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Michael Pickup, FCPA, FCA: Unicorn Leader

BC’s Auditor General believes in diversity, inclusion and finding the lighter side of serious work in the public sector

BC’s Auditor General Michael Pickup, FCPA, FCA, grew up in admiration of his grandmother. She led a healthcare union and achieved career success uncommon for women in the 1970s and 1980s, while simultaneously acting as a strong, loving matriarch for the family. She was, in Pickup’s words, “a unicorn,” for how rare and special she was.

“I always saw her as a role model dedicated to helping others, while never compromising on her family,” Pickup says. “It was inspirational.”

Early career

Pickup studied economics at Acadia University. He later joined the Office of the Auditor General of Canada’s office in Halifax and earned his CPA designation.

“I was really drawn to the range of the financial audit portfolio, which included mining, transportation and manufacturing,” he says. “Also, I was drawn to the opportunity to audit how effectively public services such as healthcare and water supplies for Indigenous communities were being delivered across the country and provide recommendations for improvement.”

Pickup had found his calling. He spent 25 years with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, including 15 years in Ottawa, before returning to Halifax to become the province’s Auditor General. In July of 2020, he relocated to Victoria, BC, to serve in his current role.

Day-to-day, Pickup leads audits in areas affecting public wellbeing such as fraud and public services, passing on recommendations to the provincial legislature. “We strive to positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable,” he says.

Leadership redefined

As a leader, Pickup focuses on building a holistic culture of diversity and inclusion. He expects a lot from people, but treats them well.

“Diversity and inclusion should improve what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” he says. “We need to think in terms of recruitment and retention, which includes caring about people across an organization.”

He and his leadership team completed a certificate program in diversity and inclusion from Cornell University, and later became certified in mental health first aid by the Canadian Mental Health Commission.

“If you’re not providing the right supports for workplace mental wellness, it’s hard to have safe environments, which are the foundations for diversity and inclusion,” he says.

Public service can be a pretty serious world, but Pickup encourages his team to laugh, even at themselves.

That means creating a safe environment for examining, owning and learning from mistakes. “It’s also stopping to celebrate people’s achievements and accomplishments,” he says.

Every day, Pickup fondly remembers his grandmother. In fact, he honoured her legacy by writing his book, Nan-Made: How a Grandmother Made a Man, published in 2018.

“When I look back at my career, it’s the lives and the teamwork that built the memories,” he says. “It’s how we connected and the relationships that we built.

“I hope, ultimately, that when I leave here, things will be even better.”

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