By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Virginia “Ginger” White, an alumna of the M.B.A. and M.S.S.F. programs at IU Southeast, has begun her term as Global Board Chair-Elect of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
With more than 85,000 members in 140 countries, the IMA is the leading professional association of accountants and financial professionals in business, with a strong presence in education through 300 student chapters worldwide.
White is corporate purchasing finance director at Cummins, Inc., where she supports the purchasing team that oversees a $12 billion spend and provides financial analysis and advisement for leadership of the renowned diesel and alternative-energy engine manufacturer.
Named to the board in January, White will spend the current fiscal year on the Governance Committee while also chairing the IMA Planning and Development Committee.
An unusual journey
White returned to IU Southeast last week for a meeting of the IMA regional council, and related her path to the presidency in a presentation that stressed taking charge of one’s own career.
By White’s own admission, her journey has been unusual.
“My career path has not been a straight line,” she said.
A native of Scottsburg, Ind., where she attended Scottsburg High School, White earned a bachelor’s degree at Berea College in Berea, Ky. She worked in industry but soon sensed that, as a woman, her possibilities for advancement might be limited, and that graduate studies would be essential to higher earning power.
She joined Cummins, closer to home, initially drawn to the company’s strong tuition assistance program. Ultimately she envisioned a career in education—she had begun teaching introductory accounting at Ivy Tech in Sellersburg, Ind., and fallen in love with the profession.
But Cummins provided something that White has come to see as the key to her personality: variety and change. A niche company in a super-competitive market, Cummins was grabbing attention for its agility and innovation as well as for the quality of its products.
“I’ve always been someone who has gotten bored, but at Cummins, new opportunities would always arise,” White said.
She began in hourly work in the area of engineering change control.
“It was a fabulous foundation for cost accounting, because you have to know the whole bill of materials structure,” White said.
From there she moved into cost accounting, and then became a fixed asset manager. Within the next several years she became finance manager for the high horsepower engine business, which produced the V903 engines that powered Bradley combat vehicles for the military.
While White credits her bosses at Cummins for constantly giving her new opportunities to excel, she also learned that they were observing her work closely for signs of her readiness to advance.
“It’s not just only education that matters,” White said. “It’s delivery of performance, and not ever getting an entitlement attitude.”
That performance strengthened her hand when she stepped away from finance and into the quality assurance area for four years as a Six Sigma Master black belt. Six Sigma is a set of analytical practices that help companies improve the quality and efficiency of their processes by eliminating defects, waste and redundancies. A Master black belt is a ranking, like in martial arts, and designates someone who is tasked with implementing changes that are suggested by Six Sigma analyses. As a Master black belt, White moved to a higher level of overall responsibility, and spurred the redesign of numerous larger processes that improved Cummins’ bottom line.
“I love Six Sigma,” White said. “And I know it has changed our company.”
White has spent 20 years at Cummins, and is now corporate purchasing finance director. Prior roles at Cummins have taken her to Mexico, China, Sweden and Singapore. She views her graduate degrees from IU Southeast as critical to her success.
She obtained her M.B.A. in 2002 and M.S.S.F. in 2006, both while working full-time at Cummins.
Among the skills she learned that she now considers most valuable, White identifies the ability to “juggle insanity” near the top of the list. The IU Southeast graduate business programs proved flexible enough for her to manage even while her team was relocating operations to Nashville, Tenn., requiring her to divide her time between two offices.
“I drove to Nashville on Sundays, worked there for a couple of days, then left at 2 p.m. on Tuesday so I could be at IU Southeast in time for my evening class,” White said. “I was up at 6:30 the next day to go to work—at the same time I was doing group projects for systems thinking and finishing my capstone.”
Encouraged by her IU Southeast faculty and Cummins colleagues, she joined the IMA in 1999 and was selected to be the student representative to the Lincoln Trail Regional Council, which she describes as a game-changer in her approach to her studies, and to her career. Chairing the chapter meant a lot more work, but it also meant meeting influential local professionals and traveling to the student conferences, where she met inspirational industry leaders and talked shop with peers from around the world.
“As the first person to graduate from high school, that’s a pretty big deal,” White said. “I call it my professional family—it helped me understand how to behave in that realm.”
It also cemented her relationship with the IMA, and solidified her belief in the organization’s potential to make a real difference for students.
As IMA global board chair-elect, White plans to focus on three main areas.
The first is to expand opportunities for women to advance in the field.
“It is really a challenge for women to rise to the senior ranks within large companies and organizations,” White said.
The second item on her agenda would be to make sure that more accounting students see the IMA as their “professional community.” The IMA offers a range of options for students, including internships and full-time employment.
“IU Southeast has a good connection with local business, and opportunities for internships, but some schools don’t,” White said.
Bringing more companies to recruit at the IMA student conference—something that Cummins already does—would be another step in the right direction.
Finally, White would like to make sure that the members of the IMA are prepared for the technological revolution of artificial intelligence, which will soon reverberate strongly through the profession.
“We need to be able to pivot in order to ensure the continued relevance of our profession,” White said.
Back at Cummins, White and her team are currently working to improve the procure to pay process to remove waste and make vouchering and invoicing more timely.
Balancing her IMA duties with her full-time role at Cummins is something White knows she can do, partly as a result of her student experience and the self-awareness that came with it.
“I love the challenge of trying to bring things into order,” White said.