Donna Lee Bauer, CPA, CA

Donna Lee Bauer, CPA, CA on Pursuing an International Career and "Taking the Road Less Travelled"

May 14, 2021

We recently caught up with Saskatchewanian Donna Lee Bauer, CPA, CA, CIA, FITOL, the Head of Ethics and Integrity at KPMG Luxembourg. She shared advice for future CPAs and insights on how her CPA designation supported a career abroad. Check out our interview with Donna Lee below.

CPSK: Your current role is Head of Ethics and Integrity with KPMG in Luxembourg. Can you tell us what that involves?

DLB: The primary purpose of my role is “to further develop our ethical culture, in alignment with the strategic priorities of the firm.” But what does that really mean?

Positive culture change is the result of lots of individuals taking small actions in the right direction. My role is to act as a catalyst to help nudge the movement always in the right direction - where ethics and collaboration are at the heart of “how we do things around here”. On a daily basis, I am handling matters requiring a high level of sensitivity, trust and discretion. So, a certain level of experience and maturity is required. My years of experience in the business allows me to understand the challenges that people can face in the workplace, and this is important.

CPASK: Did you ever imagine your CPA designation leading you to this position?

DLB: If you had told my younger self where I would end up, I would never have believed it. The CPA designation was an important cornerstone to get to where I am today. It opened doors. The CPA education and experience also gave me the tools to deal with a broad range of business challenges.

CPASK: Can you elaborate on what doors the CPA designation opened for you and how you progressed to your current role?

DLB: After I earned my CPA designation in Saskatchewan, I went on to work as a controller in an educational institution and had my own CPA practice for several years. I developed an interest in internal audit and eventually partnered with another firm doing internal audit work.

In 2005, I moved to Europe to work for KPMG Luxembourg. In the beginning I was leading both Audit and internal audit missions. I also volunteered to deliver audit methodology training and management skills training. One day, our managing partner asked me to take the leadership of our Learning and Development department. This was a pivotal moment for me because I knew it was stepping out of the classic track to partnership. However, it was really a role that aligned with my values, and I went for it.

In 2019, I pitched my idea of creating a specific Ethics and Integrity role for our firm. I obtained the support of our Executive Committee to drive this forward and launched the initiative in early 2020. Working on the ethical culture of our firm truly brings together all my education and experience in a role that is a perfect fit for me.

The CPA designation is well-respected around the world. When I set my sights on moving to Europe, it was my CPA designation that opened the door. Without this, I think it would have been extremely difficult.

It is gratifying looking back, where I have chosen to “take the road less travelled”, and to see my ideas and initiatives have been recognized and rewarded.

CPASK: What do you like most about the work that you do?

DLB: For me, it is clearly about making a positive difference and having a job that leverages my strengths and aligns with my personal values and convictions.

It is hugely motivating for me when I see that my efforts are contributing to positive change for the firm. Or when individuals tell me how my assistance has helped them to think through ethical challenges so that they have a more satisfying work experience - this is gold.

CPASK: For those interested in pursuing an international career, what would you say are the most important skills for succeeding in a global business environment?

DLB: A growth mindset is critical. No matter how educated and experienced you are, moving across the world means that you will encounter things you haven’t had to deal with before. Try new things, and don’t panic when things get difficult – that is where the learning happens. Then, take constructive action to implement what you have learned. It becomes a virtuous circle of lifelong learning and improvement.

You also need to be open and accepting of other norms, cultures, and ways of doing things. Finally, learn to speak another language. Not only does it open your mind and keep you learning, but it will be useful if you are looking for an international career. In my case, French language skills have been a key ingredient to getting to where I am today.

CPASK: Do you have any final advice for future CPAs?

DLB: Above all, stay curious. Keep growing and learning.

Develop your people skills. We are living more and more in a collaborative world where technical skills alone are just not enough. Your technical skills and your expertise are fundamental but cannot be unleashed at their full potential if you cannot communicate, present, give feedback, set goals, inspire, or lead with confidence with the same level of excellence.

Collaboration is key. The ability to use collective intelligence to tackle complex issues is essential for businesses today – and especially for global businesses.

Donna Lee Bauer, CPA, CA