control, and governance
Meet 20 emerging leaders who are making a difference in their organizations and helping shape the future of the internal audit profession.
Leadership often is not sought; rather, it presents itself as an opportunity that can be taken or left behind. And in some instances that opportunity appears in disguise, lying in wait inside a new career move or an unexpected promotion. It’s up to the person presented with it to recognize the opportunity to lead, seize it, and then make the most of it. Many of the audit practitioners recognized by Ia magazine as this year’s “emerging leaders” saw such opportunities, recognized them for what they were, and leapt at the chance to lead. Few, in fact, actually intended to pursue an internal audit career, let alone an audit leadership position. But they heard the proverbial knock and answered the door, leading to an area they may not have even realized existed — or that didn’t seem intuitively like the next big career move. Some came from accounting backgrounds and made the switch to internal audit on the advice of a trusted colleague. Others pursued career opportunities in finance and then shifted focus. One initially expected a career shouting “Buy!” on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; another started out in retail; and one traces leadership’s beginning to a chance conversation at a strip mall. But all of this year’s honorees saw a chance to build a career in internal audit, and then an opportunity to become a leader.
Shakeya McDow, CIA, CPA, CFE
Senior Manager, Healthcare Advisory Services
Shakeya McDow didn’t start her career thinking she’d be in internal audit. “A chance conversation and job opportunity that I had at a strip mall in Durham, N.C., landed me in an internal audit function in Dallas three years later,” she says. Fast forward to today, and the 35-year-old is virtually immersed in internal auditing; she works in the health-care sector, focusing on risk and compliance. She serves as president of The IIA’s Dallas Chapter — one of The Institute’s largest — and was instrumental in obtaining funding for the endowment of the Center for Internal Auditing Excellence at The University of Texas at Dallas. She also served on The IIA’s Academic Relations Committee and is currently audit committee chair for the AIDS Interfaith Network, a mentor to many young professionals, and a frequent speaker to university groups. “I find that college students want to hear your story more than a ‘key message,’” she says. “’How did you get where you are?’ ‘What mistakes have you made?’ ‘What opportunities have you been presented with?’ ‘How did you overcome setbacks?’ I find that when I have a candid dialogue with them, they appreciate it much more than going in with prepared remarks.” Making a meaningful connection is important to her as an internal audit leader; indeed, as a leader in general. “I read a blog in the Harvard Business Review last year that describes a leader perfectly,” she says, “and I carry this around with me daily. The blogger said, ‘Leaders lead us not to a place, but to a different kind of destination: to our better, truer selves.’”
Brian Matthews, CISA
Internal Audit Manager
Brian Matthews, like many college graduates with a business degree, didn’t know exactly what his career would look like or where it would lead. “I remember researching the internal audit profession after seeing an internal audit internship posted on the University of Memphis website,” he says, “and I was immediately intrigued by the broad-scope, project-based nature of the exposure.” Now he views the chance to understand the business at large — and to effect change therein — as the great opportunity it presents. “More than ever,” the 28-year-old Memphis-based Matthews explains, “we’re expected to be plugged in to the business and provide valuable insight and recommendations through the execution of enterprise risk-based audit plans.” He’s credited with developing strong working relationships with management — partnerships that are strengthened through constant communication. And he’s credited with “the uncanny ability to focus a team on a common goal and most effectively delegate and direct efforts to achieve that goal.” A colleague calls him “very charismatic and intelligent,” and he’s considered a subject matter expert in store and distribution center inventory management; he regularly audits those areas while providing management with opportunities for process improvement. He’s also a former president and current board member of the Memphis IIA Chapter. And because innovation is a key element of his department’s mission, data analytics capabilities have been a development focus area. As a result, during a recent supply chain logistics audit, using innovative thinking, data from several different systems and organizations, and a SQL-based tool, his team found more than US $2.5 million in annual savings opportunities — the first time the data had been evaluated in that way.
Office of the Comptroller General, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Louis Seabrooke has a theory about leadership: “I believe that true leaders make everyone around them better, and make the most of the opportunities and challenges they face.” He cites another commonality among those he considers to be strong leaders: “They all treat others with respect, regardless of their positions, views, or background.” Indeed, Seabrooke notes that he’s worked for three accounting firms and three government departments — experiences that he credits with helping him relate to a variety of individuals. He’s inspired, he adds, when a chief audit executive encourages a junior auditor to speak up in meetings; he’s motivated when a busy senior auditor takes the time to explain audit concepts to a summer intern; he’s refreshed when a client takes time to discuss findings with the audit team. “Simple actions like these help us develop young auditors, create strong working relationships, and promote a culture of mutual respect and professionalism,” he says. The 35-year-old Ottawa-based practitioner manages the execution of audits across departments, working closely with their internal audit groups and audit liaison officers. As a member of the Canadian government’s central agency internal audit group, he’s able to influence — and improve — internal audit over government as a whole, colleagues note. One example: He led the development of a governmentwide, three-year risk-based audit plan after extensive internal consultations. “As a proud Canadian,” he says, “there is an additional level of satisfaction that comes with using my skills and knowledge to serve my country.”
As what a colleague calls “the best evidence of her leadership qualities, professionalism, and performance,” 32-year-old Agnessa Vartanova was recently awarded Ball Corp.’s Award of Excellence, given to only 15 employees worldwide every other year. She was honored in part for her dedication to continuous improvement and close collaboration with business management and for being a significant catalyst for driving the firm’s recently revised internal audit strategy. “The business environment today is evolving at record speed,” she says, “forcing companies to adapt their priorities and strategies to remain successful. An internal audit leader has to be in tune with senior management and constantly focus on the right projects to create the most value for the organization.” That’s where reviewing, reengineering, and aligning processes comes in, she says, adding that typically, her projects begin from scratch, as opposed to following an existing audit program. “We are constantly challenged to be creative in our approach, perform root cause analyses, and offer solutions to problems.” It’s a challenge the Bloomfield, Colo.-based Vartanova has shown she’s up to. A colleague reports that she has transformed some of the enterprise’s key internal processes to be more effective and efficient, calling it “a truly remarkable transformation in a very short period of time.” Says Vartanova: “Internal audit brings the challenge of being an expert in finance, operations, and compliance issues, but grants the opportunity to work side by side with some of the best minds in our company.”
As the letters after his name suggest, Derrick Li is committed to continuous education. And as a frequent speaker at universities, Li actively promotes the Certified Internal Auditor credential to students. “Continuous education is very important,” Li says, “but it should not be focused solely on technical auditing skills. Education efforts should also be aimed at developing business acumen and presentation and negotiation skills.” They should be complemented by personal ties, too, Li says. Indeed, he started IIA–Vancouver’s Internal Audit Employer Co-op Subsidy program, which connects internal audit employers with co-op students. And when the now-31-year-old was 25, he got the chance to manage the enterprise risk management function for one of British Columbia’s largest public sector organizations, giving him exposure to executives and the board. “I was able to gain an understanding of how they view risks and the importance of delivering ‘short and sweet’ presentations,” he says. He gives credit to Christine Dacre, the organization’s chief financial officer (CFO) and his mentor at that time. “I started my career expecting to work as a management consultant or, as I like to say, a ‘business doctor,’” he says. “To me, an internal auditor is essentially a business doctor. An audit is an examination performed to check the overall health of a business area.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska
Christina Hardy finds motivation in the contribution internal audit makes to the success of an organization. “We have the opportunity to work closely with individuals throughout the entire company, and I really enjoy that part of the job,” she says. “Our soft skills are becoming just as important as our technical ones.” Hers are well-honed. A colleague reports that clients make comments such as, “I’ve met a lot of auditors and don’t think I’ve been more impressed with someone’s approach” and “Christina is quite possibly the best client contact I have.” Early in her career, Hardy says, she started focusing on her communication skills and learned to work with a variety of personality types. “The same approach didn’t work well with everyone, and I learned to adapt quickly. I also put a lot of effort into being respectful of people’s time. If I need to meet with someone, I plan and research well ahead of time to ensure I can make the most of it.” The 34-year-old Omaha-based Hardy was recently selected to accompany her company’s CEO to the Business Ethics Alliance Emerging Leaders Initiative Event, an opportunity for rising stars to discuss ethical topics with business and community leaders. Courage in ethics was discussed — and Hardy remembers its relevance to internal audit. “We need the courage to be objective,” she says, “ask the right questions, and report accurately.”
To Houston-based Leslie Bordelon, the definition of a good leader is someone who strives to help others as much as him- or herself. “I see my job as twofold,” the 29-year-old says, “delivering excellent service to clients in the area of internal audit and taking an active role in the career development of teammates and co-workers.” She leads multiple internal training efforts; one is a learning map for the firm’s national energy industry team. She also formally mentors several consultants and provides coaching to her project teams to ensure continuous learning and development — and to ensure that her advisees receive meaningful work to expand their skills and are afforded opportunities to make an impact. “I have learned so much about my own development through the coaching of others,” she says. Recently, a colleague reports, she was working with a Big Four firm on U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 testing issues in areas recently scrutinized by the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. She devised an approach for each issue that involved a detailed risk assessment and then a mix of testing approaches for those that rose to the top. The colleague adds: “The Big Four partner commented that this was one of the most well laid-out processes that he has seen.”
Bryan Kallstrom gives credit where credit is due. “My parents taught me the importance of wrong and right, and my grandpa — who only had a sixth grade education — worked twice as hard as me and taught me the importance of hard work,” he says. He adds that an officer in the Minnesota Army National Guard, where his service included a one-year tour in Iraq, taught him the importance of respecting everyone with whom he worked, and his current internal audit director helped him appreciate the value of continuous learning. Kallstrom spent two years working for a public accounting firm and then came to his current post. The 32-year-old Minneapolis-based Kallstrom especially appreciates the variety of work — and the diversity of the people he works with. “One day I might be discussing an audit with a diesel mechanic in our Public Works Department,” he says, “and the next day I’m sitting in a room with a couple of county commissioners. This requires that I constantly work to improve myself so that the people I meet can trust that the insight I provide is valuable.” It must be. He’s often sought after for his opinions on single audit compliance and for fraud projects. Moreover, his leadership has led to increased program compliance and decreased external audit costs for the county, and he is constantly looking for ways to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.
Jennifer Radke, CIA, CPA, CFE
Supervising Senior Auditor – Corporate
A changing world requires business functions to keep up with evolving technology and tactics — or the businesses behind them will stumble. That creates opportunities for enterprises and for their internal auditors, which appeals to Jennifer Radke. “Internal auditors have been forced to creatively adapt,” she says, “resulting in tremendous opportunities for professional growth. We continuously add sustained value to our respective organizations by encouraging management to focus on its strategic objectives and incorporate those changes necessary.” In her own organization, the 33-year-old Phoenix-based Radke has led several high-risk audits and is consistently acknowledged for her personal commitment, attention to detail, and sense of responsibility. Her leadership and mentoring on projects, colleagues report, have led to several key contributions in cost savings, increased revenue, and more effective controls and oversight. During a recent inventory audit, Radke identified an opportunity to automate the manual processing of more than 180,000 inventory adjustment forms a year. She also identified opportunities to strengthen purchasing-card controls and created a continuous monitoring report for the business to monitor ongoing activity. Indeed, she’s led numerous compliance and operational audits in payroll and human resources, retail accounting, labor relations, contracts, journal entry review, quality assurance, perishable procurement, merchandising, and pricing. As well, she’s on the board of directors of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and is active in the community. “Internal audit leadership reflects a continual, unwavering demonstration of high ethical standards,” she says, “and a desire to grow the profession through mentoring and focusing others on the need for integrity, accountability, and dedication to ‘doing what’s right.’”
Brian Shute likes to get his proverbial hands dirty; he’s an internal audit fan, he says, because it “provides a great variety of work activities that contribute to the development of highly transferable leadership skills.” He started his career as a financial statement auditor at international public accounting firm Grant Thornton. He later transitioned to internal audit upon joining the audit function at Raytheon Co., and is now continuing that path at Akamai Technologies, where he just landed in January. As well, the 30-year-old Cambridge, Mass.-based Shute sets challenging goals beyond his internal audit responsibilities. For example, he was a teaching fellow for the Strategies for Sustainability Management course at Harvard University in 2013, and at Raytheon he was asked to join a cross-functional Streamlined Life Cycle Analysis team. He leveraged his external network to introduce a subject matter expert in sustainable procurement to the team, who greatly strengthened the proposed business case; Shute then drafted and presented the initiative to leaders based on Six Sigma themes to gain executive support and sponsorship. He was also Raytheon’s Young Employee Success Network — or “YESNET” — Northeast Corporate Co-lead. YESNET is Raytheon’s employee resource group committed to fostering a culture that supports early-career employees. And when Raytheon’s engineering function launched a companywide Innovative Challenge and asked employees to submit suggestions to resolve real-life customer issues, he teamed with two engineers and submitted an entry — the first time an internal auditor had done so, demonstrating innovative thinking and positively impacting the internal audit brand.