December 18, 2019
An Interview with Our Retiring VP Nicole Wieczorek
Nicole Wieczorek, our Vice-President of Operations and Stakeholder Relations and Chief Financial Officer, is retiring this month.
Having been at CAAF for over 30 years, Nicole has made a tremendous impression on the Foundation. As she describes below, she has held many varied roles at CAAF, been involved in virtually all aspects of our work, and worked closely with several of the communities we support, notably our international Fellows, senior public sector internal auditors from across Canada, and municipal audit institutions.
“Nicole has played a role unlike anyone else in shaping the Foundation and ensuring its successful ongoing operation,” said John Reed, CAAF’s President and CEO. “I can’t begin to sum up what Nicole has meant to the Foundation during her remarkable tenure here. Clearly, it is something special to have had someone stay with the organization for so many years and to contribute in so many different ways. On behalf of all the staff, I want to thank Nicole for everything she has done for the Foundation and its members. She has been a tower of strength, passion and heart and we will miss her dearly.”
Ahead of her final day at CAAF, Nicole shared some reflections on her time here.
What brought you to the Foundation in the first place?
My husband Patrick was serving in the Canadian military. He was posted in Chatham (now Miramichi), New Brunswick, when we met. I was working in the military credit union then as a bank teller, so he would come in and withdraw small amounts frequently so we could chat. In 1987, then married for two years, he got a posting assignment: a choice between Germany and Ottawa. We chose Ottawa, mostly because my heart told me I did not want to leave beautiful Canada. I had left a two-year post in New Brunswick working for the federal government and when I got to Ottawa, I had a choice between two organizations: one was a high-tech company, and the other was the Canadian Comprehensive Auditing Foundation (now CAAF).
Can you tell us a bit about your career path at CAAF?
I started as the Foundation’s receptionist. I cannot really remember my first interview. What I do remember is a second interview to test my French language skills with our amazing long-time translator, Nicole Plamondon. When she called, I remember trying to mask my Acadian accent and some of the slang words we employ to try to find the proper French words. Now that I’m a bit older and wiser, the Acadian accent is actually so charming when I hear it, so I don’t try to mask it anymore!
As the receptionist, I quickly got involved in finance. Accounting was definitely a passion of mine. My dad Arthur actually did the books for community and student projects in my hometown of Baie-Sainte-Anne, New Brunswick. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him—he would be doing the community books and I would be doing my accounting course homework (I’m dating myself here – but all of this was done in pen and written in paper ledgers). That passion for numbers stuck with me, and I went on to do seven or eight years of finance and accounting training at Algonquin College—undertaken with the support of my husband Patrick, who kept the home fires burning with our two sons, Sean and Ryan, while I slowly and methodically did night courses. The Foundation’s finance lead at the time was working on growing her family and she had three children in quick succession. When she was off, I would act in the finance role. And when she took her leave from the Foundation, I moved into the role of Finance Coordinator full-time.
The beauty of the Foundation is that, as long as you were willing and able, you could pretty much involve yourself in any of the programs and projects that were ongoing. So, while I always led the Finance function from that time on, I also took on progressively different roles as time went on. For 10 years or so, I managed our international Fellowship program and met some pretty wonderful people, many of whom I’m still in touch with to this day (shout out to all the graduate Fellows I’ve had the pleasure to get to know and work with over the past 30+ years). Then I did a period of time managing the Foundation’s website (our first), developing different elements of our online presence and supporting our communications. And in 2006, with the Foundation having been out of the performance audit training business for many years, I took on the role of Director of Training, managing the development, delivery, and re-emergence of our performance audit training programs, and supporting the CCOLA [Canadian Council of Legislative Auditors] community with their annual Performance Audit Symposium—in coordination with some pretty amazing Associates (they know who they are), and CCOLA partners. And then in 2012, I re-assumed a greater role in our communications and stakeholder relations, going on to lead the project of rebranding our website, with a new name, look and feel, and shifting the way we communicated with our members—all that while we moved our office premises from East to West Ottawa. These were definitely whole organization initiatives—with all hands on deck, contributing in all areas. The Foundation team as a whole was amazing in its undertaking of the many moving parts of the projects that happened from 2012 onwards. The diversity of experiences that I’ve had at the Foundation, afforded to me by the great CEOs I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow with, is what led me to stay as part of this family for over 32 years.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I think more recently, being part of the team that developed our Emerging Leaders program has been a truly rewarding experience! The program, in my opinion, is second to none. It offers participants the opportunity to explore and flex their personal leadership skills, and also to support their communities by participating in what we call Innovation Challenges—projects led by the Emerging Leaders that bring innovation and value to their institutions. The Auditors General who had some of their staff participate in the inaugural program in 2016 quickly came to realize, following its successful completion, that the individuals who had been part of the program were producing leadership results within their organizations that had positive and value-driven impact on their work. Now having delivered the program to over 40 individuals from the performance audit community, we were asked earlier this year to consider how we might extend this program to financial auditors within our member institutions. A win-win for all involved—even for me personally, as I observed our excellent facilitators deliver the program, learning about my own leadership strengths and challenges. And the most rewarding aspect has been to see the growth and promotion of our Emerging Leaders as they continue their respective leadership journeys.
What has been the most important highlight of your career?
There are so many, but I think the most important is the role I’ve played in helping to bring communities together—communities that may otherwise not have come together if an organization like the Foundation did not exist. Earlier in my career at the Foundation, I had the honour of being involved in the inception and creation of a first-time gathering of the heads of provincial and federal public sector internal audit functions across Canada, to discuss issues of common interest—a group that eventually became known as the Government Internal Audit Council of Canada. That group met annually for 10 years under programming offered by the Foundation, and I was proud to act as their Secretary. And more recently, I’ve been involved in bringing together, also for the first time, starting in 2014, the growing community of municipal Auditors General / heads of audit from 20 Canadian municipalities. These municipal institutions are all now members of the Foundation, and through our close relationship with federal and provincial Auditors General, we’ve also arranged for all three levels of audit institutions to meet together, through CCOLA’s annual performance audit symposium. Watching these communities we have supported continue to grow, evolve, innovate, and work more closely and collaboratively together, all for the benefit of Canadians, has been very rewarding to be part of.
Can you share a funny moment in Foundation history?
The Foundation in the past was a leader in the development and delivery of national and international conferences—in its heyday, bringing together 600+ delegates from Canada and internationally. These conferences were designed to bring together auditors, oversight body members, management, academics and industry leaders together around topics that touched on governance, accountability and audit and advancing innovative approaches in those areas. We ran these conferences pretty regularly on an annual basis from 1980 to 2001, and then one last national conference in 2005, to recognize the 25th anniversary of the Foundation. Immediately following each of these conferences, we used to gather in a meeting room to debrief and discuss lessons learned and celebrate the successes of the team. Our Board Chair always played an active role in these debrief sessions. One of our Board Chairs—I will not name names but will just say he was a private sector industry leader and Chair of his institution—inadvertently got locked in the closet in one of these debriefing sessions, having gone in to hang his coat. After a short time of the team discussing the conference that was, we noted the Chair’s absence. It was then we heard a faint voice coming from the closet—he was very happy to see the light of day again...and kept a very close eye on us afterwards.
Or it could be the time at our 25th anniversary conference, when we served up anniversary cake to delegates and speakers alike, and realized as some speakers were getting set to take the stage for the afternoon, that the blue icing on the cake had turned their teeth blue. Not the picture you want magnified on the two huge screens in the room! We quickly and delicately addressed the issue with speakers before sessions commenced—and thus began the era of white icing cakes.
What will you miss the most?
Of course, there is no doubt that I will miss my colleagues and teammates the most (both current and past), but that said, I’m the type of person that makes the effort to stay in touch. The Foundation’s team members truly are, and have been, a dedicated, hard-working, and very passionate group of people who have been part of the Foundation family because they believe very much in the mission and vision of the organization and want to make a difference. It’s all anyone really wants, isn’t it? To make sure in their career and their work, that what they are doing matters and makes a difference to someone. And I can say, unequivocally, that the Foundation and its people are passionate about making a difference. And we know for certain that the members and stakeholders we exist to support—audit institutions, parliamentary oversight bodies, professional bodies and others—are making a positive difference in the lives of Canadians and we take pride in supporting their impacts as well. The people I’ve had occasion to work with—the current Foundation team, and those that came before them, including our Associates, many of whom I continue to call friends—have been the reason why working at the Foundation has been such an enriching and joyful experience.
We wish Nicole all the best in her retirement. We know that she will always be a part of the CAAF family and that her impact will be felt for many years to come.