Receiving that honor was an unexpected and very humbling experience,” Burns said. “I have had such great experiences at PSU, both during school and as an alumnus. I’ve been lucky enough to have an ongoing relationship with the school and been able to be involved in some of their activities. The culture there is absolutely special, and the pride that everyone takes in advancing the University is remarkable. The whole experience of receiving the award and being able to share that with my family, who have been so instrumental in my life, was something I’ll always cherish.”
“It was great to have alumni come back and share their experiences with our students,” said Mrs. Witt. “I hope they feel inspired to possibly learn more about the various opportunities within business. Accounting is one, but here are so many different fields within Accounting that can be interesting as well.”