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From regional Queensland to all corners of the globe: The John Catford journey.

Jul 02, 2020 11:42 AM

From growing up on a small cattle property in Queensland to supporting the Board of a US$100 billion multi-national company, the twenty-seven year veteran of mining giant Rio Tinto has worked across the globe, but has now decided to take a short career pause before moving onto other adventures.

John joined Rio Tinto in 1993 after working at KPMG in Brisbane and qualifying as a chartered accountant. His career for the next 20 years was largely in finance working at operations, business units and Group HQs in various locations, including the UK and USA.

After several CFO roles, John was offered the Head of Group Internal Audit role and quickly formed the view that internal audit contributes significantly to organisations successfully achieving their objectives.

He says “when a lot of your work is about protecting the company against potential major threats, the value that you are creating is not always clear - but it is there”.

“So it’s not a role where you achieve daily recognition. If you’re into it for personal recognition, then it’s probably not the career for you. It’s a role where you have to believe in the purpose and values of your company, and have the full confidence in your own integrity and aims”.

“Internal audit in Rio Tinto reports to the Audit Committee and administratively to the chief executive. No other function within the company gets to have such deep and broad engagement with the Board, senior executives and line management as internal audit. It’s gratifying that you get to continuously engage with so many people through your job,” he says.

Accepting a casual vacancy on the IIA-Australia Board in August last year, John’s aims were to promote the fact that internal auditing is a global profession, and it also clearly differentiates between the work of a professional IIA member and that of others.  He says the internal audit ‘brand’ is truly global and every ‘internal audit’ performed is part of our global brand so we all have a role to play in the success of the internal audit profession every day. 

“Internal audit is unlike many other professions in that it is not limited to one country, its global”.

He says that over the last eight years his team has performed almost 1,000 audits across more than 30 countries covering all types of risks but they have all been done using the same internal audit methodology, which is based on the IIA’s international professional practices framework (IPPF). 

“For example, a specialist tax or legal professional often cannot practice outside their country, but internal audit can as it’s a global profession using the same international standards whether you are in Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Guinea or Peru”.

One of the challenges of internal auditing is to find the real ‘root causes’ of issues. People tend to avoid the tough issues, he says, and the independence of internal audit helps give you the courage to call it out as they are not often related to processes or systems, but rather people.

“Independence is the unique differentiator of internal audit from other internal functions, so to prevent ‘brand’ damage it must always be protected from situations which could create a conflict of interest”.  

He says one of the great things about internal auditing is the relationships he developed with internal audit leaders across the globe. “I have always been struck by the engaging and transparent discussions between internal auditors from different companies. It was never about exposing a company’s secrets, but sharing good practices on how to get things done, especially given the difficult role we play. It’s a special relationship amongst professionals, like no other I have experienced”.

John Catford is a Professional member of the Institute of Internal Auditors-Australia, and a former member of the Institute’s Board.

“Why being a PMIIA is important to me?”

“I was so proud to attain professional membership of the IIA-Australia. Professional membership is important as it shows a commitment to the highest global standards for internal auditing and to the courageous integrity that I feel defines our profession. “