Best Buy Joins PEP
|Corporate headquarters of multi-billion dollar retailer brings "instant credibility" to new industry employment venture.
By David Ferman
Photos by Ron Sangha
|The number of CGAs has grown fourfold at Best Buy Canada since its acquisition of Future Shop in 2002. Pictured here: A strong sample of the corporate headquarters' 30 CGAs and CGA students.
Like a director in search of a marquee film star, Bill Johnson, FCGA, needed to find a founding partner for his budding CGA Partners in Employment Program (PEP).
He knew he had a winning script in the CGA program and box office potential in the Association's members and students; all he needed now was a star - one with name recognition and a track record of hits. Specifically, the company would have to offer a large and growing business with lots of opportunities and vision for career advancement, a strong accounting and finance department, and a reputation as a great place to work.
Enter Best Buy Canada, ready for its close-up.
"We needed an organization that impresses not only our students and members, but also one that gets the attention of other employers," said Johnson, the director of PEP and Director, Education & Student Services. "Best Buy fits the bill on all scores. It gives PEP instant credibility."
PEP is all about making a positive impression. The Association wants a high-visibility program to show industry how CGAs can help their companies prosper. At the same time, companies interested in PEP need to showcase themselves as ideal employers for the CGA-trained accountants and finance minds they need to grow. PEP is the program that gives employers access to the CGAs and CGA students they need.
All it took was someone to take the first step to get the ball rolling. Best Buy didn't jump at the opportunity to join PEP - it pounced.
"We want Best Buy to be a destination employer for professional accountants. CGAs obviously play an important role here and the PEP program allows us to forge a partnership with CGA-BC," says Zaheed Mawani, the company's Director of Financial Accounting, Treasury and Compliance, and a CGA himself.
Best Buy Canada certainly meets the PEP minimum requirement of an accounting department of 10 or more staff. Looking down on the aircraft-hangar-sized accounting and finance room from the second floor, one sees an organized hive of more than 100 bodies. Of Best Buy's accountants, 15 are CGAs and another 15 are CGA students.
"We used to be all about the what," says Dave Sela, CGA, Controller. "What do we have to do next quarter? What are our targets? Now, since the acquisition [Best Buy bought Future Shop in November 2001] we focus on how. How can we in the finance function better support other aspects of the business? How can we find innovative ways of working that will deliver wealth to the shareholders."
"One answer, explains Sela, was to hire more designated professionals, what he and Mawani call "qualifieds."
"The number of qualifieds has gone way up and we've boosted the number of CGAs three or four times over what we had prior to the acquisition."
The Best Buy Philosophy
The accounting team at Best Buy Canada has implemented a program of ongoing self-improvement and measurement. Known as Evergreen, it comprises eight strategies and their related measurements, including account reconciliations, U.S. standard operating procedures and accounting documentation, account simplification, consistency with U.S. accounting and financial statement presentation, streamlining processes, and the training of associates.
(Clockwise from left) Zaheed Mawani, CGA; Dave Sela, CGA; Mike Shirley, CGA; Ella Tsang, CGA; and Jessica Chen.
"Evergreen can be described as a vision, a set of values, performance standards and guiding principles all rolled into one," says Mawani. "To meet and beat world-class standards, Best Buy has committed to building a brand of world-class accountants and finance professionals. Evergreen is how we are getting there."
According to Sela and Mawani, the company's philosophy sees employees at all levels buy into the corporate goals. And, sure enough, anyone touring the huge Burnaby headquarters will notice that Best Buy is a company that keeps score.
Walls everywhere are pinned with signs reminding staff of the next store opening, the best selling product lines, and targets for growth. Like championship banners in hockey arenas, huge Best Buy banners hang from the cafeteria's ceiling announcing total sales milestones: $2.0 billion January 2001,$2.5 billion February 2003, $3.0 billion January 2004, $3.5 billion February 2005. The $4 billion-in-sales banner has already been hung with the date left blank. "That will read 2005, the only question is what month it will have," says Mike Shirley, CGA, Director of Financial Planning & Analysis.
The most prominent sign is the electronic countdown of the company's biggest financial target: G5 in 5 with 5, which translates to grow to $5 billion in sales in five years with a five per cent operating profit.
Says Mawani, "The growth of the company is paramount. Growth itself is also a draw to top people. PEP will help us cement our reputation as a destination employer."
Shirley can attest to the drawing power of Best Buy Canada. Two years ago he was working in Mississauga at another company when he learned about Best Buy's potential.
"I decided to move out here because Best Buy is on the way up. There are some great development opportunities that are very tempting. I knew there were programs and processes here that needed rigour and agents of change."
CGAs, says Shirley, offer both skill sets plus they offer industry experience, all of which is key to the planning and analysis function.
"Operations, merchandising, logistics, real estate, legal, marketing, there isn't an area of the business my team doesn't work with at some time. And often they work with many of these at the same time," he says.
The opportunity to work with so many aspects of the business, is one attraction planning and analysis holds for CGAs, says Shirley; another is that much of the work is project-related, not just report driven.
Controller Sela says that the business acumen of the accounting and finance departments are recognized throughout the company and, most importantly, within senior management.
"In years gone by, accounting might not have always had a seat at the [management] table. Now we do; in fact, the point is made to invite us," says Sela.
Mawani agrees that his people have earned a strong internal reputation. "I think the accounting and finance team at Best Buy has led the company . . . in bringing best practices to all the other areas of the business and in our people strategy. Because we have brought best practices to other functions in the company and shared with other departments, the rest of the company sees the value CGAs and qualifieds bring to business."
"Now," says Shirley, "it means we have become a feeder to other parts of the business, which is just a great thing."
All of which bodes well for CGAs and students looking for long-term opportunities beyond accounting and finance at Best Buy. "We're always looking for well-rounded people," explains Sela. "Over time a few lateral moves are likely and then the opportunity for advancement improves."
CGAs Say Big Yellow Tag Just the Ticket
Set in a south Burnaby business park, Best Buy Canada's national headquarters occupy a vast structure just off the shore of the Fraser River. It needs the room: more than 1,100 people work in the corporate office.
Given the scale of the place, it would seem easy to get lost or overlooked in the crowd. Jessica Chen, a Level 4 CGA student and recent SFU graduate in business administration, says that just isn't the case.
"We are set up with a buddy from the very first day we get here so we don't get over-whelmed and we learn our way around quickly."
Chen is currently an intermediate accountant in the compliance department, but says that the many opportunities surrounding her mean she will likely move on to something else at the company.
One reason Chen will have the opportunity is because she will be trained through the accounting and finance department's internal ongoing professional development pro-gram, aptly titled Evergreen.
Ella Tsang, CGA, has already benefited from Best Buy's commitment to education. Today she is the Senior Manager of Operations Accounting, but she has worked her way up from the shop floor-literally the sales floor of the first Richmond Future Shop. After leaving the retail storefront to take accounting at BCIT, she entered the CGA program and found work at the corporate office.
Tsang says her experience has helped her present role, and that her current vantage and CGA training have helped her find solutions she wouldn't otherwise have reached. Tsang has also left the company twice to raise her family, and says, "I never felt my opportunities were taken away for having children. In fact, both my promotions came just six months after I returned from mat leaves."
Tsang, originally from Hong Kong, is not alone as an immigrant success story at Best Buy. Mike Shirley, CGA, Director of Financial Planning & Analysis, illustrates the company's diversity this way: "Of the 17 people in my department only three were born in Canada."
What unite Best Buy's disparate people are the company's values, says Tsang.
"They've become a part of my personal philosophy. The four values are: show respect, humility and integrity; have fun while being the best; learn from challenge and change; and unleash the power of our people. And I think they fit in very well with CGA's code of professional ethics."
Best Buy Canada and its people are certainly profiting by them.