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Back Story

“Rising Every Time We Fall”

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If she could choose only one word to describe herself, Brenda Merricks Leonard knows exactly what that word would be: perseverance.  

“One of my favorite quotes is by Nelson Mandela, who said, ‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’ That has been my mantra,” explains the associate vice president, audit services and reporting, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina. “I believe we face both good and bad opportunities every day. I try to recognize what is good and change the bad. If I can’t change it, I incorporate that lesson going forward and persevere.”

Leonard has the distinction of being the first internal auditor at CPCC, which has six full-service campuses and offers 100 degree, diploma, and certification programs.

Leonard is married to a retired engineer and has a daughter. She enjoys reading, movies, traveling, and gardening with flowers, particularly pansies and geraniums.

Exactly what does an internal auditor do? 

The main objective is to assist management at all levels in the effective discharge of their duties. You provide advice, assistance, and interpretations on policies and procedures. You strive to add value to the college by providing assessments of operations, improving processes, and conducting compliance reviews.  

What was it like being the first internal auditor?

It was both exciting and challenging. I had always worked in corporate America, and I was very impressed with the mission of the college and its commitment to student success. During the first couple of months, I spent a lot of time listening, reading, meeting people, and getting a better understanding of how the college operates.

What characteristics do auditing professionals need to move up the ladder?

Strong analytical skills, excellent listening and interviewing skills, and problem-solving abilities. You also need to value collaboration. 

What kind of problems do you typically solve?

When people bring me an issue, I listen to what they are saying. Sometimes, what I hear is they’re just not comfortable with a change of process. I try to clarify the situation with them by saying, “This is what I am hearing.” Then I try to show some of the benefits and shortcomings in that particular process.  

I always try to bring the broader picture into focus. Internal auditors should possess a bird’s-eye view of the college. They should be able to see the interrelationships and connectivity of different processes.

What is your biggest success in your current position?

Finding ways to improve full-time-equivalent reporting. Colleges in North Carolina are funded based on their enrollments. When I joined the college, people did not consistently turn in class records, so information was not being reported to the state. So we implemented a system to monitor and make sure that all records were submitted. Also, I made the college community more aware of state regulations for community colleges. 

Your resume indicates you are the college’s ethics liaison. What does that involve?  

I work with the state ethics commission to ensure that the board of trustees and the president, executive vice president, and chief financial officer receive training every two years on ethics. I also make sure that ethics information is disseminated among people covered under the act.

What challenge have you overcome?

I think there is a stereotype about accountants and auditors being nerdy, which influences perceptions. What I’ve done is present myself professionally as a partner who wants to help improve the organization. I try to bring the right people to the table because it’s difficult—no, impossible—to be an expert in everything. I value collaboration and active engagement.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.