KPP Search interviewed Peter Elam to give us thought-provoking insight to his role as Group Head of Risk Management and Business Assurance of Anglo American.
Peter studied History and Modern Languages, then did a Masters in Russian and East European studies. From early in his career, he knew he wanted to work internationally and joined Shell. He was offered a role in Finance which enabled him to gain the Chartered Management Accountant qualification (CIMA/CGMA). At a later stage and while working in Internal Audit, Peter became a Charted Internal Auditor (CMIIA/CIA). It is fair to say, he is extremely well qualified with more recently completing a Certificate in Risk Management Assurance. Peter considers education is in his mind, a continual need to progress, but perhaps more importantly to him, it’s a source of enjoyment.
Peter joined Shell as a graduate and worked in Finance in various positions internationally, and more recently as CFO in China. He states that he “caught the bug!” when he worked in Internal Audit for a period of time and has remained there since.
Peter became Head of Internal Audit at Novartis and then moved to a similar role at Anglo American. He says that over time, his career has moved from learning and from getting ahead to eventually being able to now focus on what he really enjoys and where he knows he can add expertise and value.
It’s inspiring to see how passionate Peter is about his profession and he has a natural affinity for internal audit work. He enjoys the variety, the responsibility of making judgements, the decisions and the speed in how in some instances, he quickly needs to pick things up. He relishes in influencing and leveraging his knowledge and understanding to the organisation. It’s clear that Peter sees his work as a portfolio of activities that can have a positive impact.
Peter is an early riser and often up at 5.30am. His typical day starts with coffee, watching the news and reading a book that usually relates to his work. He can have early meetings with people in different time zones, and then will try and always take his children to school before his working day starts. Most of his day will involve meetings, communication via Teams and answering emails in between. He makes lunch an opportunity to meet with an external contact and finishes earlier in the day than most people.
When we asked what he had wished he had known, he said “to trust my gut”. If there was anything he would like to change about his profession it would be that internal audit professionals should be less apologetic about what they do, and instead be more proud about the value that they can add to an organisation. He considers the most important skills and attributes to be successful is to have empathy, drive, self-awareness, and a never ending interest in your work. Excellent analysis and synthesis are vital to succeed in this line of work.
Peter says that Covid helped their organisation to finally step away from believing that work is just about people coming into the office, although it seems some would still prefer it!
Peter claims that the biggest innovation in his profession is risk-based auditing and assurance, and how it links with others in the organisation.
Looking forwards at emerging trends, Peter sees his profession as becoming more engaged in questions of governance and assurance overall, and being more visible and vocal in the public sphere. Common misconceptions about this profession is that most people expect internal auditing to be boring and repetitive, but those who have experienced it realise that the opposite is true.
And finally, we asked what advice Peter would give to those aspiring to achieve their goals in this field? He said to enjoy it, think broadly, trust your instincts and be confident that you are adding value to your organisation.
Peter has recently read Money Men by Dan McCrum, a book about the rise and collapse of Wirecard. His most used app is Google Maps (getting from A to B never loses its challenge!)