After his NYSC year, Ambode commenced his career at the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board (now LAWMA) as Accountant Grade II. He enrolled for Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) exams and at the same time was awarded a Federal Government Scholarship to pursue a Masters Degree in Accounting at the University of Lagos. By the time he was 24, Ambode had qualified as a Chartered Accountant and had completed his Masters Degree programme in Accounting, specializing in Financial Management.
His career was fast-tracked and in 1988, Akinwunmi Ambode was appointed the Assistant Treasurer, Badagry Local Government. In 1991, he was posted to Shomolu Local Government as Auditor. He was later deployed to Alimosho Local Government as Council Treasurer. Ambode was posted back to Shomolu as Council Treasurer and later on to Mushin Local Government as Council Treasurer. He criss-crossed many Local Government Councils in different roles in a 10-year period and got a first-hand experience of the direct impact of governance on the citizenry.
In 1998, Ambode was awarded the US Fulbright Scholarship for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program, in Boston University, Massachusetts, USA. His Fellowship Year was spent studying Public Leadership with emphasis on Finance and Accounting. During this programme Ambode had professional internships at The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Cabinet Office of Administration and Finance, City of Boston Treasury Office as well as with the World Bank and IMF.
On his return from the programme, Ambode became acting AuditorGeneral for Local Government. This position was confirmed by the State House of Assembly in 2001.
In January 2005, Ambode was redeployed to mainstream public service as the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance. By February 2006, Ambode was given the added responsibility ofaccountant general for Lagos State, in charge of all the financial activities of the state and directly responsible for over 1400 accountants in the state service. Under his watch, the State Treasury Office (STO) revolutionized the way Lagos State finances were raised, budgeted, managed and planned. In his six years as the Lagos State accountant general, the state’s financial performance improved visibly with the budget performing at a remarkable average of 85% annually. Ambode believes that “public financial management is about ensuring that public money is well spent and it is made to stretch as far as possible. It provides leaders and public-sector managers with information to make decisions and to know if they are using resources effectively.