In an exclusive interview, Internal Auditor – Middle East spoke to Adnan Zaidi who is a Partner and Board Member at PwC Middle East. Adnan is also PwC Middle East’s Assurance Clients & Markets Leader and is a Trusted Advisor to many of the region’s largest Corporations. He began his career almost 25 years ago with Arthur Andersen in London and subsequently moved to Dubai and held several leadership positions with prominent companies. Adnan was the Audit Committee Chairman of the International Cricket Council for the past five years and holds a number of Board positions at Not-for-Profit organisations. He is one of the region’s pioneers in the field of internal auditing and actively supports the profession at a global and regional level. Adnan is a member of the Executive Committee of the UAE Internal Auditors Association (UAE-IAA) as well as being a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors’ (IIA) Global Professional Development Committee.
In the corporate context, what is your definition of a leader?
While you’re unlikely to find a single definition of what is a leader, I would define a leader as someone who has an inspiring vision for his company and is able to effectively manage and motivate his subordinates to work hard and align themselves with that vision. This requires the leader to have both high levels of integrity as well as emotional intelligence.
How has PwC developed leaders in the Middle East region?
PwC is one of the largest companies in the world. We are a market leader in the Middle East who have been in the region for over 40 years and we employ over 4,000 professionals across 12 countries and work with the region’s largest and most prominent entities. We have used this position of strength to attract and retain the best and brightest individuals in our region. We’ve leveraged our global career progression framework to provide our staff with opportunities for international assignments and experience. We’ve also actively promoted board and executive education through events and through client projects. Also, we’ve invested heavily in training GCC nationals, both clients and staff, to prepare them for future leadership roles. I strongly believe that PwC has made a powerful and sustainable impact on leadership capabilities in the Middle East.
Do you believe there is a correlation between the value that an internal audit function generates and the effectiveness of its leader?
Absolutely and this is not just my opinion. Last year’s PwC State of the Internal Audit Profession study (the “Study”) showed a correlation between strong Internal Audit leadership and the ability of the Internal Audit Department to add value and deliver strong performance. When stakeholders perceived the Chief Audit Executive as an effective leader, in over 90% of the cases they viewed the Internal Audit Department as a value adding and high performing function.
How do stakeholders perceive the value internal audit provides?
The 2017 Study which we just released shows a negative trend in stakeholders’ perceptions of the value provided by Internal Audit. This year only 44% of stakeholders believed their Internal Audit Departments provide them with value compared to 54% in 2016. When we dug a bit deeper we found out that even the Internal Audit Departments which add value are expected to provide even more value each year. This means that an effective Internal Audit leader should not be satisfied with the status quo and should continue to evolve and meet, as well exceed, stakeholders expectations.
So what are the characteristics of an effective Internal Audit leader?
While an effective Internal Audit leader has many notable characteristic, my top three characteristics would be:
- Strategic thinking: This involves looking at the big picture of the organisation and the Internal Audit Function. Like any corporate leader, the Internal Audit leader needs to develop a vision for the Internal Audit Department which is aligned to the company’s strategy and stakeholders’ expectations. This is not done through a Three Year Internal Audit plan – one needs an actual strategy document, with objectives and key measures which feed into the annual and long term Internal audit plans. Without this characteristic, internal audit leaders cannot achieve strategic alignment.
- Communication skills: Internal Audit leaders need to clearly communicate their ideas to engage stakeholders, to highlight key risks to the business and to manage staff. These leaders use their powerful communication skills to exert influence beyond the Internal Audit function and to enthusiastically promote positive change.
- Develops talent: This is about more than building your team’s skill but about building the right skills that align to the business and Internal Audit’s vision! This also means leveraging external resources as necessary to meet the organisation’s needs and to facilitate knowledge transfer to your team where required.
Thinking about a couple of effective Internal Audit leaders who possess these characteristics, could you tell us how these leaders attained these characteristics?
The 2017 Study showed that 47% of Internal Audit Departments are not seen by stakeholders as an advisor to the business or that their corporate culture does not support Internal Audit taking a more strategic role. This would indicate that most effective Internal Audit leaders had a challenging journey to become trusted advisors to the business. They have gained experience in good companies, they were mentored by effective leaders and they achieved relevant Internal Audit certifications. However, these healthy circumstances alone would not necessarily result in an effective Internal Audit leader. They have pushed the boundaries of their responsibilities, they’ve stayed up to date with developments in the profession and they’ve continued their professional education through attending relevant conferences and trainings. Most importantly, these Internal Audit leaders have been involved early in the business disruption cycle. Our 2017 Study showed that Internal Audit departments that addressed business disruptions (such as new regulation, changes in business model or strategy, cybersecurity and privacy threats) were perceived to be adding significant value to their organisations.
Is there a role for the Audit Committee in increasing the effectiveness of Chief Audit Executives and their successors?
Most certainly! This role takes place at many levels. From the human resources side, there they should require succession plans to be put in place for key positions in the Internal Audit department and provide the department with a sufficient budget to attend trainings and conferences. From the scope side, they should ask the Chief Audit Executive for a more complete picture of the organization’s response to business disruptions. From the quality side, the Audit Committee should actively review the results of the quality assurance and improvement program and demand both internal and external assessments. Finally, the Audit Committee should clearly communicate expectations to the Chief Audit Executive and formally evaluate his performance on an annual basis. All these elements create an environment which helps grow and retain effective Internal Audit leaders.
Do you have any final advice for aspiring or current Internal Audit leaders?
If I had to leave you with one last thought it would be that our stakeholders are continually demanding more from the Internal Audit function and it is imperative for Internal Audit leaders to focus on the big picture and aligning to what is important to the business. Do this by creating a great vision for the Internal Audit department, hire great people and motivate them to work towards that vision! Also, make sure that this vision pushes the boundaries of Internal Audit and focuses on new value add areas such as business disruption. This is the only way the Internal Audit function would be able to provide value-adding services and proactive advice for the business today and become a trusted advisor.