Nice guys don’t have to finish last, says retired Walmart exec

Michael Fung

“I just put my head down, studied hard and took advantage of the opportunities,” says Michael Fung, first in his family to attend college.

By Daniel P. Smith — UIC Alumni magazine

 

Michael Fung, retired chief financial officer of Walmart’s U.S. division, never envisioned this life.

The son of a waiter and a seamstress from Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Fung was the first in his family to attend college. He served in the Illinois National Guard and worked an array of jobs to cover his tuition, fees and books, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the UIC College of Business Administration in 1973.

“I just put my head down, studied hard and took advantage of the opportunities put before me,” says Fung, who had a distinguished career as a high-profile financial executive across numerous retail enterprises before retiring from Walmart in 2012.

Fung received the 2015 UIC Alumni Achievement Award Sept. 18, presented by Chancellor Michael Amiridis.

Fung’s corporate ascent culminated at Walmart. As senior vice president and chief financial officer, he oversaw domestic financial operations for the world’s largest retailer, a unit responsible for more than 60 percent of Walmart’s global sales and more than 80 percent of its total operating profits.

“I fully believe in the American dream because I’ve lived it,” Fung says, “but it’s taken a lot of hard work, some luck and appropriate risks.”

 

‘You don’t last at Walmart if you think it’s about you’

After becoming the youngest vice president in the history of Chicago-based Beatrice Companies, a major U.S. food processor, Fung accepted the CFO position with Bass Pro Shops in 1988, a growing outdoor retailer with big ambitions. With his young family in tow, Fung moved to Springfield, Missouri, a community with few Asian American residents and far from his Chicago roots. He had no promises, no guarantees.

“One thing I know is that you can’t be afraid of a challenge,” he says.

Fung followed his time at Bass Pro Shops with CFO stints at Vanstar Corp. (now part of Inacom Corp.), a computer reseller and network integrator, and Sensient Technologies, a global manufacturer of colors, flavors and fragrances. He joined Walmart in 2001 as vice president of finance and administration for global procurement.

Although he was initially fearful of Walmart’s corporate enormity, Fung found a company dedicated to its communities and customers.

“You don’t last at Walmart if you think it’s about you,” he says.

After guiding Walmart’s sourcing operations in 20 countries, he landed in the U.S. division’s CFO seat in 2006. Over six years, Fung transformed his team from financial stewards into financial strategists, reimagining responsibilities and delivering results. He touched everything from merchandising and logistics to real estate and e-commerce, boosting the retailer’s sales, market share and profitability amid the U.S. economic downturn.

Fung also gained a reputation as a strong servant leader, providing objectives, resources and support in a collaborative environment, favoring practical advice and constructive criticism over filtered praise.

“You need to hear the things you need to improve on,” he says.

Fung is a champion for Asian American causes. He is a member of the Committee of 100, a group of Chinese American leaders working to enhance the social and economic relationship between the U.S. and China. He is chairman of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, which has awarded $90 million in higher education assistance to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, 59 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

“These are kids just like me, which makes the work meaningful,” Fung says. “I hope they see that nice guys don’t have to finish last. You can accomplish much in this world without leaving a trail of bodies in your wake.”