Many employees who work at Tampa International Airport share a lifelong passion for aviation. Director of Internal Audit, Laura Tatem, actually grew up in the midst of its history.
Laura attended Kitty Hawk Elementary and First Flight Middle schools as a child. Raised in North Carolina’s Outer Banks – home of the Wright brothers’ first powered flights – she was surrounded by flight-related themes growing up.
Her parents operated a fishing tackle and bait store, Tatem’s Tackle Box, where she made fishing rigs and helped her mother with bookkeeping from the time she was ten years old. It was her first pass at accounting and she loved it.
Laura chose oceanography as a major at University of North Carolina-Wilmington but quickly changed her mind when she realized she’d have to be on a boat for long stretches of time and would have a tough time landing a job in the field. She switched to double major in accounting and finance and after graduating landed a job in Virginia Beach at a public accounting firm where she worked as an auditor of financial statements for government agencies and construction companies.
After five years, she was able to transfer within the same firm to the downtown Tampa office and continue her career. A year later she accepted a position with a competing firm and continued her work as an external auditor for governments such as Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, and Safety Harbor and also for not-for-profits. Three years into that job, a recruiter friend brought her a job description for the Director of Audit position for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, asking if Laura knew any auditor colleagues who might be interested.
“After reading the description, I said, ‘Yeah, I know somebody … ’” Laura said. Laura joined HCAA in May 2013 and said she loves working for the airport and feels like she’s constantly challenged and learning something new and interesting.
“Being able to focus solely on one organization as an auditor is so much more fun,” Laura said. “When I was working on many different accounts, I was always torn in so many directions and the agencies all have a lot of similarities so it was tough to remember the nuances of each client.”
At the airport, Laura oversees a strong audit team of Randall Caton, Felicia Carlee and Nicole Reynolds, who comb through the finances and processes of each department at the Authority and ensure compliance with numerous policies, procedures, laws and regulations. Last year, the team received its third Certificate of Compliance by passing a peer review with zero comments or exceptions.
Colleagues who work around Laura may notice she is one of the last to leave the office for the day, but she said it doesn’t compare to the 60 to 75 hours she often put in every week in past jobs. She enjoys staying later when the office is quiet and empty.
“I always knew I would enjoy internal auditing, and the airport is not run like a typical city government but more like a business,” Laura said. “I’m very curious and I really like learning, so this is a lot of fun for me. Things like the baggage system here are amazing, and there’s still so much I don’t know.”
Laura lives in Riverview with her boyfriend of eight years, and the two have four cats, two Chihuahuas and a yellowbelly slider turtle. Her passion for animals doesn’t stop there. She also sits on the local Humane Society board as treasurer and volunteers at free shot clinics and fundraiser events.
“When I was a child, I always dressed my pets up in clothes instead of dolls,” Laura said. “I’ve always loved animals.”
A country and rock music lover, Laura also attends lots of concerts and takes at least a couple of relaxing vacations a year, usually to someplace like Mexico or the Bahamas.
Laura has another surprising guilty pleasure, as anyone who drove by her house last month would have noticed with the cobwebs and giant spiders on the roof, ghouls in the yard, graveyards in the grass.
“I love Halloween! Most people have tons of Christmas decorations; I have huge bins of Halloween decorations. It’s my favorite.”