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COVER STORY: BEST OF THE BEST

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TWO DAYS. THIRTY-FIVE FINALISTS. INTENSE QUESTIONING. TOUGH DEBATING. ONE WINNER

No doubt it was a tough two days for the judges, but it went beyond inspirational for them having the privilege of  meeting 35 unbelievable youngsters who have each  achieved more than some people will ever dream of achieving in their entire lifetime. South Africa, we can be proud!

Selecting the Top 3 turned into quite the debate as the judges felt there were two other outstanding candidates that needed to be recognised for the impact and change they are bringing to their workplace and society.

But who the ultimate winner would be was settled without a moment’s hesitation or question. When Mose Kutadzaushe closed the door behind him after his interview with the judges, he literally left them in undivided awe of silence. They’d just spent minutes with a young man who had done absolute wonders in his 32 years. Here was a winner.

‘I think Mose was head and shoulders above not just the finalists that we saw, but probably head and shoulders above any young CA I have ever met,’ says Andile Khumalo.

We congratulate each of the Top 35-under-35 finalists, individually.

What you have achieved is incredible – you are inspirational leaders and achievers.

More on what the judges had to say …

BRENDAN STEWART CA(SA), Regional Head KZN, Investec Private Bank

We were looking for the X-factor: someone making a real difference in their work as well as in society. Someone with a great story to tell.

DINESHRIE PILLAY FCMA CA(SA), business owner and public speaker trainer

Each individual submission is a story of success in its own right. Being a finalist on this platform, you are able to share your story with others and so be an inspiration to them as well.

As judges, it was our role to recognise and acknowledge those individuals who have progressed a little further down a journey of leadership, service and social impact. It has been a privilege for me to be a part of this event this year and I would like to wish all the finalists strength, courage and perseverance as I know you will continue to lead the way and be a beacon of hope while proving an invaluable service to those you serve.

SANDILE PHILLIP CA(SA),President of SAICA Southern Region

As an active fellow under-35 myself, the two days of judging the Top 35-under-35 CAs(SA) confirmed what I have been observing for a while now, that the youth have taken the responsibility to co-create the future as opposed to solely outsourcing it to our seniors.

With the challenges our country is faced with at the moment, ranging from a high underemployment rate to access to education, service delivery issues, etc, the winner in my opinion needed to demonstrate ability to lead and rally others on an initiative/project that addressed a fundamental issue that speaks to the strategic objective of their organisation beyond what is required of a chartered accountant.

NAZEER HOOSEN, CEO at PPS Insurance Company Ltd

I was once again given a boost of amazement at what this country continues to produce. Bring forth those soothsayers that complain of a dearth of talent in the country and let them weep at what we were graced with over the two days of judging once again.

AZIM OMAR CA(SA)

It was intense two days of balancing our time and just wanting to hear so much more from the finalists. The days went by so fast and the parts I enjoyed most was debating how these CAs(SA) achieved so much at such a young age. In my book, they are all winners. The toughest part was trying to come to a final list of winners per category and then an overall winner. This is an experience that I believe we all should partake in at least once; truly amazing and motivational.

THYS SPIES CA(SA), Chief Financial Controller at PPS Group

As usual, the standard was very high, especially in the Academia category, where competition was rife. It is great to see the enthusiasm and excellence forming the base of the training of tomorrow’s leaders at our universities and the amount of positive change management that is happening at these institutions.

Our CAs(SA) are not just making an impact in South Africa but also on the continent, as is reflected in the CVs of the winners of the Corporate and Entrepreneur categories.

BRETT TROMP CA(SA), CFO of Discovery Health

I have been a judge on this prestigious competition for young CA(SA) talent for the last three years. Although the judging process is an intense two days interviewing 35 candidates, as a judge you always leave the day feeling inspired and encouraged for the future of South Africa. The level of talent is exceptional and it emerged across all industries, namely public, private, academia and audit practice.

Thomas Jefferson said: ‘Nothing can stop the person with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.’ This statement embodied what was important for me looking for a winner. Each winner demonstrated an inspiring attitude when facing the challenges in their business or profession.

It’s this real optimism and hope that have projected them into success. Each winner was able to clearly articulate the difficulties they needed to overcome, not minimising these difficulties but using them to better themselves, their business and society.

ANDILE KHUMALO CA(SA), Chief Investment Officer at MSG Afrika Investment Holdings

I was looking for an extraordinary CA(SA). The one with the X-factor. The ‘it’ that only exceptional people have. It’s that special characteristic that you just can’t ignore when you see it. I didn’t care too much about their actual roles, be it as entrepreneurs or professionals or academics.

What I was interested in was, at 35 or less, what have you done that’s exceptional and gives me an inkling of the awesomeness that the world is about to witness. I think we found deserving winners in this regard. For the future, I think there is enough evidence to support a category for the public sector and perhaps one for ‘against all odds’ to recognise the fighting spirit that so many of our young people have to display to not only qualify as CAs(SA) but also to excel.

OVERALL WINNER:  ENTREPRENEUR

Mose Kutadzaushe CA(SA)

Founding Director of Supreme Brands

Just eight years ago, along with three million other Zimbabweans, today’s high-flying yet humble entrepreneur, Mose Kutadzaushe, fled his motherland in desperate search of a financial oasis. Disillusioned by the hopeless economic situation of Zimbabwe and by medical insurance companies that defaulted on payments to hospitals, leaving his sick father and many other patients stranded in a pitiful condition, he was driven to action. By Lynn Grala

His financial oasis, South Africa, did not offer him the immediate comfort he had been anticipating. Mose Kutadzaushe tells how, besides cold calling contact people on websites, he walked 7 kilometres to the nearest Internet café in Johannesburg to send off job applications, then log off, sit outside and wait to log on again to check if perhaps some company had hopefully responded, and then head home, only to return the next day. This went on for three long, hard months.

‘The job search phase in South Africa will always remain a crucial period in my life,’ says Mose. ‘I was a chartered accountant who had passed Level 2 of the CFA examination and yet I could not find an employer who was willing to sponsor me for a work permit.’

And then one day, it finally happened. He managed to land employment at Deloitte Consulting after his critical skills work permit was approved by the Department of Home Affairs.

‘This episode taught me two critical lessons: first, failure is a reality of life that we all experience but can overcome with time and perseverance; second, and more importantly, being unemployed is very painful – it diminishes self-confidence and makes one doubt one’s self-worth.’

Employment meant Mose could provide for himself and his family and, most importantly, he could afford his dad’s dialysis. However, supporting his family alone was not enough for him. His challenge was now greater; the dream was bigger. He wanted to make a difference in his entire community and began searching for a way he could become more relevant.

WITH THE TOP IN MIND

Mose still has vividly painted memories of  deep conversations with his uncle about his career as early as when he was in primary school, aged 12 years old or younger.

‘My mother’s brother was one of the first black partners, if not the first, at Deloitte in Zimbabwe. Because of him, I grew up aspiring to be nothing else but a chartered accountant. As time passed, my resolve only strengthened,’ says Mose.

Academically, Mose is known to be a top performer. He received various awards during his five years of articles he pursued straight out of high school and is said to one of the most solid recruits Deloitte Zimbabwe has made in the past decade. The then CEO of Deloitte Central Africa, Tawanda Gumbo, took a keen interest in Mose and soon became his most influential mentor.

Crucial lessons Mose learnt during article years: ‘Of note, I learnt a lot about leadership from watching Hugh Wright, a partner in the Deloitte Harare office. He was always well prepared – he spent time with me planning the week and making sure that we always had an eye on the big picture, near term and long term. When I walked out of his office on Monday morning I knew exactly what was expected of me and when it was expected. He took me under his wing and staffed me on some of his most important assignments. I knew he trusted me and he consistently showed appreciation for any work I handed to him.’

Labouring by day at Deloitte Harare and buried in books at night, Mose successfully managed to complete his BCom degree through Unisa. His studying towards the CFA Charter while also taking on his CTA examinations proved to be a tough challenge.

With phenomenal results that placed him in the national top 10 candidates in Zimbabwe in 2008, Mose achieved his dream of becoming a chartered accountant. With his go-getter spirit, he lost not time and immediately sat for examinations to convert his CA qualification to a CA(SA) qualification and  soon landed a secondment to work at the Deloitte Philadelphia office for a three-month stint.

When he returned from Philadelphia at the height of the economic crisis in 2008, inflation was soaring, imports were drying up, and shortages abounded; his family couldn’t even afford to pay for his father’s treatment using Zimbabwean currency. Mose handed in his resignation to Deloitte Harare and with ambitious hopes set sail for South Africa.

EXCITED ABOUT TOILET PAPER

Greatly inspired by the spirit of microenterprise that existed in Zimbabwe, he returned from South Africa in 2009. This time he was armed with new connections and additional business knowledge and an avid eagerness to be part of rebuilding his country’s economy.

Mose quickly realised that one of the leading challenges that needed to be surmounted in Zimbabwe was the declining capacity utilisation in the manufacturing industry. ‘I sat down and made a list of very defensible products that would be somewhat insulated from prolonged severe economic downturns.’

Based on the list that he came up with, toilet paper was a clear winner. ‘It was an underpenetrated product in terms of local manufacturing in Zimbabwe and it was a necessity that all households would need to carry. With this knowledge, I read up on the manufacturing process, the available suppliers of the relevant machinery and production inputs, as well as the things that would be required to build a successful brand from scratch’, he says.

‘At this time, I did not have any personal savings, but I found the toilet paper idea to be very exciting. I reached out to as many people as I could think of and sold the idea of starting a toilet paper manufacturing company with the view of raising money to build the company. I also hired competent sales, production and administrative staff to support my mother, who I had earmarked as the CEO. The company started as a small manufacturing concern that was consistently cash-strapped. Through this experience I learned how to manage a business which has very limited resources.’

With patience and hard work, in 2010 Mose teamed up with three friends and founded Supreme Brands that has cumulatively generated over R70 million worth of revenue and has created employment for 77 employees. Today it supplies all leading retailers in Zimbabwe and occupies more than 80% of the nationwide toilet paper shelf space in some retailers.

‘Although this can be seen as an economic contribution to the country, in my mind, this is also the greatest social contribution that I have made to my society. My employees can take their children to school, buy property, and most importantly, avoid the emotional torment of being unemployed,’ he stresses.

‘I am currently in the process of introducing Zimbabwe’s only locally manufactured baby diapers under Supreme Brand’s Maruva® brand name. I have been investing in Zimbabwe when many of my fellow citizens have been turning away, and I will continue to do so. The economics of the country and industry are compelling if one gets the branding and distribution right. I intend to leverage my wide distribution network to introduce multiple non-perishable “necessities” into the market. I am particularly drawn to the sanitary industry given this is where our current expertise lies. In the long term, I intend to grow the company into a regional conglomerate that operates in the SADC region.’

DIRECTING FROM THE SIDE

With his mother CEO of Supreme Brand, today Mose manages as a non-executive director. Through Supreme Brand’s great successes, Mose applied and was accepted by Stanford Business School where he completed his MBA in 2013, also opening up a vast array of possibilities. Thereafter he realised his dream of working for Goldman Sachs in the United States. Employed as a senior associate in the investment division, he thrived on the three-year fast-paced and exhilarating career.

In May 2016, Mose started in his new role at Investec as an investment specialist and is excited to be using his finance and operational experience on the African continent once again. ‘I plan to spend the rest of my career investing in Africa, and becoming a credible asset manager who helps to connect providers of capital with talented entrepreneurs that need assistance scaling their businesses,’ he says.

‘Knowing that over 90% of Zimbabweans are classified as unemployed is a sad reality that continues to hit me hard. To the extent possible, I hope to play my part in my country’s and continent’s development by becoming a business leader who provides employment through forming and supporting scalable business ventures.’

And we truly believe he will!

CATEGORY WINNER: CORPORATE

Huzaifah Elias CA(SA)

Director: Africa Operations at GUD Holdings (Pty) Ltd

Huzaifah Elias has excelled in virtually everything he has put his mind to. When entrusted with the strategic initiative of expanding GUD Holdings across the African continent, his results would be – yes, outstanding. By Lynn Grala

Huzaifah Elias’ default temperament is calm and inclusive, yet he is incredibly passionate about his role as Director of Africa Operations at GUD Holdings. A born optimistic, Huzaifah  is a leader who inspires and gives hope even when it seems dire – as it often does in Africa – and it is this optimism that drives his team to be world class and achieve the heights they do. And he’s a man who also places great value on a good laugh.

His first and greatest mentor, his late father, taught Huzaifah a love for learning and books – and the sports field. ‘He demanded, rightly so, excellence,’ says Huzaifah. ‘Straight A’s were not good enough; it was the quality of them that counted. I think about him and his advice every single day of my life.’

Graduating with straight A’s and in the top 10 in the region, Huzaifah began his studies at the University of Natal and exuded such excellence that he received dean’s commendations throughout all years, merit awards in numerous subjects, and awards from the KZN Society of Chartered Accountants, as well as the Top Economics Student award.

After graduating cum laude with a double scholarship, he launched into his articles at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Durban, where he was rated one of the highest article clerks in his time. He enjoyed a secondment to Dubai, which was a great experience for him, but when asked to stay on he did only for an extra month – his home was South Africa and that is the place he wanted to make his mark.

With GUD Holdings (Pty) Ltd being the number one manufacturer of automotive filters in South Africa, Huzaifah enthusiastically joined the team as the Group Accountant and Group Internal Auditor and was exposed to complex taxation, accounting, and international trade matters. Excelling in this field, he developed key strategies still saving the group millions today.

However, his passion was really in commercial analysis and along with the Financial Director he analysed the business from purchasing and manufacturing right to sales, and presented his findings to the Manco and recommended actions.

‘This was so well received by the business that I was promoted to the role of Commercial and Technical Finance Manager, a great hybrid role that meant I was the centre for all technical tax and accounting issues but was allowed the freedom to analyse business profitability.’

Huzaifah was awarded the Business Leader of the Year Award for showing exceptional leadership skills. Shortly thereafter, the business saw the need to expand into Africa and required one of their best leaders to take on the challenge. Always keen to break out of his comfort zone and with the aim to learn more, he accepted the opportunity with both hands.

Following his highly successful tenure in the commercial and technical finance fields, Huzaifah was entrusted with the strategic initiative of expanding the group on the African continent. Starting out as a team of two – including himself – they walked the streets in Africa building up data and meeting potential customers and marketing their products. Great results achieved him a second nomination as a finalist for Business Leader of the Year.

He evaluated various countries for investments, drawing up business plans and turnkey solutions. The team expanded and broke ground in Mozambique where they put up their first international structure as a department in 2012, which was a huge success. Thereafter Huzaifah set up GUD Filters Zambia Limited where he was involved, right from the start, with the construction and opening of a distribution centre ready to supply the market. Sales in Zambia have increased 60% since launching in 2013. He was also awarded the coveted Teamwork Awards in 2011 and 2012 for pulling together cross-functional teams across the business to achieve strategic goals.

Promoted to Director of Africa Operations in 2013, Huzaifah has managed to build up complete operating businesses in some of the most difficult countries. With a return on investment greater than 150% per annum, these businesses exceeding profitability targets and revenue doubled.

‘Operating in Africa can be incredibly frustrating and difficult, especially when there are language barriers. When we expanded into Mozambique and Angola, it was clear that we could not continue without an interpreter. Further, all legal contracts and documents have to be in Portuguese. I began to learn Portuguese in the little free time I had. I can now read contracts and have a conversation in Portuguese. I even presented to live television, dignitaries, and customers in Portuguese at the grand opening of the Mozambique distribution centre. The same applies to French, and on a recent trip to Morocco this proved very valuable even though my knowledge of French is not as advanced as my Portuguese,’ he says.

‘We have since expanded into Nigeria where we put up a third party warehouse, as well as to Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, to name but a few of the 15 countries we are active in and have developed tailor-made solutions for. Last year I took over the Zimbabwe operation, which includes an air filter manufacturing plant. All of these expansions have been centrally directed and I now have experience in logistics, international trade, distribution, manufacturing, forex trading et al – a greatly rounded experience which I am truly grateful for. From two people my department has expanded to more than 50 employees and is still growing. I am excited to be a part of it.’

Huzaifah puts principles before profits, always. ‘Those principles include loyalty, partnership, ethics, long-term vision, and sustainable business practices. Operating in the murky waters of Africa creates many opportunities for wanting to take the path of least resistance. But principles should always come first. This is why we can have a business that is now in its 66th year and growing.’

CATEGORY WINNER: ACADEMIA

Nico van der Merwe CA(SA)

Associate Professor in Financial Reporting, North-West University

With his impressive resume and academic achievements, Nico van der Merwe could have opted for many lucrative offers in the market – but instead he chose to transform the education system. At the age of 26, he was promoted to Associate Professor in Financial Reporting.

Nico van der Merwe describes himself as a born academic and as if he was designed to impart knowledge. ‘It is one of my greatest passions in life,’ he says.

Nico is the CA(SA) programme leader at the Potchefstroom campus of North-West University (NWU) and his career in academia thus far has been marked by various accolades and achievements, including best lecturer at NWU, an award for inspirational education, and awards for excellence in research. ’I try to be a balanced academic, dividing my time between teaching, research and management.’ Nico has successfully delivered a number of master’s students and has published seven articles in accredited journals, a research output that is arguably significantly higher than that of the average CA(SA) academic of his age.

As the Subject Chair for Financial Reporting and later the CA(SA) programme leader, Nico played a significant part in building up the NWU CA(SA) programme to what it is today. ‘I am so proud of our students’ performance in the ITC exams, especially in recent years. For us, it is important that the programme be as accessible as resources allow, and our entrance requirements to studying CA(SA) are very reasonable. We try to unlock the full potential of students, and this requires the highest level of commitment from our lecturing team. The successes of the programme cannot be attributed to any individual; it is the collective effort of the team.’ Nico sees himself as part of the team and leads by example. He is also an innovative thinker and believes in continuous growth. ‘I subscribe to the Kaizen philosophy and continuously endeavour to improve myself and whatever I am responsible for to manage. I am not content with the status quo …  there is always room for improvement.’ As the CA(SA) programme leader, Nico also played a big part in the standardisation of the CA(SA) programme on the various campuses of the NWU and the establishment of a parallel-language medium of instruction in the programme on the Potchefstroom campus.

When probed on his views on education, Nico confirms that this is hugely important in South African society. ‘It has been said that education is the single most important tool to develop our people and safeguard their future and that of this country.’ He echoes the words of Confucius, who once said: ‘If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.’ Nico believes that a significant number of the challenges in South Africa can be solved through education and strives to make a difference in this sphere. ‘My students often ask me why I chose to be an academic, and I tell them it is because I want to ensure that they are formed to be the best CAs(SA) they can possibly be. In that way I am also contributing to the profession, even though I am not in practice.’

Nico believes that the country still has some way to go to realise the full benefits of education, although progress is being made. ‘One area that is increasingly in the spotlight is the accessibility of education. This includes contentious issues like tuition fees and language. Universities aim to achieve balanced solutions while taking into consideration limited resources and the constitutional mandate to protect all cultures and languages.’ He believes that the various debates should continue and has confidence that acceptable solutions will be found.

Nico credits his achievements to hard work, the influence of various mentors at NWU and the continual support of his family. He encourages young CAs(SA) to consider a career in academia. ‘It has been extremely fulfilling thus far. Some CAs(SA) in practice have the misguided idea that academics do not work as hard, but this cannot be further from the truth. Academia has many challenges and academics that want to make a difference work long hours, but it is so rewarding to see learning taking place. I would not trade it for anything.’

 

 

WINNER: INVESTEC OUT OF THE ORDINARY

Waseem-Ahmed Carrim CA(SA)
Chief Financial Officer of the National Youth Development Agency

Why the public sector?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once memorably said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Waseem Carrim explains why the public sector was his career choice

Twenty years into democracy, South Africa continues to be a remarkable country to live in. We have made giant strides as a country and as a people and although each day brings its challenges, we are a hopeful and resilient nation. The recent local government elections have proven the strength of our democracy and are evidence of a shifting and evolving political landscape which presents new and uncharted opportunities for us.

The public service has not traditionally been seen as an attractive opportunity for young, aspirational chartered accountants or even professionals in general. This perception has been fuelled by the traditional view of government being a local council office or a water board, or perhaps by article traineeships where audits at public sector clients can be gruelling affairs. The scandals often reported at some state sector institutions also may contribute to the overall negative perception portrayed and may act as a barrier to potential entrants to the profession.

South Africa does possess some world-class state institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, Statistics South Africa and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – to name but a few. These institutions are globally lauded for their forward-thinking and cutting-edge developments. There are also those institutions that have been able to implement successful turnaround strategies. Eskom, for so long the ire of the country, has shown the way by being able to completely remove load-shedding from the grid and closer to home, at the National Youth Development Agency, we have shown that with the right skills and attitude, even long-struggling entities can turn the corner.

These are but a few of the major success stories in respect of efficient, effective and groundbreaking public service. One does, however, feel that in spite of our past achievements that we are at a critical juncture in our young democracy. Economic growth has stalled and unemployment and poverty remain at stubbornly immovable figures. The public sector needs young minds to think innovatively and out of the box in order to achieve its millennium goals and those of the National Development Plan 2030. But what South Africa really needs are people who are willing to contribute to the growth of our nation in its next phase. Imagine for a moment being able to be part of the design of the next big city project in Limpopo, complete with infrastructure, transportation, and tourism plans. Or being involved in the team that redefines education policy  for a developmental economy. Or leading the delegation that approves massive infrastructure programmes in Africa.

We need forward-thinking government policy  that is underpinned by sound financial thought leadership to truly become one of the world’s great economies. Our young chartered accountants, already recognised as world leaders, need to be at the forefront of our developmental economy. If I could offer young and aspiring chartered accountants advice, it would be these three things:

Avoid having a negative perception of the public service during your traineeship. Some of your most challenging clients may open up doors you never knew existed.

Become involved in South Africa’s political processes. We are a vibrant democracy and there is no better time to make a contribution to your country. Understand South Africa’s context as a developmental economy and, if possible, further your own studies in developmental economics.

There is no greater calling or civic duty than to be able to serve one’s country. Our forefathers gave their lives to create the democracy in which we are able to thrive today. Perhaps it is our duty to repay the debt by being the young people who will chart the journey to a new era of public service.

 

WINNER: PPS POWER OF PROFESSIONAL THINKING

Lyndsay Maseko CA(SA)
Senior Lecturer at University of Johannesburg

Far beyond just a job

The philosopher/poet T S Eliot once wrote: ‘It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind.’ I find solace in these words when I am confronted with naysayers feeling entitled to define what I could’ve, would’ve or should’ve been post articles, but then quickly realise that they will just never understand.

How do I explain to such person the light bulb moment on a student’s face when he or she finally grasps a concept they’ve battled with endlessly before mustering the courage to finally step into your office to shed light where there is darkness? Equally so, how do I make such an individual comprehend the feeling of overwhelming humility and perseverance experienced when a candidate twice your age and 20 years into his journey into becoming a CA(SA) addresses you as ‘Sir’ when addressing you as a young, newly qualified CA(SA)?

I simply feel that trying to explain these experiences to such individuals is like trying to explain ‘light to the blind’.

As a very strong-willed individual, I never succumbed to those who used their designation as a pulpit from which to preach to me because I believe that my designation serves as a platform from which I am able to serve. Life is way too short to be defined by the expectations of others and hence I followed what I could only describe as the ‘job that got me out of bed’. This decision came with a display of a certain level of maturity because not often does that which makes you get you out of bed equates to the most optimal financial reward … but this is where you need to decipher what drives you; money or purpose.

As a young aspiring accountant in varsity, I always knew that I wanted to lecture one day … but one day when I ‘retire’ from the corporate world. The opportunity presented itself at age 24 when I was approached by Professor Ben Marx to assist UJ (the University of Johannesburg) on a three-month secondment basis during my second year of articles. This, I believe, determined the turning point in my career. Until that point, I was determined to scale the corporate mountain – be the youngest partner at the firm, use the partnership to elevate me to CFO of a blue- chip listed company, and then of course the ultimate goal, CEO by age 45! Destiny decided otherwise.

Upon my return from secondment, all those dreams I had became secondary to the burning need I then had to empower, nurture and mentor tomorrow’s business leaders. UJ provided me with the perfect canvas to express my calling. Within a student population of which the majority are first-generation potential graduates and being a melting pot of all levels of privilege – from those who have none to those who have been generationally blessed – my designation, which they so desperately sought, became the equaliser.

I’m a hard man, but a fair man. I believe in respecting time and in first impressions. I therefore firmly believe in the words of Tom Ford: ‘Dressing well is a form of good manners.’ Corporate South Africa is looking for problem-solvers and critical thinkers and these competencies form the basis of every lecture I present. I once read that using information is how it becomes knowledge and that revising knowledge over a lifetime is how it becomes wisdom. At UJ, we impart wisdom over a four-year period.

But will my passion translate into recognised acknowledgements? I don’t know! What I do know, however, is that my passion allows me to work harder, research more diligently, be more energetic, and ultimately inspire those around me. If these don’t bring me recognition, I’m content … content in the fact that in the paraphrased words of Gabrielle Bernstein, I allowed my passion to become my purpose and my purpose to become my profession.

 

AN AFRICAN AMBASSADOR

‘Tourists come to Africa to go on safari and see animals.’ Hearing this statement alone was enough to send me packing on my own safari starting in Cape Town and ending in Kenya! Surely this continent had more to offer than just animals? By Sedzani Musundwa

I hadn’t seen the statement so I could neither deny nor confirm it … but my curiosity had to be satisfied. What my eyes saw, my heart confirmed! There was so much on offer and the world would know about it.

I joined the world of education immediately after my articles as my first attempt to showing off what Africa had on offer. It was at a time when having a black lecturer standing in front of a 600-seater auditorium presenting IFRS was unheard of. It was new to me and it was new to the students, but this was going to be the new narrative not only for higher education but specifically for the Accountancy qualification.

 

Within a couple of months of being in the role, the heart opened up! I was keen not only to teach but to be taught … to listen … to learn … and many lessons were shared by the students: ‘I passed because of you’; ‘I come to class purely because you have made me love accounting’; ‘You have a way of providing insight in a way that no one else can’; ‘I have never seen a CA(SA) in the flesh; if I’m going to be like you I can’t wait’. What were possibly just words being uttered by the students was in fact confirmation that my passion was coming through in the work that I did!

I was then nominated to attend the G200 Youth Forum 2012, which involves students from across the world coming together to discuss how to solve the world’s problems. What was evident from my visit was how uninformed the students from other continents were about Africa. They had no clue what Africa was, where it was, or why it had sent delegates to this forum. I knew instantly that my visit would be of a more permanent nature.

I put my hand up to serve on the academic (scientific) committee as this would mean I contribute directly to the core drafting and reviewing of all submissions to the forum.

With all the work I did I ensured that an African stance was always considered.

Because I was physically far from the rest of the committee members my evenings and often early mornings were dedicated to conference calls and emails, across the time zones. In 2016, the committee members had grown quite confident in Africa’s offerings and decided that I would host the annual event as the master of ceremonies (over the four-day course of the event) and that I would be awarded the prestigious Silver Angel award.

I knew that I couldn’t be the only voice of Africa – this was bigger than just me, so I set out on a quest to find more academics to join this mission.

On my mission, I quickly realised that we had minimal academic representation within the finance sector of African CAs. This was my field, this is what I was passionate about, and this was going to be another task to solve.

I had specialised in the challenges of adopting IFRS in Africa for my master’s qualification, which meant I gained some insight on the true struggles in the profession. The one challenge that stood out the most for me was the lack of skills on our continent.

Without skills (education) it was going to be very difficult to achieve some of our set targets for the country and the continent: for my profession, to produce more CAs(SA).

We have the people (I did confirm this on my trip!); we have the resources; so the problem was solvable. So solvable that my PhD was born of this!

 

BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING

‘While there’s no doubt that unconscious bias, and even outright misogyny, still exist in workplaces today, the bigger barrier holding women back from growing their influence is not a “glass ceiling” but a glass cage of our own making (albeit not consciously).’1 By Chantelle Loots

I grew up in a small Karoo town where the aspiration of many young women was to marry a wealthy farmer and start a family. Although we had the ideal setting for growing up, we were not exposed to many different vocations, and this was especially true for women. The idea of being the breadwinner in the family was a completely foreign concept, and even the idea that a woman could have a top-flight career was not something that was spoken about, let alone encouraged.

I believe that the ever-increasing accessibility to the Internet has brought about a fundamental change in how young women see their future unfolding and has opened the doors of opportunity even to children from the most remote small towns.

The stigma that might have lingered around young women choosing to pursue a career before starting a family has been lifted somewhat, and they need to be encouraged by family and community leaders to pursue their dreams, no matter how lofty these may be.

Having had interaction with many young amazing women, I can attest that many women feel inferior to their male counterparts, even when their qualifications and experience are equal. To be honest, I understand as I too felt like that earlier in my career! In most industries it is common to be the only lady in a meeting surrounded by men at the top of their profession, and how you are perceived is an ever-present consideration.

So how do you overcome your fear and make your mark among many individuals in the corporate world with similar levels of intelligence, qualifications, and goals? How do you stand out above the rest?

This may sound like a cliché, but I honestly believe that it is possible through hard work, commitment and perseverance. When an opportunity presents itself – and it will – you have to be brave, be prepared to take risks, and do what is right for you as an individual and for your career. Also, as an individual and as a woman you need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, be prepared to work on your weaknesses, and use your strengths to your advantage.

My strength has always been attention to detail. I have used that to ensure that I deliver high-quality work over a sustained period of time to prove myself. My greatest weakness, however, used to be a desire for complete control. I managed to recognise this and have worked hard to relinquish control and trust the competency of my staff. I now prefer to focus that energy on teaching others.

You need to be prepared to make some personal sacrifices … especially in the early stages of your career. While a work-life balance is important, there will be times when it will seem that work is getting more of your energy than feels fair. Recognise that this won’t always be the case and that your commitment levels early on will pay huge dividends in the future. I worked full time while studying through Unisa for my degrees, and while incredibly tough at times, the work experience I had acquired by the time I qualified enabled me to get ahead of the pack.

In closing, I urge all young female chartered accountants out there to lead the way in transforming and growing our profession. Be confident, because there is no reason not to be; do your best, because you never know which young woman is looking to you as a role model. We can achieve more, go further and do it quicker working together than we ever could doing it alone.

 

SOWETO A VIBRANT TOWNSHIP

A proud resident of the well-known township Soweto, Raymond Ledwaba, shares some of its key treasures we can all learn from – the reason he loves it so!

This is not a story that reinforces existing stereotypes about Soweto, because Soweto’s narrative is changing – from a Soweto that is historically known for making national and international headlines about student protests, political and ethnic conflict, and abnormal levels of crime – to a Soweto that is reinventing itself as a hub for entrepreneurial, cultural and social innovation.

Do not get me wrong – Soweto still has many challenges and battles it needs to overcome. The main challenges include a dismal education system, poor health care, and unacceptably high youth unemployment rates. To some, these challenges seem insurmountable and too complex to solve. To others, they present opportunities for a generation full of passionate, creative and ambitious young people. A generation ready, willing and able to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and find solutions to the many problems we face.

Despite the many challenges mentioned above, my intention with writing this article is to present a hypothesis that Soweto is rising above its numerous troubles and paving its own path towards the proverbial Promised Land. I believe that Soweto, like many townships across South Africa, has built and continues to build qualities and traits that make people innovative and unique problem-solvers. In other words, the solutions to Soweto’s problems actually lie within Soweto’s residents.

How does Soweto cultivate innovative and problem-solving qualities in its residents, one might ask? Well, the answer is simple and can be found in an analysis of the daily routine that many Sowetans face to survive. For example, the mere fact that millions of people commute daily from Soweto to the north of Johannesburg and many other parts of Gauteng in search of ways to make a living enables them to see and experience different contexts that make up our vibrant nation. Leaving the comforts of one’s familiar environment and exploring alternatives is a key attribute required for innovation.

The manner in which multitudes of people mission out of Soweto daily to nurture their craft and search for new opportunities through the country’s public transportation system builds communication skills that cannot be learnt in a book. For instance, I learnt the skills to navigate a multifaceted, robust and often chaotic public transport system from the age of 12 when I had to wake up at 4 am every day to take a combination of taxis, buses and trains to travel to school. The unreliable nature of our public transport system also taught me how to plan my day and be able to adapt to change – fast. All these attributes are key ingredients to developing good problem-solving skills.

What I appreciate the most about growing up and living in Soweto is the sense of community, diversity and collaboration that exists in my beloved township. For instance, wedding invitations are not necessary in Soweto – people simply show up to the wedding uninvited and we have one big party! When there is a funeral, your neighbours will spread the message to their neighbours who will do the same, culminating in an entire community supporting the bereaved. I have struggled to find this camaraderie in many suburbs across South Africa.

Soweto’s ability to bring people together, to continuously build qualities and traits that develop people and make them resilient, dynamic and persistent is what makes Soweto very special to me. Soweto gives me the courage and hope to believe that we Sowetans are the people we have been waiting for. It is a great privilege and honour for me to be a resident of Soweto and to contribute to solving our problems through the work that I do with Diski Nine9, a Soweto-based non-profit company that uses the game of soccer as a tool to educate and empower young people.

I am confident that my fellow Sowetans and I will solve our problems; one day at a time, one person at a time, and one problem at a time. #SowetoStandUp!

 

FIXING A SCHOOLING SYSTEM IN CRISIS

South Africa’s basic education system is in desperate need of an overhaul, and two important aspects of a successfully revamped education system are a student-centred focus and passionate teachers. By Johnathan Dillon

Few South Africans would deny that our basic education system is in a crisis. The quality of our education system, especially maths and science, is so poor at present that it is ranked at the bottom when compared to other countries around the globe.1

Consequently, many learners do not complete matric or pass matric without exemption and are therefore not able to study for a bachelor’s degree at university. Furthermore, from the pool of students who pass matric with exemption, most pass with Maths Literacy and not ‘pure’ Maths, which means they are not able to enrol for many BCom programmes (especially those accredited by SAICA) which require ‘pure’ Maths. Maths Literacy is sadly seen as an easy way out when the going gets tough for learners with ‘pure’ Maths and it is also a way for schools to improve their matric pass rates.

A City Press article2 published earlier this year outlined key findings from a collection of education-related research papers produced by education experts. These findings, summarised below, are a major cause for concern:

  • Undue influence exerted by unions which apparently interfere with the ability of the education system to function effectively
  • Weak institutional functionality with, for example, less than half the requisite number of lessons being taught at many schools
  • Poor content knowledge of many teachers as well as an inability to effectively convey the knowledge successfully to learners

 

Clearly, something needs to be done to fix our schooling system. Government needs to acknowledge the severity of the problems noted above and take decisive and effective remedial action. In this regard, I believe two key elements are required for South Africa to overcome these problems and move into the upper echelons of global educational rankings, namely student-centricity and passion.

STUDENT-CENTRICITY

Being student-centric entails putting students at the centre of all decision-making and doing what is in their best interest to ensure that they are best placed and adequately equipped to succeed. This is required from all role-players within the education system, from policy-setters to teachers. Student-centricity is not, for example, ‘teaching to an assessment’ to ensure better pass rates but rather seeing beyond the assessment and preparing the learner for success in life beyond the classroom based on the content covered.

The NMMU School of Accounting has followed a student-centric teaching approach for many years. This has enabled the school to adapt appropriately and timeously to change and has ensured the sustained success of its flagship CA(SA) programme.

The Management Accounting and Finance (MAF) Division under my watch has also had great success in this regard. We have assisted students by, for example, scaffolding the MAF curriculum over the years of study and implementing value-adding interventions to assist students with critical thinking, exam technique, and integration of content. Furthermore, we have provided a platform for influential guest speakers to motivate students and provide practical insight into their studies. We have also expanded the MAF postgraduate offerings available to students upon completion of their undergraduate studies. This was all done in response to student needs and what we deemed to be in their best interest for ultimate success.

PASSION

Joseph Campbell said, ‘Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.’ A passion for education is therefore what all role-players in our basic education system, in particular teachers, require.

With a passion for imparting knowledge and a true desire to see learners succeed, teachers will upskill to an appropriate level, be in the classroom and convey knowledge to learners effectively.

I have a great passion for teaching as well as the MAF discipline and can attest to the fact that my passion has enabled me to successfully evolve from being a professional accountant into an effective academic. It has also enabled me to be a motivator and mentor to many students, something which students nowadays desperately need, in addition to the effective delivery of content.

CONCLUSION

Our basic education system can be fixed but it requires student-centricity and passion – two key elements which are clearly lacking in our current system based on the current state of play.

1                  World Economic Forum, The Global Information Technology Report 2016.

2                  Sipho Masondo, Education in South Africa: a system in crisis, City Press, 31 May 2016, available at http://city-press.news24.com/News/education-in-south-africa-a-system-in-crisis-20160531   (accessed 5 September 2016).

 

BUILDING AN INTERNATIONAL SKILL SET

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart’ – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Luke Beben elaborates on the importance of a robust international skill set

More than five years spent abroad, which three of them in self-imposed ‘Siberian exile’, confirmed The Honourable Nelson Mandela’s words as being a golden truth and also at the core of a truly robust international skill set.

From the countries closest to home to far-flung territories that differ vastly in heritage, culture and mentality, I have come to find that as human beings we are really much the same.

We strive for happiness in all aspects of our lives, by being in comfortable working environments, securing our families, ensuring we are healthy, and remain understood and inspired. We respond to those who are able to ‘speak and think the same way’.

The ability to understand and empathise with very different people faster, in an ever-changing and vibrant world, allows one the ability to react quickly to make a right decision, secure buy-in for a major business deal, and in general be ‘one step ahead of the pace’.

This soft skill is at the foundation for meaningful further value delivery as it also facilitates a certain kinship in the work towards a shared common goal and delivering a useful and successful work product.

From another perspective: as consumers, we increasingly demand high-quality goods at the best possible prices and are not willing to tolerate a poor service offering.

The above presents a distinct challenge in various territories, but also an opportunity to, for example, develop a platform with an in-house call centre to build the right customer touch point and deliver the best ‘CX’. This is what we have done in Russia.

Having worked in the vibrant, ever-evolving telecommunications and e-commerce fields internationally, and progressively moving further north over time through East Africa, where I saw the inner workings of our home-grown telco giant – MTN – to Poland at its eBay-type online marketplace platform, and now at Lamoda, Russia’s number 1 on-line fashion destination and digital brand partner, I have been allowed not only the opportunity to familiarise myself with the modus operandi of various nationalities but have also been educated in their unique and interesting ways of examining problems, facilitating repurchase rates, and building goodwill and sustainable value.

I have witnessed first-hand how, through solid relationship management, we are able to source top global fashion brands with decreasing lead times and improved terms of trade, despite being at an inherent disadvantage of being domiciled in a rather challenged developing world territory.

In Russia, a country 14 times the size of South Africa and spanning 11 time zones, Lamoda – through our own last-mile drop-off network – deliver the next day to over 120 of the country’s major cities with a try-on and full reject option, thereby bringing convenience and comfort to the shopping experience to every willing consumer with the added bonus of convenient and secure payment methods. A few lessons to take home!

On the finance front, meaningful interactions and in-depth discussions with high-profile stakeholders and experienced e-commerce business shareholders have allowed me the opportunity to gain context and understand latest trends and thinking in terms of solid working capital management, best in class cost governance, cohort analyses,

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