When Jeff Wilson, BS’00, graduated from the Kelley School of Business, he landed a coveted job at EY, one of the Big 4 accounting firms. At the time, he didn’t realize his career path would lead him to the role of advisor in strategy, operations and business development at Eli Lilly and Company.
“At most organizations, internal audit is a development space for aspiring leaders. It’s an excellent path if you’re looking to become a leader in finance, accounting or operations within an organization,” says Jeff. “I don’t think I’d have all the career options I do if it weren’t for the expertise I gained in the internal audit field.”
While some internal audit professionals like Jeff possess a background in accounting, many come from other business fields, such as marketing, operations, supply chain, management or IT. The Kelley School of Business offers a Graduate Certificate in Internal Audit to provide students from all disciplines an understanding of the scope of this work.
Regardless of background, Jeff says this career requires a candidate with exceptional critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills.
“Accounting focuses on financial risk — confirming that financial statements are reasonably accurate and evaluating business decisions. Internal audit builds upon that by evaluating other risks an organization needs to manage, such as information security, anti-corruption and anti-bribery practices, ethical interactions, privacy measures and effective governance,” he says. “Internal audit makes you a better businessperson because you can identify risks beyond the myopic focus on financials.”
When Jeff first entered the accounting profession, it was a momentous time to be joining the field.
“It was an exciting time in the industry given that Enron, WorldCom and multiple organizations were suffering from significant fraud and internal control breakdowns, which led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002,” says Jeff. “It was extraordinary to be in public accounting — to experience all that change, win new business and clients and learn so much in the five years I was there.”
I don’t think I’d have all the career options I do if it weren’t for the expertise I gained in the internal audit field.”
While he enjoyed the field of accounting as a universal foundation for understanding business, Jeff eventually accepted a financial planning and analysis (FP&A) role at Eli Lilly and Company. He discovered an aptitude for internal audit of operations and appreciated learning how business functions beyond the financials. At Lilly, internal audit offered a third layer of assurance in managing business risk, in addition to the business and the compliance organizations.
In addition to his role in internal audit, Jeff has experience in FP&A in larger business units — even serving as interim CFO for a diagnostic firm Lilly acquired. He eventually took a director-level position within corporate internal audit services. After his time in internal audit, Jeff moved onto a strategy and business development role at Lilly.
Through internal audit, Jeff visited 20 different cities outside the United States, gaining experience in data analysis and artificial intelligence and increasing the effectiveness of internal audit. To be successful, he worked closely with company leaders across a variety of divisions, which proved to be an asset in his current role.
“I developed strong relationships with leaders at Lilly, many of whom I continue to work with today,” says Jeff. “In fact, my last audit client was the president of our Italy hub, and today, he’s our business unit president. We remember each other well from working on an audit together and were able to seamlessly resume our conversations and relationship now that he is a senior executive at Lilly. Due to that internal audit experience, I was able to create several similarly strong relationships.”
Due to that internal audit experience, I was able to create several similarly strong relationships.”
Strong relationships are critical in this field because internal auditors must collaborate successfully with many different team members from various divisions.
“It’s important to know how to work with a team — including people who might not share your views — in order to achieve a good outcome,” he says. “It’s crucial to continue practicing those skill sets of critical thinking, clear communications and teamwork, which the Kelley School of Business imparts very well through its curriculum.”
Ultimately, an internal audit professional must be able to understand shades of grey — not just black and white, says Jeff. When the job requires an audit of a particular division, the internal audit professional has to be flexible and able to maneuver in ambiguity with good judgment.
“These situations often require negotiations and difficult conversations, some of which may result in HR discipline and other consequences as a result of people’s decisions. You’re balancing good performance with good ethics and decision-making,” he says. “It was a wonderful learning opportunity. In fact, I learned more in those five years in internal audit than I have in the rest of my time at Lilly. It was very illuminating.”
I learned more in those five years in internal audit than I have in the rest of my time at Lilly. It was very illuminating.”
In addition to being a CPA, Jeff is a certified internal auditor or CIA. A more broad-based credential, the CIA signifies a global understanding of business risk.
“I pursued the CIA to give myself a stronger background and understanding of risk and internal audit,” says Jeff. “Earning the CIA adds to the quality and overall presence that you bring to a situation because you’ve demonstrated that capability.”
Jeff knew he wanted to attend the top-ranked Kelley School of Business since his high school years. He met his wife, Krissy, at Kelley and remains an active member of the alumni community. Jeff also continues to meet fellow Kelleys in the professional world and at Lilly.
“At Kelley, we have the largest alumni network in the world, with over 120,000 alums. That’s a great foot in the door, and I’ve been able to connect with people on LinkedIn by simply sharing our common Kelley connection. It’s just a great way to meet people and stay connected,” says Jeff.
“The world is really your oyster when you think about all the opportunities in front of you once you earn a Kelley degree, especially the experiences and excellent reputation that come with it.”