NEW AT THE TOP
Cynthia M. Fornelli
Position: Executive director, Center for Audit Quality, a District-based organization that promotes investor confidence in the public-company audit process.
Career Highlights: Senior vice president and compliance executive, regulatory and conflicts management, Bank of America; deputy director, division of investment management, Securities and Exchange Commission; senior adviser to the director, division of investment management, SEC; associate, investment management, Dechert, Price & Rhoads; associate, corporate securities and transactional, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson.
Education: BA, philosophy and political science, Purdue University; JD, National Law Center, George Washington University.
Personal: Lives in Alexandria with husband, Randy Earley; and their children; Andrew Bernstein, 20; and Hannah Bernstein, 14.
How did you get to where you are?
I grew up in Kansas City and my father was a foreman in the steel mill. My mother was mostly a homemaker, although occasionally she worked outside the home. Early on, they instilled in me a very strong work ethic, which I carry with me to this day.
One does not succeed on his or her own. There's always a team. It's important to give credit to everybody that has helped you. But at the same time, it's important to take responsibility for your actions. Early on in my career at Fried Frank, there was a scandal in the bond market when some New York brokerage firms were accused of cornering the bond markets in the early 1990s and it resulted in almost all of Wall Street being investigated by every agency imaginable -- the SEC, NASD, the New York Stock Exchange, the attorney general of New York, the District attorney in New York City and a whole host of other regulatory agencies. And Fried Frank was retained by one of those brokerage houses. I was a second-year associate, and it occurred to me that this was going to be big. So I went to the partner in charge and volunteered to work on the case. I was told to pack my bags for two weeks, and eight months later we successfully closed the case for the client with a very good result. While at Fried Frank, I had the distinct honor to work with [future SEC chairman] Harvey Pitt, who was a senior partner at the firm. Harvey instilled in me the importance of paying attention to details and giving 110 percent. He was very focused on going above and beyond what a client had asked for. That is definitely a lesson that I carry to this day. And Fried Frank is where I learned the importance of standing and taking responsibility for your actions. There was a situation where we needed to make a filing first thing Monday morning. I had delegated that task to a junior paralegal to make the filing and he did not make it to the courthouse on time to file the papers. It was a difficult situation for all, and we let the client down. After the fire had been put out, the partner pulled me aside and said he had appreciated my taking the responsibility for the mistake and not blaming the paralegal, even though he knew that the paralegal was at fault. Now that I supervise others, it means a lot when somebody who works for me takes responsibility for his or her actions.
My time at the SEC was very instructive. I worked there from 1999 to 2004, which was during the mutual funds crisis. I learned the importance of being clear about your mission, your objectives and your goals. It was a period when everyone was questioning the role of the SEC. And by sticking to our mission, goals and objectives, we were not only able to show people our role in protecting investors, but we were able to come up with a slate of reforms for the mutual fund industry that made the industry and marketplace stronger and better.
At Bank of America, I was hired shortly after the mutual fund scandal. The bank took that as an opportunity to institute a program internally to identify conflicts of interests and manage those conflicts so that the banks, customers and investors had confidence in that process. I was hired to create the bank's conflict-of-interest program. Creating a new program that cut across all lines of business is helpful here in my role now in bringing together public company auditing firms of all sizes. We have almost 800 public company auditing firms as members of the Center for Audit Quality and also are reaching out to investors, regulators, academics, public companies and the profession, and building a consensus around the key issue of audit quality and the importance of public company auditing in our capital markets.
Consensus building in any profession is important. I think the various roles that I've played in my career underscore the importance of being able to build a consensus. Another common thread throughout my career is finding the positive in times of difficulty or adversity. There is always opportunity to learn and sometimes the best opportunities come from times of adversity. That's an important philosophy both professionally and personally. And at the Center for Audit Quality, it means helping the profession have the best process and the best audits possible so that investors in public companies have confidence in their investments and in the marketplace.
-- Judith Mbuya