August 20, 2020
An Interview with Our Retiring President and CEO, John Reed
Our President and CEO, John Reed, is retiring at the beginning of September.
John has been the CEO at CAAF since 2016, and joined the organization as the Vice-President, Performance Audit, in 2012. Throughout his career at the Foundation, John has made a significant impact in all facets of the organization. As he describes below, he has seen the Foundation through many changes and developments. In his roles both as Vice-President and as CEO, he has been instrumental in propelling the organization to new levels of success.
How did you first encounter CAAF and what led you to want to join the Foundation?
I joined the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in 1996 and, for most of my time there, my main exposure to the Foundation was through the international Fellows that worked in my group. The Fellows were fantastic people to work with, but my direct contact with CAAF was on the periphery. I knew about the Foundation, of course, but honestly didn’t know too much about what it did beyond the Fellows program.
I think the first direct contact I had was in 2010 or 2011 when I spoke at the Foundation’s annual conference in Toronto about the Global Coordinated Audit on Climate Change I had led. I can still vividly recall Nicole Wieczorek, who just recently retired as Vice-President of Operations and Stakeholder Relations and Chief Financial Officer, welcoming me with her warm smile and demeaner and the whole experience piqued my interest in the Foundation.
In the spring of 2012, following the release of my audit on the acquisition of the F-35 fighter jets, I unexpectedly found myself without a portfolio in the OAG Canada. Perhaps serendipitously, a call for associates issued by the Foundation crossed my desk. I was quite intrigued by the role of associates in providing performance audit training. So I responded to the call by contacting, who else but Nicole, who politely told me that being a full-time OAG employee meant I couldn’t be an associate. But the silver lining, she told me, was that the Foundation would soon be recruiting for a new position, its first-ever Vice-President of Performance Audit.
When I saw the posting a few months later, I knew this was the job for me. It was all about creating and building a new practice, something I’ve been pretty good at in my career. And the more I learned about the Foundation (including the precarious position it was in at the time) the more I wanted to help. So I applied for the job, was offered the position, and with my family’s and Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s strong support, I jumped at the opportunity given to me by then-CEO Paul Lohnes. I haven’t really looked back since.
And one small anecdote just to demonstrate that life can be a circle: My first day on the job at CAAF was training in the OAG of Newfoundland and Labrador with, who else but Nicole, and associate Bill Rafuse, who had hired me at OAG Canada in 1996! I bought myself a piece of local artwork that week to commemorate the start of a new career and have proudly displayed it in my office ever since.
What were your main priorities during your time with CAAF and especially since becoming the President and CEO?
One of the first things I did as the new VP of Performance Audit was to reach out to our members, principally the Auditors General in Canada, to get an idea of their perspectives on the Foundation and their priorities for programming. Man, did I get an earful, and not all of it good! There were so many priorities, I didn’t know where to start at first.
One thing that was obvious to me was that there was a lot of work to do to strengthen members’ trust and confidence in the Foundation and to demonstrate to them that they were getting value for their contributions. In my first two years at CAAF, I focussed my attention on building relationships, recruiting new staff and associates, rejuvenating our performance audit training programs, and developing new research products. These were pretty heady and creative days, and with huge support from Julien Raynaud and Pierre Fréchette, we revamped our existing training courses, developed new ones, and launched a number of new product lines (including Practice Guides and Discussion Papers). When Lesley Burns came on board, I shifted some of my attention to our parliamentary oversight program, knowing that this was highly valued by our members from the Canadian Council of Legislative Auditors.
At a meta level, I suppose you could say that my motivation to become the President and CEO was to give back to the Foundation. I had become a huge believer in the importance of the work of the Foundation and what it was contributing to public sector accountability. I wanted to create stability for the staff and to help secure the Foundation’s long-term future and financial sustainability. As well, we had put a number of important initiatives in motion that I wanted to see through, such as the new name and re-branding of the Foundation, rolling out our renewed parliamentary oversight program, and securing funding from the Government of Canada for our international program among other things. Deep down, I wanted to lead.
On becoming the President and CEO, my vision for the Foundation was based on three overarching goals that I coined as “One”, “Best-in-Class”, and “Value-for Money”. The idea behind “One” was to behave as a single organization in every respect, leveraging and integrating our domestic and international programming for the benefit of all our members and partners. “Best-in-Class” was all about the standard of quality of our programming. In my mind, our research, training, conferences, Fellows program, governance and management were already top-notch, but I wanted everyone to continually strive to be and to be recognized as best-in-class. Lastly, “Value for Money” was a reference to both being responsible custodians of public and members’ money and to ensuring that our members received great value for their fees. These three goals drove me throughout my term as President and CEO.
What were the most significant or meaningful results achieved during your time with CAAF?
That’s a really tough question because the list all of the great things that we accomplished together as a team is a very long one indeed. As CEO, I was in the habit of compiling an annual “year-in-review” – a list of all the things accomplished in the previous year – and it was always so impressive to see on paper. These accomplishments weren’t just about our outputs but also about how we worked together behind the scenes, governed ourselves, and served our members. To me, the CAAF staff and associates have proven over and over again the old adage that “success has many parents” and it was always impressive to see how many individuals contributed to each of our many successes.
In terms of specific programs, one accomplishment that really stands out for me is our Emerging Leaders’ Summit, which one participant described as “quite simply the most outstanding professional development experience of my career.” Through this program, we inspired the next generation of leaders in the audit community and I am confident this will pay dividends in the long run. I learned a lot just by participating!
I also think our work in support of establishing a First Nations Auditor General and an Auditor General for the City of Vancouver were especially important as they signalled a shift in our contribution to the greater public good. I hope one day that both institutions are created!
And lastly in terms of specific programs, our global leadership, guidance and training in support of gender equality and the UN Sustainable Development Goals is ground-breaking.
On a different note, I think the name change from the CCAF to the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation, coupled with our re-branding and new website, propelled the Foundation to new heights. The new name (and logo) gave us much more focus and the ability to expand our reach and profile.
At the highest level, perhaps what stands out most for me is the growth in the reputation of the Foundation. This is manifest in many ways. For example, our international Fellows program is the envy of the world and we continually receive requests from countries and individuals to participate. The domestic and international demand for our performance audit training courses has grown dramatically in the past few years, and much of this comes from word-of-mouth and not through marketing by us. We have more followers than ever on our social media platforms and the professionalism and substance of our research products and member communications receive accolades on a continual basis.
And while a lot of the work of the Foundation is focussed on the performance audit practice, our work on parliamentary oversight is no less important or impressive. Personally, it was a great thrill to be invited to address the Parliament of Rwanda while we were delivering a Public Accounts Committee orientation workshop there in 2019. Organizationally, an anecdote that perhaps best demonstrates the incredible reputation we have in the oversight community took place at the 2019 conference of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees when the Chair of the federal PAC, Mr. Kevin Sorensen, told his provincial and territorial colleagues, “The #1 best practice we followed was to bring in the CAAF right off the top and that is my best advice to you all—get the CAAF involved with your PAC.”
And as if all of this wasn’t enough, our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of remarkable. Rather than dwell on the problem, CAAF staff and our associates focussed on solutions, transforming our training, communications, research, budgeting, international support, and working environment in a matter of mere months. The relentless creativity and innovation by staff, and their commitment to the Foundation and our members and partners, makes me proud beyond belief. It all augurs so well for the future.
What will you miss most about working at CAAF?
Well, let me say from the start that being the President and CEO of the CAAF has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my professional life and the pinnacle of my career. And to me that is saying a lot, because I’ve had a pretty charmed career (so far) with tons of highs (and some lows). I’ve had great jobs, travelled the world, worked with very clever people, and have been able to pursue my passion for environmental protection.
For sure I am going to miss the staff and our associates and the intellectual stimulation that comes from working with such a creative, innovative and entrepreneurial group of people. And I will miss the chance to celebrate with them the many successes I know they will achieve in the future. At the end of the day, I suppose I will miss leading the most. While being in charge carries its share of stress, leadership is intoxicating and I get a great deal of satisfaction in enabling others to grow, to stretch themselves, and to achieve breakthrough results.
But all good things must come to an end and I am looking forward to a slower pace in retirement, spending time with my wife Josée on Mississippi Lake and enjoying the many distractions we have to keep us occupied – loons, bears, floods, our pontoon boat, my workshop, and a host of fun neighbours and friends. And in time, maybe I’ll be given the chance to continue supporting the work of the Foundation in some fashion.
Let me close first by saying how grateful I am to Brian Bost, Jim Sylph and the CAAF Board of Directors for having given me the chance to lead this amazing organization and group of people. I will also be forever be grateful to Michael Ferguson for his unwavering support of me and my time in the organization. Second, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of the staff, colleagues and friends who have supported me and my vision for the Foundation over the years. It’s been a heck of a ride together!
Lastly, I want to wish my friend and colleague Carol Bellringer great success and happiness as the new President and CEO. I know she will soon learn what a great group of people she has been given the opportunity to lead.