By Rob Starr, Content Manager, Big4.com
When someone has a career spanning 30 years in business auditing and consulting and ranks as one of the founding members of a major player in the industry like Protiviti, it comes as no surprise they’ve been inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Audit Practitioners. Protiviti’s senior managing director, Bob Hirth, had both those credentials and more on his illustrious resume when he talked with Big4.com just after the induction ceremony, which was held at this year’s IIA General Audit Management conference in Las Vegas.
He started the conversation by telling us about the beginnings of his present company.
“I’m an alumnus from Arthur Andersen and spent more than 25 years there,” he said, adding that he started working there when there were eight large accounting firms. Hirth’s road to prominence in the profession also had an international leg when he went to Melbourne to work before returning to the United States in 1991 to California.
“I had about a 10-year stint here in the U.S. after my three years in Australia before the firm ‘ceased operations’ as we sometimes say in 2002, and we formed Protiviti,” he said.
Of course, more than just a timeline and some circumstances went into the new venture. Hirth was also happy to talk about the motivation that steered what was a fledgling operation and helped to carve out its path to prominence.
“The absolute number one motivation for everybody in founding Protiviti was the philosophy that the status quo was not an option.”
He went on to say that everyone working at Arthur Andersen at the time understood their current jobs were soon coming to an end, and what needed to be done became quite clear.
“Survival is an important emotion or instinct,” he said, giving a nod to the practical side of the transformation.
There were other factors as well, and Hirth went on to explain some of the underlying, positive drivers.
“We had a value at Arthur Andersen called stewardship,” he said. “The idea being that when you became a partner at our firm you agreed to try to make it stronger before you left than what you had inherited.”
Hirth said although the concept changed slightly when it became apparent to everyone they needed to find another place to work, there was a general consensus that the idea of stewardship needed to follow Arthur Andersen’s ex-employees wherever they went.
“I like to suggest then that the founding of Protiviti became a group event,” he said. “I would say that for every night in the early part of 2002, conference calls were held with a regular group of people trying to figure out how we could demonstrate this value of stewardship and possibly take our Business Process Risk Consulting (BPRC) practice somewhere.”
So, on May 22nd 2002, Hirth and a group of his fellow partners and colleagues were employees of Arthur Andersen, and on the next day, 650 people started what was first called Newco since the new firm didn’t have a name as yet. The philosophy behind what was to become Protiviti was one of the first priorities.
“There were some words surrounding values we wanted to bring forward,” Hirth said, “and those values were around words like professionalism, productivity, objectivity, integrity, creativity and the like.”
The branding efforts that followed resulted in Newco’s name transforming to Protiviti.
Hirth’s internal auditing presentations have brought him international recognition and he’s written or published numerous articles, white papers, resource guides and research studies. He has served as the San Francisco IIA chapter president and multiple terms on the San Francisco chapter of The IIA Board of Governors, as well as other volunteer positions for IIA organizations. His insights into the challenges faced by the internal auditing profession today are highly valued.
He categorized the pace of change, emerging risks and global operations under one heading.
“Because of technology, primarily, the rate of change is a lot faster,” he said. “Things can happen in minutes or almost seconds today and ripple across the globe.” He went on to say the pace of change creates the emerging risks mentioned, and these risks can impact all companies, even those that don’t think of themselves as global in nature.
Finally, among the highlights in his illustrious career, Hirth includes the people he’s met and the ability to mentor them at the top.
“Like any coach, there’s been satisfaction in seeing people grow, mature, fail a little bit, but ultimately succeed,” he said.