Internal auditors’ trusted advisor status is no longer an aspiration — it’s assumed. While bemoaning that some still view practitioners as adversaries or box-checkers, this year’s Emerging Leaders extol internal audit’s access to all levels of an organization and its role in strategic planning. Even at relatively early stages in their careers, they’re already earning seats at the proverbial table. And those seats are earned based on both their mastery of internal audit processes and their ability to see the bigger picture. As a result, they report leading massive international engagements, jumping into complicated situations on short notice, and starting up audit functions at far-flung branches of their organizations. Adeptness with data is a given with this group. No longer is data analytics a sought-after specialty — this year’s class fiddles with numbers for fun, and many write software suited to their department’s specific needs. Service to the profession is assumed, too. This year’s group chairs committees, produces fundraising events, and promotes The IIA to students and colleagues alike. And as with numerous practitioners, the path to internal auditing for many Emerging Leaders was a winding one; one reports planning for his audit career as early as his teens, but most came across it unexpectedly. Indeed, one Emerging Leader calls her introduction to the profession “completely serendipitous,” and another learned what internal auditors do in her job interview. As always, their enthusiasm is infectious. They’re fascinated with internal auditing’s potential, and they want to maximize it and improve it. The profession is in good hands.
Hassan NK Khayal, CIA
26, Senior Consultant, Risk Advisory Services
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Hassan NK Khayal’s journey in internal auditing began with undergraduate business administration coursework at the American University in Dubai. “It provided a unique self-awareness opportunity, as I discovered that I enjoyed getting to know about all aspects of business — including management, marketing, and advertising — through my elective coursework in addition to my accounting and finance major requirements,” he explains. The internal audit courses, and one instructor in particular, he adds, intrigued him with the variety of work the profession offers. But the most direct influence was a close friend in internal auditing who felt sure he’d thrive in the profession. Now with six years’ experience, he’s often hand-picked by new clients, says Ghaleb Al Masri, managing director at Mazars. Khayal, who holds a certification in robotic process automation, has worked with clients in oil and gas, media, and wildlife and forest management. “He always manages to master the different industries and bring new educational opportunities from them,” Al Masri notes. Khayal says he appreciates internal audit’s relationships with all key stakeholders in the organization and its bird’s-eye view; the diversity of assignments makes each day new and interesting, he adds. “An additional interesting aspect about working in consulting is that not only are the functions always different, but also the clients, and by extension the industries, making the job much more fulfilling, but also much more challenging,” he says. Masri adds that Khayal possesses strong communication skills, noting that the junior-level professionals whom Khayal mentors usually show an above-average grasp of the profession and demonstrate superior job performance compared to their peers. Khayal is also active with his alma mater, mentoring and advising in its active business incubator system and volunteering at alumni events. And he enjoys being out in nature, he says, especially underwater on weekend scuba dives.
Bonnie Tse, CIA, CISA, CPA, PMP
27, Internal Audit Manager
Bonnie Tse focuses on “solutioning,” according to her supervisor, Stephen Whitman, senior manager, Internal Audit, at T-Mobile. “She continually strives to look at problems from different angles,” he says, “improving and streamlining as she goes.” One recent example: As vice president of Membership for IIA–Seattle, her solution to increasing the pipeline of future practitioners involved developing and launching a mentoring program, pairing IIA members with local university students interested in auditing. Tse earned accounting degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Southern California; since then, she’s collected Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and Project Management Professional credentials. She started as a business process consultant with a focus in internal audit and financial advisory; clients represented electric utilities, car insurance, and computer memory manufacturing. Tse now works in the internal audit department at T-Mobile, and she says she loves being able to learn about different areas of the business, seeking and helping to address process inefficiencies. “I see a lot of opportunities for auditors to leverage robotic process automation to reduce the number of low-level repetitive tasks, so they can focus on the more interesting and value-adding aspects such as solving the root cause of customer pain points and designing better preventive controls,” she says. Indeed, Tse is often sought out for control advice and “pre-audit” testing, Whitman notes. She recently became a board member of the Washington Society of CPAs and has served on the Planning Committee for the organization’s Women’s Leadership Conference. When she’s not working, Tse enjoys playing badminton, skiing, hiking, and traveling.
Amber Morgan, CIA
29, Management Auditor II
City of Anaheim
Amber Morgan had the wrong impression of internal auditing. The Chapman University graduate served as a summer intern at KMJ Corbin & Co., an accounting services firm that then offered her a job, giving her experience in financial statement audits for publicly traded companies and nonprofits in multiple industries. “There was a perception that internal audit is repetitive,” she says now, “that you are in the same company doing the same audit over and over, year after year.” But in reality, Morgan says, her experience has been anything but boring, noting that she has yet to perform the same audit twice. After KMJ, she moved to local government internal auditing, obtaining experience in public safety, contracts and procurement, finance, and public utilities. “She does not consider her work just a job,” says colleague Lisa Monteiro, senior management auditor for the City of Anaheim. “She has a genuine interest in the overall betterment of the local government auditing field.” Even an average day is interesting when your audit clients include Disneyland, Angels Stadium, and the Honda Center arena — not to mention public utilities and police and fire services. Morgan worked on an audit of 911 dispatcher staffing levels for the Anaheim Police Department’s Communication Center. “During the audit, I had the privilege of doing a ‘sit-along’ for several hours to gain a real-life understanding of their job duties,” she recounts. “It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had.” Additionally, noting her department’s continued use of paper reports in manila folders, and lack of plans to implement a change, she took the initiative to lead the switch to audit software, set it up for the department, and train the auditors on how to use it. “She also spearheaded the division’s transition from audit reports that were traditionally word-heavy and long to a modern report format that is attention-grabbing and much more visually appealing for the reader,” Monteiro adds. After hours, Morgan and her family soak up the Southern California sun, hiking, going to the beach, and walking their dog. She also volunteers for the Association of Local Government Auditors and Dedicated Employees Volunteering Time & Energy (DEVOTE), a charitable group for employees of the City of Anaheim.
Michael Zumbano, CIA
26, Assistant Vice President; Audit Supervisor, Corporate Audit
Bank of America
An internship in a bank’s internal audit department proved pivotal for Michael Zumbano. While he was pursuing a degree in finance at The Pennsylvania State University, the 10-week experience sparked his interest in auditing. Now five years in, he says his early years at his current company proved transformative. “Working on different teams has really helped shape who I am today and how I practice audit,” Zumbano says. On the banking company’s automation team, for example, he helped develop SQL code to drive continuous controls testing of full populations and to provide actual reperformance of system logic rather than reviewing business results, developing his data analytic skills. Now on Bank of America’s Data Quality Audit team, he helps assess how data is being managed across different functions. He explains: “I’ve developed a true passion for data, and feel fortunate to apply it to help drive a stronger control environment.” Manager Jason Nark, audit director at Bank of America, says Zumbano “represents the future of audit, transforming his skill set to become an expert in data and data controls.” He identifies meaningful data-driven insights, Nark adds, and can communicate them effectively at an executive level. “He stands out for his ability to quickly understand businesses and processes and the underlying systems and data, a combination of skills that enables deeper understanding of how to look at data, what it means, and how to find issues that help businesses improve operations,” Nark says. One example: Zumbano determined while testing data for reporting that the data was changing during a conversion process intended to simplify report production; he then identified a pattern that pinpointed the remediation needed for sustainable accuracy. In his downtime, Zumbano mentors kids through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Communities in Schools of Delaware program, and he’s active with the bank’s annual golf outings that benefit Make-A-Wish. Zumbano plays golf and soccer, and he notes a strong interest in cooking “developed through years of watching the Food Network.”
Kyra Li, CIA, PMP
30, Director, Risk Consulting
Ontario Lottery & Gaming
Kyra Li embodies the trusted advisor role many internal auditors have begun to embrace. Self-described as risk-averse, the University of Waterloo graduate says she took the first job offer she got. “Admittedly, I was not 100% sure what I was getting into,” she comments now, “and it took a few months before it clicked that I was an auditor.” With an enhanced understanding of the foundations of risk, she moved into an internal audit role with a rapidly growing professional services firm, enabling her to see further connections among internal audit, enterprise risk management, and business resilience. Now she leads a risk consulting team, which she says functions in an internal audit capacity but with an emphasis on advisory work. Former colleague Alan Cosgrave, a partner in Enterprise Risk Services at MNP LLP, says an attribute of Li’s that he misses most is “her ability to see the bigger picture with respect to risk when she is conducting her work.” She helped grow the practice, he adds, attracting several of its large co-sourced and outsourced internal audit arrangements. “Clients constantly commented on her ability to understand the key issues and risks and her ability to pull that all together and create fit-for-purpose recommendations,” he notes. Li says crafting co-sourced and outsourced arrangements is easier when you’ve been on both sides. “From a service provider perspective, having a single primary liaison at the organization can turn a potentially complex relationship into something seamless and valuable,” she says. “From a client perspective, I understand how much more value can be obtained by being open with sharing information and brokering relationships.” Outside her professional life, Li has coached Special Olympics swim teams and volunteered at independent living residences for adults with disabilities. To round out her downtime, she recently began taking wine classes, adding historical context to her empirical research.
Daniel Meyo, CIA
29, Manager, Advisory Services–Risk
Grant Thornton LLP
Daniel Meyo combines a big-picture approach gained from working in and outside the U.S. with a zeal for assessing the intricacies of an enterprise up close. At his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he took an accounting class focused on internal controls. “I realized that I really enjoyed the thought of taking on a role that would allow me to analyze how a business operates and addresses risk,” he says. Meyo has in fact led many internal audit engagements around the world for very large companies, both public and private, says manager Warren Stippich, a partner at Grant Thornton LLP. Meyo has also been global manager for all 130 member firms in the company network’s internal audit practice. During a one-year rotation in Sydney, “he brought his experience from the U.S. and the internal audit profession,” Stippich says, “and shared it with his new teammates there and all over Australia and Southeast Asia.” Meyo comments: “Work that is global in scope is both challenging and rewarding, requiring me to take the time to understand many different cultures and ways of thinking and to work collaboratively across the company globally to add value.” He also trains and mentors new employees at his firm. In his home town, Meyo supports Chicago Cares, a nonprofit volunteer organization, plus Lurie’s Children’s Hospital fundraisers and IIA–Chicago’s annual golf event. When he’s not working, Meyo reports spending much of his time on the links. “I love that golf is as much a mental challenge as a physical challenge,” he says. “It allows me to get outside and disconnect.”
Stephanie Robberson, CISA
29, IT Senior associate
Stinnett & Associates
Stephanie Robberson came to internal audit by way of anthropology. That was her major at Baylor University — she minored in art history and museum studies, planning a career as a museum curator. But a forensic anthropology field school shifted her sights toward an advanced degree in forensic science and plans to become a forensic examiner for law enforcement. “I did not know what internal audit was until I interviewed for my current position,” she says. Finding no ideal jobs in Oklahoma City, she turned to a professor for advice who connected Robberson to her current manager. Now three years in, and pursuing CIA certification, she says, “I love that there is always something new to learn, especially in the IT realm.” She boasts 3,000 hours of internal audit projects under her leadership, says manager Kari Zahar, senior manager at Stinnett & Associates. And she developed IT onboarding training for new hires that was originally developed for local use but was then adapted to other cities and used to feed firmwide training. Zahar says Robberson’s colleagues call her “a rock star who’s always got your back.” To prepare for a project, she reviews literature on emerging technologies and interviews groups who are knowledgeable about a subject or process, she says, then reports on her findings. Zahar notes that Robberson is AccessData ACE-certified and a Cellebrite Certified Operator and Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyst, which involves using advanced techniques to explore recovered data, perform analysis, and produce reporting. Beyond her professional responsibilities, Robberson serves as membership chair on the Board of Directors for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Moderns group, and she volunteers with local animal rescue and adoption events. She also spends much of her free time exploring local museums, along with parks, breweries, and restaurants.
30, Audit Manager
Thokozani Sihlangu started planning a career in accountancy when he began secondary school at age 12. His course selection was “aligned to this dream,” he recounts, ultimately leading to a degree in internal auditing followed by a post-graduate degree in forensic auditing. Sihlangu, a Nelson Mandela University graduate, joined IIA–South Africa during his third year of study and developed a passion for the profession. He founded an Internal Audit Students’ Association to “bridge the gap between students and industry through knowledge transfer, networking, and active seeking of work opportunities for students,” he says. Sihlangu’s career includes a stint at First-Rand Bank, where he monitored conformance with The IIA’s International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing and provided quality assurance services to 300-plus auditors. At both his current position at Absa Bank and in his role as chair of IIA–South Africa, Johannesburg Region, he helps his organizations meet the unique challenges of working in the pandemic. “He introduced online conferences during the COVID-19 lockdowns that have become the new normal way of servicing members across the country,” says former colleague Lerato Dihangwane, audit manager at Bidvest Bank. She adds that Sihlangu’s role with Absa Bank also includes leveraging the use of cutting-edge technology to help address fraud risk. Sihlangu, who’s pursuing both the CIA credential and an MBA degree, also introduced Internal Audit Awareness Month at his company. “It was well-received across the organization, among 220 internal auditors in 10 African countries, as well as by business management,” Dihangwane reports. Sihlangu says his involvement with The IIA helps keep him abreast of developments in the profession and enables “insight and foresight to identify emerging risks and gaps that are not necessarily visible to others.” He serves as chair of IIA–South Africa, Johannesburg Region, which has also helped expand his impact beyond the profession. “He participates in community outreach programs, including spending a day at an orphanage, where volunteers played board games with the kids and donated food and essential items,” Dihangwane says. Outside the work-a-day world, Sihlangu enjoys travel, especially road trips, he says.
Michelle Brown, CFE
26, Auditor II
Michelle Brown believes in paying it forward. At a previous employer, she participated in the Beta Alpha Psi INSPIRE Mentor Program at the University of South Florida, her alma mater, helping students transition from academics to a business career by reviewing résumés and prepping them for career fairs and interviews. “Mentoring is critical in the ever-changing environment of technology and internal audit,” she says. Before starting in the profession less than a year ago, Brown — who’s working toward earning CIA and CISA credentials — pursued a sales career at Tech Data and ADP, then worked as an external auditor for EY Media & Entertainment. Brown’s experience in big data and auditing from multiple perspectives makes her “a next-generation internal auditor,” says supervisor Kevin Alvero, senior vice president, Internal Audit, at Nielsen. Her multidimensional background, he explains, “comes through in the level of comfort she has in communicating with the various stakeholders of the audit projects she manages.” Brown adds that, to improve efficiency, the internal audit team “works cohesively” with other teams at Nielsen. As an example, she cites the impact of her Audio Internal Audit team’s visit to the Columbia, Md., office to meet with the Audio Data Science team. “They talked about the Media Rating Council (MRC), among other topics, and the importance of compliance with the MRC minimum standards — and how that relates to the annual audits,” Brown says. Her team also solicited feedback on strategies to improve the audit process for all sides. Another key project includes implementing robotic automation in audit processes that are aligned with those of external auditors. Off the clock, Brown can be found “on the water, fishing.” She’s passionate about conserving marine life and habitats, she adds — and she’s a member of the Coastal Conservation Association and Captains for Clean Water.
Nausheen Ahmed, CIA
30, Deputy Manager, Internal Control and Audit
Marico Bangladesh Ltd.
Before internal audit, Nausheen Ahmed had a career as a finance professional all planned out. “Working as an internal auditor was not even in my conscious thought,” she says now. Indeed, it wasn’t even offered as an undergraduate course at the University of Dhaka, where she studied. A chance glance at a job notice led to an internal audit interview and then a job in the profession. “I did not find any function as dynamic as internal audit,” she says, citing its blend of finance, marketing, supply chain management, business intelligence, and advisory work. Personal circumstances led to new jobs outside internal audit, but in 2018 she returned to the profession. “She has multidimensional experience due to working in different functions apart from internal auditing, including business intelligence analysis in a social enterprise and financial analysis in a credit rating company,” says M. Nurul Alam, secretary general and board member at IIA–Bangladesh. She put that experience to use when tasked with revamping the company’s internal audit function, including a change from traditional reporting to an infographic approach. “Internal audit is quite a new function here,” she notes. “I work collaboratively with operational management and with risk and compliance functions to strengthen the internal control and monitoring mechanism as a valued business partner.” Ahmed is also active with her local IIA affiliate, where she helps organize professional training events and mentors CIA candidates. In her free time, she reads motivational books and writes articles on internal audit topics.
Alec Palmer, CIA
30, Senior Manager
Alec Palmer practices internal auditing on the edge. Recent engagements include managing more than 20 contractors across multiple projects for a consumer products and services client — he shepherded reconciliation of 900 high-risk balance sheet accounts in two months and helped review 1,200 such reconciliations in 10 weeks. “Procedures can certainly change when dealing with a higher-risk account,” says the Texas A&M University graduate. Another engagement began when Palmer was asked on short notice to join a consulting project for a Sarbanes-Oxley client, notes Protiviti Managing Director Jordan Reed. “Despite little preparation time, he adapted to the environment, effectively managing a client resource and several business processes,” he reports. A recent project for another global client found Palmer managing a team of contractors working from home in different U.S. locations and collaborating directly with a third party based in India. “Internal audit was not a career path that I was well aware of throughout college,” Palmer says. “I knew I wanted to do consulting, but I didn’t realize internal audit could be a means to understanding your client’s business on such a detailed level.” Indeed, he encourages graduates to pursue careers in internal auditing because companies find practitioners’ skills highly valuable. “And they’re transferable to other types of projects you choose to be a part of,” he adds. An active volunteer, Palmer has led the Protiviti Houston office’s iCare committee, which focuses on helping the local community, by organizing clothing and food drives, a park clean-up, and a meal-packing event. His work with the committee has also included coordinating opportunities for employees to help out at pet shelters, build bicycles, serve meals at a local food kitchen, and volunteer to assist at the Special Olympics. He travels, he says, tries new restaurants, exercises, and spends time with family and friends.
Elizabeth Houska, CFE
26, Senior Auditor
Elizabeth Houska excels at cultural relations and communication. “It’s incredibly difficult evaluating foreign processes in a foreign language,” the University of Mississippi graduate explains, “and adding cultural differences to the mix can certainly cause barriers.” In fact, she cites multiple interviews where Google Translate literally did all the talking. She has led teams on audit projects in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, reports supervisor Frank Holloman, audit manager at FedEx. “She knows that to be successful on an international audit team, she needs to problem-solve not just from a corporate perspective, but from a local perspective as well.” She’s honing her Spanish skills, Holloman adds, emphasizing that “speaking with audit customers in their native language enhances collaboration and further builds on the business relationship.” Houska anticipated the international aspect of her work, but she didn’t see internal audit coming. “I knew I wanted to master a second language, travel the world, and find a job that made a positive impact,” she recounts. Then one day a couple of visitors from FedEx came to a marketing class she was attending to promote an internship in internal audit. “One-by-one, they checked off every item on my list,” she says. Now she’s the internal audit liaison with the FedEx Corporate Integrity & Compliance Department for ongoing anti-corruption compliance initiatives; she’s also a Certified Fraud Examiner and is pursuing the CIA credential. Active in her local IIA chapter, Houska also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots, United Way, and Junior Achievement. After hours, she takes her two dogs on long walks and explores downtown Memphis.
27, Internal Audit Lead
Atlas Air Worldwide
Shruthi Ramakrishnan is proficient at adapting. She majored in financial accounting and auditing at Mumbai University and initially chose a career in external auditing. “My first exposure to internal audit was at my client companies and networking events,” says Ramakrishnan, who’s pursuing the CIA credential and also in the process of obtaining her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. “I began to realize that internal auditors had a broad knowledge of the entity’s business and its operating environment.” She moved to Atlas Air as an internal auditor. “We are treated as business partners,” she says. “Our recommendations make a positive impact on the organization.” Ramakrishnan also notes that internal auditors are constantly challenged to upgrade their technological skills to stay relevant — and to be of more value to the organization. “Today’s dynamic and changing environment requires internal audit to pivot and adapt,” she says. And Ramakrishnan is well-equipped to do so, says Charles Windeknecht, vice president, internal audit, at Atlas Air Worldwide. “She understands the relationship of key risks, systems, processes, and controls,” he says. And she emphasizes data analytics. In one project, she instituted tests on full populations that focus on high-risk areas rather than relying on sample-based testing. Windeknecht adds: “Her team provided management a level of fraud risk assurance that was not previously attainable through traditional testing approaches.” Data, Ramakrishnan says, is “the new oil for businesses,” so internal audit functions must make the most of it. “I believe using it should be one of the priorities to build a next-gen internal audit function,” she stresses. Beyond her audit work, Ramakrishnan supports Junior Achievement and mentors new team members. She’s also passionate about arts, particularly Bharatanatyam, a form of Indian classical dance.
Rachel Jurgens, CIA, CPA, CA
27, Senior Manager, Risk Advisory
Rachel Jurgens has a long-held passion for people, culture, and business, so it’s no surprise she found success in the field of internal auditing. She describes the profession as “fast-paced, continuously evolving, and more exciting than I could have ever imagined.” An internship in internal audit led to the job at her current company. “Whether I’m leading culture and conduct reviews, process and technology audits, or assessments of internal controls over financial reporting, I am continuously challenged and genuinely interested in the work I’m doing,” the Queen’s University graduate says. “Her work auditing culture, conduct, and other people processes is helping her clients evaluate and manage important risks that they would not have historically considered,” says colleague Maya Douglas, manager, internal audit, at Deloitte LLP. “These reviews include evaluating people processes, policies and governance for discrimination and harassment prevention programs, complaints management programs, workplace well-being programs, and inclusive recruitment and hiring practices.” The reviews require unique skills, Jurgens says, including knowledge of leading practices relating to diversity, equity, inclusion, workplace investigations, and workplace harassment and violence legislation. “But the most important skill is the ability to listen to people’s lived experiences,” she explains, “so I can provide people-centered recommendations for process, policy, and governance enhancements.” Jurgens is national co-chair of the Deloitte Pride (LGBTQ2S+) employee resource group and a National Campus Recruiting lead for the company. “She’s helping identify our next generation of internal auditors,” Douglas points out, “and demonstrating that it is okay to be out in the workplace.” Additionally, Jurgens volunteers for local LGBTQ2S+ not-for-profits and mentorship programs. She also travels — 50-plus countries and counting — and spends time outdoors snowboarding and hiking with her partner and their dog, Rhett.
29, Regional Internal Audit Manager – Asia Pacific
Sony Tharayil is passionate about, as she puts it, “redefining current ways.” She’s also resilient — and curious. Combined with passion, The University of Madras graduate says, these qualities define the mindset she brings to internal audit. “It is a profession with unlimited possibilities,” she says. “Being curious and analytical by nature, I am completely driven by the opportunities that internal audit offers me.” One was creating the company’s first comprehensive risk and control matrix, notes Antoine van Vlodorp, head of internal audit, Europe and Middle East, at Travelex. Her tool, he says, was adopted formally into the company’s audit methodology. Additionally, the audit reporting and audit follow-up methodologies and templates she developed are now used globally in the Travelex internal audit function. Tharayil, who’s pursuing the CIA credential, is leading the Company Internal Audit Methodology Transformation Program and the implementation of a comprehensive quality assessment process. And she set up the Travelex internal audit function in Oman that she now manages. “From a regulatory perspective,” she explains, “I was quite happy to note that the region is very prescriptive in its approach to governance; as such, it was easy for me to set up the formal structures for an audit function.” Beyond her audit work, as a member of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, Tharayil helps “identify initiatives that uphold social and gender equity and other human rights goals.” She also spends time with family and friends, traveling and honing her photography skills.