Raymond Doherty 7 Dec 2016

A day in the life: Sarah Mudd

After living the dream in Australia, Sarah Mudd returned to England and a very different idyll. She tells Raymond Doherty about life, and internal auditing, at The Donkey Sanctuary

Caption: Photography: Graham Anthony

How I changed career

I worked in a number of roles in financial services in London and Sydney. While working in the corporate finance team in EY I got involved in the people side of things. I found I really enjoyed training junior members of the team. That’s what I was interested in and the development of people, the development of organisations. I then moved to Commonwealth Bank of Australia as a technical training manager. After that I set up my own business in training and development. I was doing that for about four years.

The donkeys feature in my day, every day. I've grown very fond of them

We had a baby and when he was 13 months old and we were considering where we were going to live long-term, he contracted a serious illness. That made us think we ought to come back home – it made us realise we were quite far away. We honed in on Devon as, after living in Sydney, I didn’t fancy going back to London. We wanted a different kind of life but still to be near the beach. We got here in 2013, this job at The Donkey Sanctuary came up, and here I am.

My responsibilities

Most of the job of internal auditor is about people and being interested in them, looking for ways to develop the organisation through improving its systems, which always involves people at the end of the day. I had worked in statutory audit at Smith & Williamson but not in internal audit before The Donkey Sanctuary. It’s really quite different.

The Donkey Sanctuary is several charities in one, in a way. We’ve got the sanctuary element with over 6,800 donkeys in farms across the UK and Europe. The international work in 35 countries, which is more community-based. There’s the donkey assisted therapy work as well. We have six centres across the UK that do outreach work and overseas projects.

We’re also a very large visitor attraction, with about 350,000 visitors each year. We have charity shops, an ecommerce offering and mail order sales. We rely 100% on donations and fundraising initiatives. We are very fortunate with legacy income. Our team are always looking at how we can reach out to a wider audience.

I like that I can see how internal audit improves the organisation and how the organisation then improves the lives of many people and donkeys.

My typical day

In terms of what particular work I’m doing I don’t really have one. I could be meeting with the executive team or with our director of finance to discuss plans. Or could be overseas at one of our projects, visiting one of our farms, or any other areas of possible risk.

I have young kids so I do always get up early. I usually get into the office at around 7.30am. This morning there was a lovely pink sky, a slight mist and fields of donkeys. It was beautiful. I work well in the morning: it’s nice to have quiet time before anyone else gets in. It gives me a chance to read things in the cold light of day.

At 8.30am I’ll go and make my coffee. I’ll have a chat with someone in the kitchen and every day I’ll learn something I didn’t know before. At lunchtime, I’ll always try to get out for a walk. I’ll typically have a meeting of some kind, and I may be working on a report. I normally finish at around 4pm to see my kids.

In the evening, I’m usually thinking about something I need to do the next day, whether it’s a coaching session I’m planning or just a good idea I’ll jot down.

My absolute passion is swimming in the sea – I find it amazing. In the summer months, I’ll always try to get down to the beach.

My rituals

Our site is quite spread out, which is nice as you get to pat the donkeys while walking around. The donkeys feature in my day, every day. I’ve grown very fond of them. They are quirky creatures. They all have their own personality. Quite a lot of them have come from tough circumstances or have been mistreated before they ended up here so it’s good that they’ve got a nice life.

There are some quite inspirational people here who do some amazing things

The challenges I’ve overcomeThis role is about finding things out. I’m quite a curious person. Often you scratch the surface and you find that there’s a bigger problem there to solve, or more information. I quite enjoy that. There are some inspirational people here who do amazing things. It’s quite different to other industries I’ve worked in.

There is a difference in culture. People in this sector might have different motivations for working. In my previous jobs people were doing quite specific roles in highly regulated industries. Here people are doing all kinds of different roles and it’s fascinating. There’s a more creative element. I’m constantly learning.

Industry quirks

We have more volunteers than we have members of staff. Volunteering is something you don’t have much exposure to in the commercial sector.

The stakeholders in a charity are different. It’s interesting. You’ve got supporters who provide the funding but they are not the beneficiaries and charities are governed by trustees who are volunteers. It’s very different to the financial sector, where you are answerable to shareholders or partners.

How the ACA helped my career

The qualification has given me a strong financial and business background. And having a Classics degree has given me that basis of knowledge I’ve used throughout my career.

It’s opened so many doors. You can go to literally the other end of the world and have a career in any area. Do it and see what direction it takes you.

The habits of an accountant

I’ve learned from my audit days to have evidence for everything. It encourages you to look at things analytically and to problem solve. And to develop strategic thinking, which is needed in every organisation.