Known by his words – Editor’s Note

Known by his words – Editor’s Note – Larry Sawyer

I didn’t know Larry Sawyer. He retired years before I came to The IIA. I believe, however, that someone mentioned his name the first day I started working for The Institute, and I’ve heard it a couple of times a week ever since. So, when we received the news at headquarters that Mr. Sawyer had passed away, we started to pull together a list of his accomplishments and awards and began to formulate a fitting memorial (see “In Memoriam,” page 76). His resume is impressive: attorney; certified internal auditor; prolific author; winner of IIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Victor L. Brink Distinguished Service Award for Extraordinary Achievement, Leadership, and Service, to name a few.

I learned a lot from his biography, but I think I understood more about Larry Sawyer, the person, from his writings. He authored more than 40 articles for Internal Auditor magazine, a multitude of books, several workbooks, and numerous poems. His writings covered virtually every facet of internal auditing over a host of ears, earning him IIA’s Thurston Award for Excellence in Writing not once but on four separate occasions. I’ve had the chance to read some of his works in the past, but never in one sitting. This time, as I read article after article, I was intrigued by his vision and his unmistakable enthusiasm for the profession.

In 1970, he started a series of articles, “The Grandfather Dialogues,” that would secure him the nickname “grandfather of internal auditing.” The column was based on conversations between a grandfather and his grandson about the many facets of internal auditing. With each one, Sawyer’s passion for the profession was apparent, but one particular passage from the first article was perhaps the most illuminating:

“Internal auditing, as it should be practiced today, is a very exciting profession. Every job the internal auditor does is different. Every day brings new opportunities to help the boss and improve the company’s profits. Every week brings the internal auditor face to face with new people and new problems. Every problem is like a mystery that has to be solved. He can go anywhere in the company and talk to anyone he wants to … He can come in like a fresh breeze that sweeps away the cobwebs of delay, decay, and inaction. He can turn the searchlight on tired, ineffective, in efficient methods. He can ask questions, like ‘why’ and, by asking the tight questions, he can get people to see for themselves what changes should be made. He’s big enough and sure enough of himself so that he can compliment someone who’s done a fine piece of work and he moves around enough so that he can tell others about it so that they can try it, too. When he does the kind of job he should be doing, he’s treated with respect by employe es, supervisors, managers, and officers.”

As a visionary, Mr. Sawyer had no doubt that the internal audit function would grow in stature within the organizational structure, for in 1993, he wrote: “As professionalism replaces simple verification, management and the board of directors will be using internal auditing increasingly and in more difficult assignments … What is past is prologue–prologue to a profession which will take its place among the other learned professions of the world.”

He thought of himself as a philosopher, living his professional life by 10 maxims that started with “Leave every place a little better than you found it” and ended with “Murphy was an optimist.” When people talked about the simplicity of his tenets, he replied, “Maybe they are; but they are based on some fundamental truths. And truth is often miscalled simplicity.”

Of his writings, he mused that he was a “chronicler of what the profession’s more daring members propose and accomplish.” Of course, he had to have thought of himself in that category because in 1995, he proposed changing the term “internal auditor” to “performance evaluator.”

Like I said, I didn’t know Larry Sawyer–or maybe I did.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Institute of Internal Auditors, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group