Matthijs states that his career path has been a fairly standard one as far as Internal Audit goes. He started at one of The Big Four firms in the Netherlands. After a few years, he moved on to Internal Audits and worked for different Dutch companies until moving on to establish the Internal Audit function at Grontmij, a large Dutch Engineering company, until the company ended up being purchased by Sweco in 2015.
– I really like working at Sweco, which I have been doing for 8 years now. Seeing the projects and how my colleagues are designing the place, I truly believe we are making the world a better place.
Matthijs describes the craft and allocation of his role:
– As an Internal Auditor you work for the Audit Committee. However, ideally you are also a trusted advisor to the organization and senior management. To the Audit Committee you are someone on the inside with good visibility on what is happening in the organisation. You should bridge the gap between the nitty gritty details of day-to-day work and management decisions being made. You must be independent and flag challenges to the Audit Committee. Also, you need the organization to trust you in your work. You must find balance in that.
Why did you end up staying at Sweco?
To be fair, in the beginning there were uncertainties. But with almost doubling in size after the acquisition of Grontmij and adding countries that Sweco had not been active in before, the need for further control also increased.
Coming from a company that was not doing too well when Sweco purchased it, it was a challenge to demonstrate to the old Sweco that we brought value and helped them improve their business. That phase took time. As years passed, there has always been new challenges and areas that we can develop in. I like the people and there is lots of freedom and trust from Senior Management. Sweco is a great place to be.
You are located outside of Sweden. Have you experienced challenges because of this, from a managerial perspective, through the years?
No, not really. The Netherlands is quite centrally located within Sweco and therefore allows for easy travel to all of our countries. I have an international team, which meets up during audits on location. Also, when we don not travel, there is a lot of direct contact.
Next to this, I travel regularly to Stockholm to meet colleagues in the head office and to keep abreast of developments from there. Working remotely means that you cannot just talk to people at the coffee machine, so regular planned catch-up meetings are important. They can be short but help in keeping abreast of developments.
Do you think the way of working within Internal Audit differs in terms of material, method, technique, review, etc. from country to country?
I would say that in general the way of working would not differ too much across countries. There might be differences as to focus areas and size of the functions. I would say that it also depends on what the Audit Committee and management want. In the end it is up to them to decide how they want to be in control and what tools they want to use for that. Internal Audit is one of the tools they can implement.
Our experience is that Internal Audit functions have previously been smaller departments with limited manpower, and we are now seeing a lot of departments growing to an increased number of employees in the groups. What do you think the reason for this is and why now?
The world is becoming more and more complex, organisations grow. And that also means that mistakes can be made, or wrong decisions taken within an organisation. That can lead to and has also led to some big scandals recently. When you have massive scandals that stick to the senior management and they understand that this is something which could have been avoided, they will look into how they can actually avoid it. Although having an Internal Audit function does not mean you will never have a major incident, it can help management in ensuring that they are on top of things (next to all other mechanisms). This might have been a driving force behind the increase of Internal Audit.
What do you think is most important to have a well-functioning organization and Internal Audit department?
As with all organizations, having a clear vision and strategy helps the organization to succeed. That Internal Audit function should align with that vision and strategy and focus on those areas that have the most business impact. The findings from those audits should then be addressed with management to determine how to best deal with the findings. And finally, it is important that management takes actions to solve the issues identified. Therefore, it is critical that management is able to make changes to an organisation.
What makes Sweco, as both an employer and workplace, stand out according to you?
The fact that there is a lot of trust in employees doing the right thing, and accepting that mistakes can be made, is very important. It gives employees freedom, a sense of entrepreneurship and the feeling of being in control of their own destiny. Great things will happen when you let people demonstrate their capabilities. And I personally feel that same level of trust and acceptance for our function. That is something that I am very proud of.