From Whence We Came

Tucked away in a much too obscure part of The Institute of Internal Auditors website is the following commentary on the history of the IIA:

The IIA’s certificate of incorporation was filed on November 17, 1941, and just prior to the first annual meeting on December 9, 1941 at the Williams Club located at 24 East 39th Street in New York City, 24 charter members were accepted for membership.

A number of years ago we found ourselves in New York on a sweltering July day and along with a number of colleagues we ventured to the Williams Club to see what – if anything – this birthplace of the IIA remembers about the moment of coming into being.


The two connected brownstones at 24 East 39th Street were home to the Williams Club since 1924, a private alumni social club for the prestigious liberal arts school, Williams College.

Sadly, the Williams Club remembered exactly nothing.

As we walked up the steps we could see removalists packing up.

The Williams Club was shutting down and being transformed into an extended stay hotel (which if one looks at The William, New York website has transformed very, very well).

The lady we spoke to said that there were no records of the IIA annual general meeting and that they were unaware of the importance of the building to what is now a global profession.

As the IIA ventures back to New York this July for the organisation’s 75th anniversary it would be well worth the time of the participants to venture to East 39th Street to gain an appreciation as to how far the IIA has come from that cold day in December 1941.

As one stood looking at the brownstones I couldn’t help but be thankful for the vision and the foresight of the founding fathers (for they were all men!) of the IIA.

I want every auditor from every country to know that on that day in New York in December 1941 the Williams Club opened its doors and the history of internal audit would never be the same.

That being all said, at the time and every time I recall the visit, there is a sense of sadness that the visit to the Williams Club generates.  

We as a profession should be enormously proud of what we are and – relevant to this situation – where we have come from.

Put into context that first Annual General Meeting – 7 days earlier the Japanese that would attack Pearl Harbour set sail.  

The world was engulfed by a catastrophic conflict.

Into that armageddon was borne a collective that – for better or worse – would change how internal audit is practiced and seen.

Yet rarely do we stop and consider the journey and even less so do we stop and consider the lessons that the journey has taught us (that there is no remembrance of the importance of the Williams Club other than a small mention on the website is telling.)

We serve our interests and those of our founders by not talking ourselves down by but elevating our sights to what can be.

To do anything less is a disservice to the efforts of Victor Brink, John Thurston and Robert Milne.

If you don’t know who they are – that probably proves our point.

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