Carmine Liuzzi is a 30-year veteran of the Intertek SAI Global team with a master’s degree in polymer chemistry from Long Island University and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Manhattan College.
Liuzzi provides services that range from delivering training and consulting support to leading internal assessment teams. His areas of specialty include ISO 9001, ISO 14001, IATF 16949, ISO/IEC 17025, and ISO 45001, as well as process improvement techniques. He also functions as a subject matter expert for the design and development of many of Intertek SAI Global’s core course curriculum.
He is an Exemplar Global-certified lead auditor for quality and environmental management systems as well as an automotive industry expert, including IATF 16949 and the application of quality core tools such APQP, PPAP, FMEA, MSA, and SPC. Liuzzi assisted the development of the initial global automotive quality standard.
In addition to his professional experience, he also volunteers for Destination Imagination, a global nonprofit education organization with affiliates in more than 60 countries. Destination Imagination teaches problem-solving and STEAM-based skills through a challenge-based programs to students from kindergarten through
the university level. Liuzzi is the New Jersey affiliate director and is a member of the Board of Trustees for the organization.
In this conversation, we chatted about his introduction to auditing, views on the efficacy of training and trainers, and his advice to people just starting out in an auditing career.
EXEMPLAR GLOBAL: What is your background and how did you get into the world of management system auditing?
CARMINE LIUZZI: I started out as a research and development chemist in new product development for automotive applications a number of years ago. The company that I worked for at the time was very proactive with a process they called “rounding.” What they would do is identify certain people and then move them around into different operations within the organization, which gave those individuals a complete picture of how the different components of the business fit together. For me, I went from research and development, to manufacturing, to laboratories, to operations, and then to distribution operations. I had a number of different “tours of duty,” if you will. During one of those tours, I was asked to be part of a team that was tasked with developing ISO 9001 for our sites, because one of our major customers came in and basically said, “You have to have to be registered to this standard, otherwise we’re not going to purchase from you any longer.”
We began by developing the training materials and the audit protocols. Then we audited the various facilities to establish their starting points. We became established as internal consultants to help the site organizations in these facilities develop their systems. Once the management system was developed and implemented, we then went in and audited them to ensure they were ready for their third-party registrar audits. After doing all that, we thought we had a pretty good handle on the entire implementation and assessment process. As a team we decided to attend the lead auditor training class, to confirm we were conducting assessments properly. We were trying to get the perspective of a third-party auditor so we could better understand their thought processes.
After completing the lead auditor class, one of the instructors came up to me and said, “Based on your experience, you’d probably be pretty good at this.” My response was something along the lines of, “I don’t really think I really want to do this every day for the rest of my life.” (laughter) Of course, about six months later, the president of Excel Partnership offered me a position and I’ve been doing it ever since, going on 32 years.
CL: So, I have ended up doing this every day! (laughter)
EG: And now you’re certified through Exemplar Global as a lead auditor not only for ISO 9001, but for ISO 14001. At what point did you begin to look at environmental management and realize that you wanted to pursue that certification as well?
CL: One of the responsibilities of the department heads when I was working for the chemical company in the manufacturing and distribution units was to ensure our operations were compliant with our consent orders with the state. So, I ended up getting very practical experience with all of the permits and requirements involved in that process. At the same time, I was also responsible for managing our emergency response team. If there was a spill or any other kind of environmental incident, our team would respond to mitigate the impacts. We made sure that we had all the appropriate equipment and such in place. So, achieving ISO 14001 lead auditor certification was a natural outcome of everything I was doing, anyway.
EG: Can you talk a little bit about training? Have you, in your career, had mostly internal training through your employers, or was it done more with third-party trainers?
CL: Like most folks, I have experienced both methods. There was a fair amount of internal training that we went through on our own quality management system and our own environmental management system. There was also the process of becoming certified as a lead auditor for both the quality and environmental standards. In addition, in my role at Intertek SAI Global, I design and develop training courses, many of which are certified by Exemplar Global for auditing management systems. In that work, I’ve developed case studies based on my experiences over the years.
EG: Is it fair to say that the training you’ve received has informed the training you provide? What are some of the experiences you’ve had with various trainers and what have you taken from them?
CL: There are some trainers who are very engaging, and you really just like their style and the way they present the information. I try and do this myself, in which the training is more of a conversation. As the instructor, I may lead the conversation, but it’s going to be an interactive session where we will all hopefully learn from each other. My role is to encourage participation from everybody in the room, so it becomes an engaging experience for all participants. That way, the students learn not only from me as the trainer, but from other people’s experiences as well. We try to make it an atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable contributing to the discussion.
EG: That outlook has come about rather recently. In the past, it seemed that training was more top-down, where the trainer trained and the learners learned.
CL: Personally, in more than 30 years of doing this work, I never thought that that was an effective way to train. I don’t stand up there trying to make myself feel good or impress someone because of my experience. The best process, for me, is collaborative, in which we all work to help everyone achieve success and have a good, value-added experience. Because if the students do have a good experience and learn techniques and methods they can use back in their jobs, they will come back.
It’s a similar attitude we take when we’re doing consulting projects with organizations, helping them implement their systems. The first thing we always ask is, “How are we going to measure our success together?” Our goal is never to just get the client a certificate to tack to the wall. We want to make sure that the process will be value-added to the business and make the organizations sronger.
EG: Absolutely! Another thing that’s changed in auditing is in the use of technology. To use the most obvious example, in the last several years, everyone has had to step up their technology game to better understand how to use the tools enabling remote audits.
CL: I’ve done quite a number of remote audits; in fact, I was doing them even prior to the pandemic. A lot of people think we just started auditing in this way in 2020, but remote auditing has been happening for quite some time. Many of my clients have multiple locations, so we’ve been able to bring their people into the audit using a variety of communication methodologies. The pandemic accelerated the development of a lot of these tools that we now take for granted and use every day. In that regard, it really made life a lot simpler through the use of technology.
EG: Let’s turn to the topic of the future of the auditing workforce. It’s just a fact of life that the auditing community is graying, and we probably don’t have enough people coming to fill the ranks. From your perspective, what do we need to do better in terms of bringing people into the field?
CL: In my “free time,” I volunteer for a global nonprofit organization called Destination Imagination that teaches problem-solving skills to students. This STEAM approach is something they don’t get in school. So, that’s one answer to the problem—we need to do a better job of feeding our pipeline early on and developing those durable life skills in our students.
In addition, I believe one of the issues we’ve got is the negative perceptions of auditing. That kind of makes sense, because there’s this idea that auditors just find and report on the negatives. Pretty much everyone associates audits with negative consequences, and potentially being penalized for the negative findings. So, the public perception of auditing is not seen as helpful or constructive. But I always look at an audit as an opportunity to have a discussion around what is and what is not working. If people can see that having something identified finally resolves one of these hassles they’ve been experiencing, they may say, “Hey, maybe that audit stuff really isn’t all that bad.” (laughter)
What it really comes down to is this: Are we going to be the kinds of auditors who always need to justify our existence by writing up multiple negative findings? Consider that the auditee may very well believe that none of those findings are particularly value-added. It’s better to partner with the auditee, in a sense, to be able to identify weaknesses so that the organization can say, with confidence, that they are better for having gone through the auditing process. Of course, if your role is as a third-party auditor, you can’t tell them how to fix things, but you can provide value, nonetheless.
Auditees won’t necessarily like the fact that you as an auditor found some things that aren’t conforming, but they should understand why you wrote those things up. They should also understand how correcting those nonconformities will make them a stronger and more sustainable organization. Those auditors who can identify these issues (which, when corrected, will add value to the organization and their customers) are the ones that are going to constantly be employed and in high demand. On the other hand, if your goal is to go in there and justify your existence by writing nitpicky nonconformities, you are not going to work very much because organizations aren’t realizing any value from the process.
EG: You are touching on a point that is eternally relevant: Why does an organization seek certification in the first place? You mentioned earlier that you first got exposed to this career through a company that just needed to be ISO 9001 certified because their customers demanded it. That drove a lot of certifications in the past, but increasingly, I think people are asking, as you mention, about the value-add. It’s expensive to get and maintain a certification, and if you’re doing it just to get a cert on the wall, it’s really suboptimizing the entire experience. Auditors are very experienced people who can provide a level of professional rigor to their analysis of your company’s processes. Why not take advantage of that?
CL: I agree 100 percent. As you said, why would an organization spend all this money on the certification process? What’s the return on investment? And if an auditee can’t see that, it makes them question the entire process.
EG: Finally, what advice would you give to people who are just starting out as auditors so that they can provide value and also give themselves the best possible chance to have a long, successful career, as you have done?
CL: The first thing is, always be open to new technology and new ideas. Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that you have all the world’s knowledge on anything, because you don’t—nobody does. Another important piece of advice I would offer is to always try, even in the middle of the audit, to see things from the perspective of the auditee. Ask yourself the question you’re asking that person and consider this: If the roles were suddenly reversed and I had to respond to the question I just asked in the manner I just asked it, would I feel comfortable in providing an answer? Once again, never forget that the core of the audit should be a conversation, not an inquisition.
Always be open to and thirsty for knowledge. I feel very fortunate to have gotten to see so many different processes and met so many wonderful people through this career. Just be open to that and open to the experience. Be a sponge and try to then take that information and bring it to the next people that you interact with, because ultimately, we’re trying to make products better. We’re trying to make these processes better. We should be an enabler of the success of these organizations, not a hindrance.