Congratulations to all our Top 35-under-35 candidates – you are all winners and leaders.
After hundreds of entries, months of anticipation, a gruelling judging process and a difficult task to select only three category winners and one overall winner, we can finally announce who they are and why they were chosen.
Hundreds of high-quality entries and nominations flew in after our search began for the Top CA(SA) under the age of 35.
After the closing date it took hours of deliberation to select only 35 candidates as finalists. The competition comprised three categories: entrepreneur, corporate, and academia/practice.
These individuals boast portfolios of not only significant success, but they have displayed leadership, personal determination, drive and lots of courage that has seen them to where they stand today. In some notable way or another they are also looking beyond themselves and making a meaningful difference by giving back to the community and less fortunate.
With a panel of prestigious judges, on 5 and 6 August the true excitement began as the judging process commenced. After two fun but very tough days, the judges collated all their scores, debated for a while, and then finally select the following category winners: Entrepreneur (and overall winner) Bronwyn Corbett; Corporate – Cobus Grové and Academia/Practice – Francis Kwahene.
We asked the judges to share their experience and tell us more about what each of them were looking for in the winners. This is what they had to say.
CA(SA) Head of banking at Investec
The level of professionalism and success of the finalists was truly impressive this year. Seeing how these young CAs(SA) have taken the solid foundation that the qualification gives them and leveraged this to create not only wealth but make a difference in many people lives is inspirational.
The grit and determination of the winner and runners-up was particularly impressive. These are certainly individuals who are movers and shakers in their respective industries. What stood out for me was the way these dynamic individuals are able to balance the challenges of a successful career and a healthy family/social life. Congratulations to not only the winners but each and every one of the impressive finalists.
FCMA CA(SA): Business owner and public speaker trainer
‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will still be among the stars.’ – Unknown
To the daring and inspirational finalists – congratulations; know that you have started a journey of success for yourself and have become a role model in society.
As a judge, what stood out for me were those passionate individuals who challenged the status quo and the realms of their own ability.
Congratulations Bronwyn Corbett for succeeding in the tough business of property to achieve success in all areas of personal, business, finance, and societal influence. From your humble beginnings as a trainee to being a powerful woman in the property business – your story is an inspiration to all.
Congratulations to Cobus Grové – your success has exemplified how a technical accountant can transform into an influential CFO through the implementation of strategic turnaround plans.
To Francis Kwahene – congratulations for having the guts to follow your passion of teaching and for choosing the difficult task of getting Walter Sisulu University reaccredited – your personal sacrifice is allowing future CAs(SA)s from the Eastern Cape to be developed.
My wish to all finalists is to sustain the momentum of what you have started and to keep pushing the boundaries of possibility.
CA(SA): Chief Financial Controller at PPS
It was an absolute privilege to be part of the judging panel for the 2015 Top 35-under-35. What stood out for me is that the top CAs(SA) are not just doing extraordinary work and achieving extraordinary results in their professional capacity but are also having an immense, tangible impact on society in their personal capacity.
One can see from examples like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Patrice Motsepe, to name just a few, that great leaders’ legacy is not just the accumulation of wealth but how their achievements are channelled to the sustainable upliftment of the less fortunate.
It was heart-warming to hear the testimonials from people that are being impacted by our finalists. The energy and work ethic, positivity about South Africa as a country and professionalism – that one expects from a CA (SA) – was contagious, and I found myself inspired to lift my own game.
Our three winners are worthy of the title and have managed to overcome what some would regard as impossible. Congratulations to them and may these achievements continue for years to come.
CA(SA): Investec Private Bank –Recoveries
It’s an honour for Investec to sponsor the 2015 Top 35-under-35 awards in partnership with SAICA. As an organisation known for its strong entrepreneurial culture, Investec supports professionals who lead the way and challenge conventional thinking. I have been extremely fortunate to sit on the panel of judges and meet such young individuals who are pushing boundaries, creating dynamic, robust businesses and employment opportunities, and giving back to our society.
The attitude, passion and ambition of the Top 35 bears testimony to the resilience of our future leaders, which is a non-negotiable trait in our current economic climate. I was incredibly impressed by the courage it has taken for some participants to get to where they are despite having suffered economic or personal hardships.
It is also promising to hear that innovative methods are enhancing the accounting experience at an academic level, creating the foundation for entrepreneurship to flourish.
I would like to applaud the efforts of all participants and reiterate that even if they did not win, never to lose the will to succeed that has been so clearly evident in this competition.
Host of the Breakfast Show on Talk Radio 702
This is my second year as a judge and the 2015 standard is even higher than last year. To see so many young accountants who are doing brilliantly and showing such creativity does wonders for the soul.
Anyone with a brain can see that the economy and the growth of business is key to the success of South Africa. As such it is refreshing to meet so many youngsters who are destined for great things and who are so enthusiastic and passionate along the way.
The only sad thing is that out of the 35 nominations, each a winner in reality, at least half will be desperately disappointed at not making the top three. However, the judging was done fairly and consensus was reached fairly easily.
It can be confidently predicted that in ten years’ time many of the people here tonight will be household names. I cannot wait for next year.
CEO Short-Term insurance at PPS
It has once again been a privilege and humbling experience to be a judge of the SAICA Under-35 competition. The quality and calibre of the people that we met over the two days re-energised my belief in this country’s ability to generate the talent necessary for us to be counted amongst the leading nations of the world.
As an emerging nation, we are crying out for a broader base of an educated populace and if we continue with producing the quality we were exposed to, then we are most certainly on the right track.
This has to be one of the very few professions that are able to cater for individuals from all walks of life and personalities.
We met potential political minds and educators through to business geniuses and entrepreneurs who will definitely be at the forefront of our next generation of leaders.
I look forward to seeing these young people emerge in society and make the difference that we need to continue the success of this rainbow nation.
CA(SA): CFO of Discovery Health
Having been a judge in 2014, I eagerly awaited my invite to be a judge in 2015. The whole process was awe-inspiring and getting to spend two days engaging with the top 35 CAs(SA) in South Africa was a truly a wonderful experience.
Once again I was blown away by the standard of the candidates. The common denominator among the candidates was their sheer professionalism, drive, leadership and ability to promote CSI initiatives.
I was particularly impressed by the participants’ attention to detail and determination to overcome obstacles as well as their impressive entries, which most candidates had put hours of work into.
The high-calibre judging panel ensured each candidate was fairly judged. Above all, there was a real sense of judges and candidates enjoying the whole experience and celebrating the brilliant talent South Africa has.
I feel privileged to have been on this judging panel again and hope that every candidate found the whole experience as worthwhile as I did as a judge. I can guarantee you we will see some of these candidates as the future business heroes in South Africa.
CA(SA): CEO Nkululeko Leadership Consulting
It was a real life-changing experience to participate in the Under-35 selection process. I got an opportunity to see the youth of our country in a new light. This gave me hope for the future of our country. Our youth are doing amazing things. They have full confidence in the future of our country and are investing their energy in making South Africa work. It was good to hear the good stories in our country. We focus so much on the negative.
These positive stories need to be told so that we can change the narrative in our country. We also need to understand that our youth have the potential to play an important role in the economic development of our country.
I was amazed by the quality and substance in the candidates. They are involved in a diversity of projects in both business and NGO work. I did not expect CAs to be involved in such creative projects. It confirms that the CA profession prepares candidates to play leadership roles in different sectors.
Winner – Top CA(SA) Under 35
They say dynamite comes in small packages, and we can add to that – smart, blonde and beautiful! Being a personality of remarkable energy levels and paralleled passion, the 2015 Top 35-under-35 winner Bronwyn Corbett, COO and CFO at Delta Property Fund, has dreamed big, achieved big, and dreams of achieving bigger. Her outstanding success and extensive involvement in giving back to the community swept the judges off their feet!
Only six years ago Bronwyn and her partner acquired their first asset. Owing to market conditions they listed their portfolio of 20 properties at R2,6 billion in November 2012. In just over a year, it had leapt to over R9 billion with an astounding 101 properties represented in every province of South Africa. Last year, they went on to successfully list a second fund, Delta International, with a fund size of US$226 million and with a focus on African real estate beyond South African borders.
Bronwyn’s success story is an example not to let your humble beginnings determine the breadth or height of your dreams. But make no mistake, more than just dreaming, success has only come with loads and loads of plain hard work, hours to complement that, and a great gift for deal-making and strategic negotiation skills. And of course, an intense love for property!
‘I have encountered a number of hurdles from day one, from not having the financial backing to study my CA(SA). The only way I have overcome these it to continue to believe in what I want to achieve and to find any mechanism to achieve what I set out to do. I have heard the word “no” uttered many times, but if I believe 100% in the path or transaction I will never accept no for an answer. I will manoeuvre the challenge until I find the solution.’
Bronwyn’s career started as an inexperienced 17 year old who was unable to attend university owing to her parents’ financial constraints. Her mother – the inspiration behind Bronwyn pursuing a CA(SA) career – worked at Ernst & Young for 20 years, enabling Bronwyn to get to know the partners. They recommended her to BDO to commence studies and articles straight out of school. BDO subsidised her first year and Bronwyn successfully raised a loan to pay for the balance of her studies. Her first milestone was achieving a first-time pass on her honours degree and both parts of her board exams.
LAUNCHED INTO PROPERTY
Bronwyn then made the big decision to move to Johannesburg, which was the next catapult to her career. ‘I was lucky enough to be put in a position in an auditing firm where I was exposed to a property client that required ten years of financial accounts to be reconstructed, and this is how I “fell” into the property sector and what was to become my career in property. Although the group was somewhat contentious, I started with them and was exposed to a broad spectrum of the property industry and no longer just the financial side. In many ways, I learnt what not to do.’
Led by her partner Sandile Nomvete, Bronwyn joined the innovative BEE group Motseng six years ago. The group’s focus was on providing services to the property industry.
‘With Sandile’s and my own passion for property we acquired our first asset from Growthpoint for R176 million.Raising the finance was an exciting challenge, and the deal was concluded on Christmas Eve. We still own this asset today, and she is referred to as “our grand old lady”. In just over 12 months we grew the portfolio to over R1 billion with a focus on government-tenanted properties.’
Owing to major challenges with funding of government-tenanted assets, they decided to list the portfolio on the JSE. After six months of roadshows educating investors on the perceived government risks, they listed on 2 November 2012.
‘My major achievement was listing a government-focused portfolio of over R2,1 billion with 20 properties. Our equity raise was oversubscribed, and we raised over R7,1 billion.’
Bronwyn’s next milestone, only two and a half years later, was growing the portfolio to over R10 billion with over 100 properties represented in every province of South Africa. During this period, they secured over R4 billions’ worth of debt as well as R4 billions’ worth of equity with major institutional support. Bronwyn also launched a debt capital programme to diversify their funding of R2 billion which they have successfully tapped into.
In July 2014 Bronwyn successfully listed Delta International on the Bermudan stock exchange and the AltX. The fund is now valued at $225 million and has been successful in raising debt and equity from local and international markets. It has now migrated to the Mauritian Stock Exchange and JSE Main Board.’
ACHIEVING A LEVEL 2
Delta is also known as the best-rated Level 2 BEE property company and Bronwyn played an integral role in this achievement: ‘Delta is defined as the change in the price of an option versus the change in the price of the underlying asset. A delta of 0,7 means that for every R1 that the underlying share increases the call option on that share will increase by 70 cents. This is also called the hedge ratio.’ she explains.
‘This is what has inspired our name as a company and metaphorically illustrates how we actively manage for value. Running a specialist government-focused Real Estate Investment Trust, my business partner and I realised even prior to us going to market that our empowerment credentials had to be beyond reproach if we were to gain credibility in the listed space.’
Ownership carries a significant weighting in determining a business’s level of empowerment, which creates a dilemma for a publically traded companies, where ownership levels can change by the minute.
In order to stimulate black representation in the listed property sector, the Department of Public Works (responsible for most government leases) issued a special dispensation whereby a listed property company will be deemed to be ‘black owned’ if the external asset management company is black owned.
Says Bronwyn: ‘Earlier this year Delta had to change its asset management company and I, together with the independent non-executive directors structured what is an industry first: Delta’s new asset management company is now wholly owned by a trust established for the benefit of our black employees.
At the same time, we retained corporate know-how by employing the staff of the previous incumbent. I recognised this as a unique way to incentivise and keep key staff while maintaining and improving the standard of Delta’s overall portfolio.’
HER OTHER LOVES
No doubt her career has become a big part of Bronwyn’s life, but she has been blessed with an extremely supportive husband and two daughters whom she worships and loves spending time with. Her favourite sporting activity is running, and she has completed a number of 21-kilometre races. Her aspiration is now to complete a full marathon.
‘One of my favourite things to do is run while my seven-year-old daughter, Lexi, is riding her bike. She is fast becoming an avid cyclist, just like her dad. My husband and I have also successfully summited Kilimanjaro in 2014 (which was extremely difficult) and recently completed our first Otter Trail.’
Bronwyn’s single greatest lesson to share with you: ‘Do what you love, give everything you have, your CA(SA) qualification will give you a foundation to achieve anything you want and surround yourself with similar-minded people who value your success.’
Something most people don’t know about her: ‘Only my business partner knows this … not even my husband. I would love to buy a small, struggling African country and turn it into something amazing (odd, I know)!’
Category Winner: Academia
Describing himself as friendly (and funny, though he says his friends would really be a better judge of that), Francis Kwahene, Head of the Accounting Department at Walter Sisulu University (WSU), sums himself up as being driven and goal-oriented. His entire career is traced with hours of tutoring students, even being rated as one of UCT’s top student tutors for two consecutive years. It speaks volumes of Francis’ passion.
‘They call it the “light bulb moment”. That moment when you see that the penny has dropped, that moment when the students show an understanding of the concepts and the big picture.’
With many evenings and weekends devoted to tutoring students, it’s clear why the re-accreditation steering committee felt Francis was the perfect person to drive the SAICA re-accreditation initiative at WSU after losing it many years ago.
Thrust in right at the deep end immediately after completing his articles, at the age of 25 years, Francis was appointed Head of the Department of Chartered Accounting at WSU. With an enormous amount of passion, but limited experience, he determinedly began its drive toward SAICA re-accreditation. The department was disjointed and Francis was faced with many challenges. Among staffing concerns, quality concerns and student progression issues, to name a few, it was clear to Francis that a complete overhaul was needed.
‘I remember the initial encounters when I relocated to Mthatha in 2012. My advances were unexpectedly met with a brick wall. “These people are wiser and more mature than I am, why can’t they see that there is a better way to do this,” I asked myself. How can I persuade them to embrace change?’
And how to ‘persuade’ them is where the challenge lay. Said Francis: ‘It took me a couple of months to realise that I had failed to let my actions do the talking. They had heard it all before. I was using my words to explain why a certain approach would yield better results as opposed to letting the results and my actions speak and in doing so provide no other logical alternative than to embrace reform.
‘When I started working at WSU, it was a huge challenge to get complete buy-in from the staff members I inherited, the service departments that serviced my department and the entire university community. There were many changes that needed to be made for the programme to stand a chance of success. A huge part of 2012 was spent in negotiations with HODs from other departments, the head of facilities, residence wardens, catering staff, etc.’
Since his appointment as HOD in 2012, the SAICA reaccreditation programme has attracted an average of about 120 learners to the programme while maintaining a 90% aggregate across all three levels since its commencement. Francis is said to be an exceptional leader leading his subordinates and the department to new heights, especially in the SAICA reaccreditation drive. Improving the quality of the Bachelor of Accounting Science qualification has already had profound effects on the greater Transkei area. The quality of graduates that are being sent out is improving thus improving their employability and likelihood of success.
His short-term goal is to regain and maintain the SAICA accreditation of WSU’s Bachelor of Accounting Science degree and establish a CTA programme accredited by SAICA at WSU. Francis ultimately wants to regain and possibly transcend WSU’s past glory and become the university of choice for students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘I believe that openness to change not only allows us to survive, it allows us to thrive.’
Category Winner: Corporate
Cobus Grové is an extremely passionate individual, specifically when it comes to his family and his career – he places emphasis on the order. ‘I make a point of it always to give 100% to everything I do, from playing with my children to the writing of routine reports.’
And we believe him! Appointed by the age of 31 as CFO of DigiCore Holdings Limited, a company listed on the main board of the JSE with an international footprint in more than 55 countries, he has seen its share pricing increase with an incredible 225%.
In May 2015, Cobus was nominated as CFO of the year for the best turnaround strategy implemented for the year, young CFO of the year and compliance CFO of the year, with the esteemed Mervin King handing him the latter.
As you can well imagine, he often gets the question: what should I do to become a CFO of a listed company and what makes a good CFO? Cobus believes there is no magic answer. He has, however, identified a few very valuable points that have assisted him at a very young age, having being exposed to amazing opportunities and meeting some of the most fascinating individuals.
Some of his secrets to success:
- Identify the correct mentor: ‘In every post I have held, I identified individuals whom I respect and who I related to within the working environment to become my mentor. These individuals took the time to get to know me, guide me on my career path, and even gave advice about my personal life. I am proud to say that these individuals still play a substantial role in my life and have become personal friends over the years.’
- Don’t be afraid to think out of the box: ‘I have been exposed to various roles and industries that all contributed to my existing skill set. Evaluate every opportunity and the skills which will be gained and assess whether these are the skills you wish to build as part of your personal growth. Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. In this regard, I also believe that it is critical for one to have a five-, ten-, and twenty-year career path in place which will guide you to determining what skills would be required along the way.’
- Don’t be afraid to listen or learn: ‘I learned that one should listen very carefully to all stakeholders and by doing so you can learn and grow far quicker than you ever imagined! The most valuable lessons I have learned were from the most unlikely individuals because I listened to what they had to contribute.’
- Build trust: ‘I believe the most important characteristic for a good CFO is the ability to build trust with your staff, operations and shareholders. The CFO is the individual that is not only responsible for accounting for the results but also understanding the needs of the operations and making sure enough resources are allocated to them to ensure growth.’
- Decision-making: ‘When making a decision, evaluate all the facts and circumstances and make an informed decision. At this point, believe in yourself and don’t look back. If you don’t believe in your decision, how do you expect others to believe in you and execute your decision?’
Cobus believes it’s critical to always have a clearly defined goal that shapes your career path. Next on his list: ‘As far as my career is concerned, I am hoping to make the transition from CFO to CEO within the next five years. As CEO, you will be exposed to the design and execution of the full corporate strategy, and this is an area that both fascinates me and an area I would like to grow in.’
As far as his family is concerned, his goal is to spend more quality time with them because he believes that with effective planning and a good work/life balance, it is possible!
2015 Top 35-Under-35 Finalists
STRIVING FOR STUDENTS TO SUCCEED
I’ve often been asked why developing a partnership between the larger corporates and the university is important to me and what drives me to create new opportunities for the less fortunate students at our school. Well, I firmly believe that when we help each other, everybody succeeds. So when we help our students, the future CAs of South Africa, succeed through their difficulties (whether financial, emotional or educational), we create a circle – an endless enclosure of giving and sharing.
I believe that there will be a time, not too long from now, that when these professionals qualify, they too will give back to those who don’t have, because they will remember their own struggles and try (in their own way) to ensure it doesn’t happen to anybody else.
Maybe this sounds far-fetched, but think about it: have you ever been able to turn a blind eye to a person who was struggling with the same problem you once had? I look around me and see bright minds and leaders who will change the landscape of our country if only given a fair chance. Our future as the current generation is indeed in their hands. And we can change this future by changing them into becoming the kind of professionals our country needs. So where better to start then at university, where I am privileged enough to be in the position each day to mould their minds and thoughts. And this is what drives me.
Being a mother and an entrepreneur, I have learned that starting a business is like having a new-born baby. You do whatever it takes to provide everything your baby needs. Slowly they grow and suddenly they can roll on their tummy, and shortly thereafter they become a toddler who starts to walk and bump into stuff. In every step you become less needed, but you are always there to help.
A new business is the same, in the beginning (baby phase) you take on any client that looks your way. You sell your business in every sentence, hoping to get clients and referrals for new business.
You lie awake at night planning, thinking and dreaming of the day your business will be successful. You slowly employ more people to help you work in the business.
Before you know it, you’re making tea, vacuuming, meeting with clients, filing, budgeting, and responding to emails all in one day (teenage phase).
You recruit the best person you think your budget will allow to be ‘a second you’ and life gets even busier because now you are an entrepreneur and work ‘on’ your business. Now you start thinking of business continuity and succession planning to make sure that your baby can mature (adulthood).
Being a business owner changes you in the same way motherhood does. It teaches you to be selfless, break limits, and respect the balance. I love this journey and I am enjoying every single moment.
EMPOWER A WOMAN, EMPOWER THE COMMUNITY
Hillary Clinton once said: ‘One of the biggest growth markets in the world may surprise you. You’ve heard about the opportunities opening up in countries like China, regions like Asia and industries like green technology. But one major emerging market hasn’t received the attention it deserves: women.’
In many respects, women have begun to make their mark, in the workplace and as valuable contributors to the world economy However, I believe that Hillary posed a challenge to everyone and said it’s just not enough.
She said that women have a tremendous amount of potential and incredible strength, the world just needs to draw from this. Often when people begin to speak about women and entrepreneurship, a powerful phrase comes to mind: ‘When you empower a woman, you empower a community.’
The phrase speaks of the inherent nature of a woman to take risks, but not at the detriment of the family or the community. It speaks of a woman’s ability to be a super-organised, super-saver for the better good (take stokvels for example). It speaks of her consistent ability to be a multi-dimensional nurturer and collaborator, both at home and in the workplace as an employer.
It speaks of her ability to pay forward. In addition to the social and stereotypical barriers imposed on women, they also face challenges when it comes to accessing funding, non-financial support, and markets.
When will the world wake up and realise that only when we unlock the potential of women, will we then unlock the potential of humanity?
When will the world realise that only once we stop relying on one gender of the human race will we begin to push boundaries, create jobs, alleviate poverty, and fuel economic growth? It’s time to work together …
ADVICE FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I remember learning this early on from my parents about running races. There is no doubt, however, that this holds true for life and business in general.
- At some point an entrepreneur takes a risk (the moment!). For myself it was leaving the comfort and security of a cushy job and embarking on a journey into the unknown and unguaranteed – I was both scared and unsure.
- Margin forgives many errors. Wise words that I once heard but now repeat often. We have been involved over time in businesses where our margins were so low that our business performance was more influenced by uncontrollable swings in exchange rates than what we could do to be innovative, operate to best in class standards, or attract profitable customers. That’s not a good business to be in.
- 1% per day. If you can just improve 1% per day you will be almost four times a better person at the end of the year. That’s outstanding – never stop trying to learn and improve.
- Relationships are not made or lost in one day. Employees, suppliers, customers, etc – invest in them, take time, don’t rush, be authentic and do good.
- It’s often the things you don’t do that you regret. I originally used to say this a lot to my roommate to get him into the gym with me – as in you never regret having gone but often regret not going. Over the years I have found this is so applicable in business as well.
- Think win–win. Stephen Covey’s wise words. In my earlier years I was young, naive and rather aggressive, thinking I had to win on all points in a negotiation. I love negotiating and we have secured some great deals, but I learned the hard way that it’s always better to make sure the other party gets to take something away too.
THE FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
Bold thinking is the first step towards having a positive impact on the world. Too often, our thinking is confined to the next goal, be it passing the next exam or completing the next project, but thinking big and bold separates those that have true an impact on society from those that live conventional lives.
Africa needs us to be brave in our thoughts, to look at the future bigger picture; and the bolder, the better. The creation of jobs and alleviation of poverty start with a paradigm shift. The risks obviously have to be assessed carefully, but take calculated ones and act on those thoughts as a matter of priority. The best time to start is now.
Napoleon Hill studied hundreds of successful people to come up with a formula for success and is famously quoted as saying: ‘Don’t wait. The time will never be just right. If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. A goal is a dream with a deadline.’
South Africa has given birth to some great minds: the now legendary innovator Elon Musk, Lord of the Rings writer J R R Tolkien, and sporting heroes like Ernie Els. If they can do it, why can’t you? Nelson Mandela said that, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ This is clichéd but true: shoot for the moon, and even if you fail, you will land among the stars. You owe it to yourself as well as all those around you.
WHERE TO STICK YOUR LADDER
My experience, having worked in a leading law firm, auditing firm and having been exposed to other audit firms on joint audits, is that law firms tend to be leaner operations, with less of a pyramid structure.
Even the most senior directors and partners at a law firm tend to being heavily involved in the issuing of advice on a day to day basis, being technically focused and in fact often billing the greatest value of worked fees.
In contrast, audit firms tend to elevate senior persons into client-relational positions that are all consuming. Such senior personnel are removed from much of the day-to-day advice with relational skills being more highly valued, given that audit firms tend to try to provide a holistic range of services to large multinationals whereas law firms tend to be more transaction driven.
Some of the contrasting leadership attributes desired by professional services firms can be attributed to the tasks at hand, the routine nature of work, the complexity and pressure of transactions, the size of the firm, and the emphasis which an organisation places on the skill set of its leaders.
Picking your place of employment is therefore crucial in being afforded the opportunity to play to your strengths and build the advisory, technical and relational skills that are required to ultimately climb the corporate ladder. In my case, I chose to move laterally to a law firm because of the opportunities to work directly with highly skilled technical practitioners who I had come to admire. Someone else may value greater project management or some other attribute.
Regardless, be sure to understand not only the ethical values of a company you intend to work for, but also the skill sets and attributes which the company values as well as the future transferability of those skills which you will develop before sticking your ladder there.
VENTURE CAPITAL WITH A PURPOSE
I’ve always had an avid interest in the growth and development of businesses, having worked closely with numerous entrepreneurs in start-up and growth businesses in ICT, alternative energy, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.
After qualifying as a chartered accountant, I focused on the development of core investment skill sets in financial due diligence, valuations and corporate finance as part of the PwC Southern African Deals Advisory team.
During this time, I worked closely with numerous sub-Saharan private equity funds and corporates, advising them on investment risk, deal structuring, and acquisition growth strategies. Coupled with this, I worked with accomplished venture capitalists to support the in the development of a pioneering ICT venture.
I am a strong believer that an important part of being South African is a responsibility to participate actively in social upliftment and development, however possible. This was a strong motivating factor in my decision to join Musa Capital two years ago.
During this time, I have had the opportunity to not only work on the development of commercial ventures but also play an integral role in various social impact investment projects in agriculture, manufacturing and construction. Impact investment into these key sectors plays a pivotal role in social transformation, skills development, and the empowerment of economically marginalised communities in South Africa.
Impact investing refers to investments made with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. It is a form of socially responsible investing that serves as a guide for various investment strategies. Musa Capital’s social impact investments are start-up ventures in portfolio company supply chains and are aimed at the creation of sustainable black-owned SMMEs supported by commercial company off-takes, active skills development programmes, and ongoing support and mentoring.
The opportunity to work at Musa Capital has allowed me to formalise my passion for developing businesses in various phases of development – in social impact as well as commercial ventures.
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
104 … That’s the number of job applications I had made before I got a role in the UK. Following completion of my articles I struggled to get a job commensurate with my skill set, partly because after the 2008 crisis there were fewer jobs to go around. Also, I hadn’t obtained my South African residency at the time.
But I decided to stop complaining, think differently, and widen my skill set. The role in the UK came at an opportune time.
It turned out to be the best thing for my career as my time in the UK widened my horizons, improved my skill set, and exposed me to experiences that I might not have had in Africa.
So I decided to say yes to every opportunity that came my way: from OFAC investigations to securitisation advisory and Basel III liquidity reporting and advisory. I also wrote articles on the impact of the global regulatory changes would have on Africa.
I changed my mind set to a more Africa-encompassing view as I realised that as a continent we will achieve a lot more if we work together to capitalise on the resources we have, be they mineral or human.
That period of my life highlighted one of my strengths: tenacity and the sheer will to succeed even after being rejected so often.
It humbled me and made me appreciate that my CA(SA) qualification was a stepping stone to success, no matter how long it took. The journey continues …
Gregory van der Watt
SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE
At times I’ve likened good philanthropic investing to corporate finance for non-profits. At the centre of the philanthropic effort is the finance a funder provides and for the funder’s investment to be effective, the capacity of the implementing partner or partners needs to be carefully assessed.
Fundamental to a good philanthropic investing process is a realistic assessment of the opportunity at hand, the ability and experience of the organisation’s management, the quality of governance in action, the internal control environment to steward resources, the partner’s financial sustainability, and their track record in achieving a desired outcome. Social change is complex so a myriad of other issues arise, but a detailed due diligence process will naturally follow if the funder is serious about understanding the potential investment they are considering.
By contrast, if corporate social investment is viewed as a form of charitable donation, it’s incongruous with the other financial decisions one makes. By nature, a donation typically implies you are not expecting to receive a return and you write it off at the point of payment. If this is the case, the question is why are we not expecting more from an investment if we really want to make an impact or see social change? If we were investing for a financial return, who would settle for a poor performance or not even measure the performance at all? Today, social returns can be measured, monitored and evaluated to optimise a social investment. As a CA(SA), I employ the full range of skills I’ve acquired as I apply myself in the philanthropic work environment. From interpreting financial statements, understanding control environments and developing risk mitigation measures, interpreting regional tax treatment or management accounts with foreign exchange exposure, through to performing discounted cash flow valuations or restructuring the balance sheet of a company making a social impact.
Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, is a vocal proponent that commercial and social goals should complement each other as they seek to harness the power of markets to scale social reforms. Bill Gates has referred to ‘creative capitalism’ as an iterative revision to the current system of capitalism, ‘where governments, businesses and non-profits work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit or gain recognition doing work that eases the world’s inequities’. The gap between financial returns and social impact is narrowing and CAs(SA) can present a good value proposition in efforts to bridge them.
WOMEN = SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS
Process efficiency and operational effectiveness, big data spend, innovations in cost cutting and investing during the downturn are measures companies took to survive the financial crisis of 2008. These measures succeeded in protecting companies from severe declines in performance, enabling them to weather the storm of the financial crisis. Though they marked the sustainable business actions and practices of the time, for an entity to remain relevant into the future it has to make a conscious investment in its human capital capabilities.
Diversity breeds better ideas and thus better product offerings and leading business performance. This is evidenced through the findings of an Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology paper which highlights how Fortune 500 companies who have had a minimum of three female directors reported an over 66% increase in return on invested capital, an over 40% increase in sales and an increase in return on equity of over 50%.
Then Gallup found that companies with a greater staff diversity have an over 20% lower turnover rate, and studies of 17 countries and diverse industries found that, across the board, having a larger number of women on a team accounts for greater psychological safety, team confidence, group experimentation and efficiency.
Women make up over 50% of Africa’s population, and with the continuing rise of Africa, they must play a major part in its growth. Do not overlook the value women add to economic development and their ultimate contribution to the global economy and sustainable business practice.
A NEW TOMORROW
Our country has all the makings of being a first world country, but there are a couple of issues that need to be addressed.
We have one of the best financial services industries in the world. Our reporting standards are also rated number one in the world. Our country is rich in resources, but our country have labour issues, the supply of electricity is concerning, and the degree of corruption is of real concern.
The large number of strikes and the unreasonable requests of unions are hurting the mining industry and the economy, and then the inability of Eskom to provide electricity on a regular basis needs to be seriously addressed.
Our leaders will have to take a stance against the unions to make sure that the mines can operate more productively. The electricity problem can be solved with solar. There are many competent companies out there that can provide the solutions of the electricity demand, but owing to political reasons it is always blocked. If we can sort out these two major issues, South Africa will already be in a much better position.
South Africa has in the last couple of years collected record amounts of taxation, but government expenditure keeps on increasing. A committee needs to be appointed to determine the productivity and efficiency of government employees. They need to be measured by putting key performance indicators in place. Only once these KPIs are achieved should bonuses be paid.
It is of vital importance that the private and government sectors start to work together as five of the government companies do not have CEOs and these companies are failing. With the support of successful private companies, these individuals can be trained on how to run successful companies. The government companies must all trade as independent units and must not be reliant on government for funding.
If government can set up enough successful businesses, then tax rates can also be reduced as it would then not be necessary for the taxpayer to bail out these companies on a regular basis. The CEOs of listed companies can act as mentors to ministers on how to run their portfolios.
LEADING THROUGH EDUCATION
As a CA(SA) who pursues a career in academia I have the privilege to work with the most remarkable students and the opportunity to impact their lives from the point where every career starts, namely education!
Being a lecturer is not only about lecturing, but it is also about the passion for teaching and learning, a love for people, and the vision of quality education that will change the lives of people for the better.
Working with Generation Y you need to put yourself in the shoes of your students to accommodate their learning styles, needs, and preferences. I am continuously developing new interventions (such as the Amazing Tax Race and the Super CTAs) and exploring new and creative teaching strategies that combine technical training with pervasive skill development.
By applying an innovative mind and thinking outside the box, you can create the ideal teaching environment where students are actively and emotionally involved throughout the learning process. This should also be an enjoyable experience as my teaching motto is: ‘If it is fun, it will be done!’
The impact through education should stretch beyond the borders of the university. Being a lecturer provides me the platform to mentor school educators, raise awareness, and create a love among learners for maths and the business sciences through projects such as the School Educator Mentorship Programme, the SETH Academy, and the Math Challenge.
Lecturers not only have the responsibility to equip the young business leaders of tomorrow with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their studies, but also to prepare them for their future careers as ethical, contributing members of society who will impact business as critical thinkers, good decision-makers, outstanding leaders, and life-long learners. Life is not only about making your mark; it’s also about making a difference!
KC Rottok Chesaina
BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED
I am often asked in which country I feel most at home. A couple of sayings come to mind: ‘East or west, home is best’ – I will never forget where I come from. ‘Bloom where you’re planted’ – I do my best to excel in my adopted station of South Africa.
I have had many challenges to overcome in my chartered accountancy career. I initially was not able to join any South African public university because they did not recognise my high school certificate. I therefore had to pursue an Oxford Brookes University degree, which I completed with distinction.
I subsequently joined Wits University after a gruelling interview process to pursue the honours level qualification. It was difficult to compete with the many Witsies who had been in the system for over three years, but despite this, my hard work propelled me to the top ten percentile of the class and a candidate for academic articles.
With me being a foreigner, the large audit firms were reluctant at that stage to consider me for an article contract. I joined a medium-size firm, RSM, where I was judged trainee of the year in my third year and appointed a partner 18 months later.
I am passionate about Africa and professionalism. This has led me to form my own consultancy, initiate the very first SA Professional Services Awards, pioneer The African Professional magazine, and take up a role as a TV presenter on the pan-African DStv channel ED.
TRIPLING THE BOTTOM LINE
Here are five of the most important keys to growing your bottom line:
- Focus on a specialised niche: People are willing to pay more for specialised skills than for general skills. Make sure that you select a profitable niche and that you are an absolute expert in that area of business, staying at the cutting edge of trends and technology within it.
- Brand eminence: Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry goes a long way towards building your brand and ensuring that new business seeks you out. Highlight your differentiating factors and build a brand that commands eminence. This will fuel both margins and top-line growth.
- Automation: Once work is flowing in, working harder and longer is not sustainable. The answer lies in systems. Some work will always require your personal touch, but a large portion of work and business processes can be automated. Good systems ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that your delivery is on time and up to standard as promised.
- Cash flow management: The age-old concept pertains: cash flow is king. Accounting profit is not cash flow profit and ignorance on this topic could cost a fast-growing company the ultimate price. Be sure to build enough detail into your cash flow model to be able to plan effectively and manage the lifeblood of the business.
- Expand revenue streams and profit centres: The final step is to diversify your streams of revenue. Explore various other avenues of revenue generation within your area of expertise and within your niche, following the same process of establishing eminence, engineering automation, and monitoring and managing of cash flows. You already have the recipe – now rinse and repeat.
Applying these learnings to your business with persistence will ensure an uptick in profit. Patiently think them over and incorporate them in your business to ensure that critical bottom-line success.
BUILDING BRICKS, NOT LEGO
Moving from a corporate environment to starting your own business is possibly the most daunting experience I have ever faced in my professional career. The first and most important lesson/realisation learnt is that you are no longer working for someone else where the ultimate responsibility does not belong to you, but that each and every decision and action comes back to you. This change in mind set is the initial key to beginning a successful entrepreneurial career. Understanding that you need to give everything you can to your business is so important because it guides your decisions going forward when dealing with co-founders, colleagues, investors, suppliers and, most importantly, customers. Having the attitude of this is my business, and I am building it to become successful is a fantastic driver and motivator.
Learning to be patient and following your instincts are incredibly important as well when making decisions that can seriously affect your business. Something I learnt early on is if you don’t follow your instincts and do what feels right then you will never give a 100% because your heart and mind are not entirely in it. I find that when I am not happy with a decision or something comes my way for the company where I don’t feel 100% that the action we are taking is correct, that somehow the result can reflect that.
Patience, as they say, is a virtue. Building a business is hard, stressful, scary, and all encompassing. I’ve learnt that being patient is vital as the road to success is long and going to have many bumps along the way. In the beginning I thought: ‘Oh, wow, have an idea, build a start-up and in a year things will be successful’, but you slowly begin to realise that it takes time and effort. Knowing that makes the difference to building a successful company.
MARKETING? ARE YOU CRAZY?
If someone had told me while I was studying or doing my articles that I’d end up in marketing, I would have laughed and told them they were insane. Not least of all because marketing is all about the ‘soft and fuzzy’ and ‘creative’, none of which describes me at all.
My career before joining Home of Living Brands certainly didn’t have anything to do with marketing. From working for the business secondment team with Deloitte in Bermuda to joining and eventually heading the Fund Operations team of Orbis Investment Management in London, the closest I came was my involvement in handling investors while heading up the transfer agency team at Orbis.
While at Orbis, I gained exposure to all of the various areas of the investment management field and had the immeasurable privilege of working with some of the most intelligent and talented people in their fields. As a chartered accountant, I was able to add value on strategies and in areas in which I had no experience, and my career grew and flourished as a result.
I decided to return home to South Africa after four years overseas and accepted a position at Home of Living Brands, now part of the Bidvest Group. The position is a big departure from what I’d been doing previously, but it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I work for an incredibly diverse company, and I thrive on the opportunities and challenges I face on a daily basis. I’m responsible for several completely different areas of the business, both financially and strategically. The confidence I have in myself and my ability to succeed is largely due to my background and experience as a CA(SA), as well as the exposure I’ve had to various industries and amazing colleagues.
COFFEE MEETS PRIVATE EQUITY
D etermined to establish a career in mergers and acquisitions, I already knew in my second year of articles that my life will be spent in the deal-making world of either private equity or corporate finance. After a couple of coffees with industry professionals, I landed a junior transactor role at Brait. My private equity journey started in 2007 and since then, I have never looked back.
Upon finding my feet at Brait, I was thrown into the deep end of portfolio management, investor communication and deal origination. Although fairly young and inexperienced at that stage, I was tasked with analysis and support on two key Brait assets to the value of R1,3 billion. In 2011, I concluded my first deal working as the 2IC on a cross-border bolt-on acquisition for Premier for R85 million.
In 2012, I joined RMB Ventures as a transactor. Since then, I have been involved with the structuring of the Bopa Moruo Private Equity Fund I, for which I sit as a director and a member of the investment committee. I have also concluded one investment and restructured one asset with a combined value of R1,2 billion. In the same period, I have exited one deal, and I am in the process of concluding a second exit. These opportunities are rare for a person my age, and I’m grateful to the Ventures and Brait teams for the privilege.
SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL
Building a sustainable business is achieved from the day that you start planning your business. This could be achieved through structuring your operations to ensure that your business is not suffocated by overheads and maintaining the balance between low overheads and incurring necessary costs that are crucial to the growth of the business.
Outsourcing of services may bring down an entity’s operating costs; however, a balance must be maintained between outsourcing and building up internal capacity.
Depending on the nature of business and industry; one of the expenses a business cannot afford to compromise on is marketing and sales. Many businesses will respond directly, and one would see a direct and positive correlation between sales expenditure and revenue.
To maintain a low overhead structure, a business can also make use of online business platforms. It is advisable to incorporate an online platform as this allows the entity to grow and access nation- and worldwide markets. A credible and fully functional website that competes with well-established businesses that have a wider footprint in brick and mortar can be built at minimal cost.
An additional advantage of an online platform for your business is that it will continue to work for you around the clock where conventional human resources are limited by operating hours. An online platform can also accelerate the growth of your brand, which is a key towards creating long-term sustainability.
Continuous business survival also highly depends on the ability to retain clients. This could be achieved by making maintaining a high standard of services and seeking continuous feedback from clients.
A BETTER COUNTRY!
We need quality education and an environment that lets entrepreneurship flourish. We also need to focus on social cohesion to get people to expose themselves to ‘the other side of the fence’.
Years after apartheid we still have too many white people who have never been in a township and too many black people who have never been in a suburb other than for employment purposes. We need to bridge the divide through (unartificial) social interactions. We need to find a common course around building businesses and industries.
This will address our biggest challenges: Poverty, crime and unemployment. I have worked and lived in many cities around the world, I know that South Africans have what it takes to make South Africa great!
STILETTOS IN THE BOARDROOM
In these times of equality, more and more women are playing in the same space as their male counterparts. Unfortunately we are still a minority, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful in our respective careers because of our sex. I would advise women to do the following:
- Get a sponsor who is a mentor and who will promote you within your organisation, who has your back, and who will tell the rest of organisation, including the senior leaders, how great you are and how much you deserve recognition in the form of promotion. Start building relationships with your boss and other senior leaders from the beginning and pay particular attention to cultivate relationships with those individuals who believe in you and publicly support you, as they are going to be your best supporters.
- Play on your strength as a woman. You don’t have to be ‘hard’ to fit in. The organisation needs your feminine touch, so be empathetic and show care for the people around you. But don’t become anyone’s coffee or lunch getter.
- Be assertive and know your worth. Learn to say no, because you might fall in the trap of thinking that by taking on more you will be recognised. You don’t want to deliver work of poor quality because you take on more that you can handle.
- Focus on your work and not your gender. Put in the effort and there will be no reason you shouldn’t succeed in the male-dominated environment.
- Put on your pretty dress, stand tall in your stilettos, and be you.
Pieter van Niekerk
CREATING THE ‘NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE’ SPIRIT
The science behind creating a well-integrated, high-performing team that just makes everything happen and always rises to the occasion is for the team members never to lose sight of their goals and to be largely self-sustaining. This team needs to have a life and spirit of its own and be the envy of everyone looking in from the outside. This all comes down to leadership and team spirit, and being the leader requires you to be operating in an organised, systematic way and sometimes even requires you working backwards where you envisage the future before dealing with the present as a key element. A few behaviours is an absolute must in my opinion for any high-performance team:
- Drawing the big picture: Define and communicate clear goals or a vision of the future in accordance with the overall organisational aims, and creating and implementing blueprints and actions to achieve these goals. Although listening and observing is important, I think something just as important is asking good questions these questions stimulate inquiry and advocacy among team so that the entire team is abreast of what is really going on and everyone is contributing actively.
- Powerful and meaningful conversations: Use language to build trust, encourage forward thinking, and create energy and synergy within the team. Be genuine and talk about things, even the hard ones. This might sometimes mean lowering your guard and showing the human element.
- Only work with passionate champions: Getting the right people involved and managing non-performers is extremely important. One should never underestimate the power of fun and team spirit within a team. I like my team members to be known as straight shooters – people who play hard, fight fair, and never, never give up.
A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES
When I set sail for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009, what I had in mind was a short stint to gain international exposure. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a life-changing journey.
So what changed? Was it the experience gained on projects such as the Dubai bailout in 2009 or managing the Private Equity desk at KPMG, or gaining first-hand experience in building and managing a new bank, where Al Hilal Bank would shortly rank in the top 10 among 52 banks in the UAE? Indeed, these experiences have contributed to my professional development, but there was something larger at play.
In time, I would come to appreciate that I was in the centre of a country that was transforming itself from a desert to a leading country. In particular, I worked closely with the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision, a vision to empower the nation, to create a sustainable economy and build robust infrastructure to support its plans, which is very similar to the National Development Plan 2030.
After an insightful six years in the UAE, I returned home with the intent of making a sustainable impact on the South African economy. To support my aspirations, I have joined Barclays Africa and have redesigned the executive performance reports to support management in delivering on their commitments to the continent. Furthermore, I have two start-ups on the go, both aligned to the NDP 2030. However, it’s not the projects which I see as the greatest impact in the short term; it’s rather importing the UAE mindset – a relentless willingness to execute on a vision, which I envisage as the greatest contribution.
Ryan Lee Smith
THE POWER OF &
The most important lesson I have learnt thus far into the journey is the power of two forces coming together, the power of &. Your people practices are everything, individual & group. Having the right people on board with an environment of structure & flexibility as well as control & empowerment will enable your organisation to develop & grow beyond any one person or factor in the organisation.
The people with whom you surround yourself will depict your success, not only in business but also in life in general. Surround yourself with optimistic, driven individuals, and the force will pull you along and continuously challenge you, as you will challenge it.
The dealings we have had in our business to date have taught me lessons of confidence & humility. Whether it be purchasing a business, growing the business, putting in management teams or selling a business, the world is about relationships and relationships revolve around people. For most transactions or strategies to be effective you need strong relationships, not only externally but also needing the person next to you, under you and above you to achieve a successful result. So ensure you have the right people in the team and that you are also the right person for that team. Be confident to be a part of the team, but have humility in allowing the team members to play their role and do not control their empowerment – let them be flexible within the broader structure.
Another important aspect learnt is responsibility & accountability. Within organisations this must become a way of life, individually and within a group. Your people (including you) must take responsibility and accept accountability, with the good and the bad. No excuses.
Remember, always remain GROUNDED & VISIONARY and always celebrate your successes!
PROFIT VERSUS SERVICE QUALITY
Being in the service industry, this topic lies at the core of our success. I have always felt that the SME market is exposed to mediocre accounting service levels. At EpicCo, we have recognised this as an opportunity. A big challenge is that the market price for accounting services is very low, and therefore the margins are low. We have tackled this challenge by investing time and money in software where we focus purely on streamlining our clients’ business processes. We are able to design and implement ad hoc software, but we also use basic software such as Excel. In addition to saving time, we are able to reduce human error, something that is inherent in all businesses.
Society has been hit by a technology wave with services such as Google, Facebook and Uber. These technologies have disrupted the way we live our lives. I am seeing a similar change in the accounting software industry; there are hundreds of different cloud-based solutions and many innovative reporting tools that all integrate with most accounting packages.
We constantly strives to make full use of these packages to streamline processes. In some cases, we have even gone as far as updating the back office for some of our clients on their behalf. We aim to move into a predominantly consulting role where we won’t spend any time processing information. Most of our time will be spent advising and consulting, and if we can achieve this, we will be in a position to take on more clients without increasing our cost base which means our margins will be higher. This will enable us to afford more qualified and experienced staff resulting in a quality service that will enable us to retain our clients, and ultimately make EpicCo more successful.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH YOUR PROFESSION
My entire career thus far has been about auditing the public sector through which I know that I am making a difference for the community we live in. Through my audits, I have consciously promoted transparency and accountability, and inadvertently given back to my fellow South Africans.
Many ask me how this choice was made, and my response is that I knew I needed to do something where I contribute to better my country. As I got to know more about the role the Auditor-General played in the public sector, the more I was convinced that it is was something I wanted to do.
The foundation to this thought process was laid when I did vacation work at my hometown’s local municipality while I was studying for my undergraduate degree. I got to understand how they function and the pertinent role they play in my town. I also had the opportunity to unpack what auditing the public sector meant as my roommate was completing her articles with the Auditor-General and she shared her experiences and lessons with me.
I was fully aware of those vying for articles in the private sector, but by then I was convinced I will be applying at the Auditor-General for my articles.
I strongly believe I made the right choice as my articles were a well-rounded experience exposing me to everything from the most complex structures to formulating new standards.
I would like to serve as an inspiration to other CAs(SA)s in the making and those that are qualified to consider working in the public sector, be it through auditing or working for government. It is only us who have the knowledge that can make the changes that need to be made. No matter how large or small the contribution, you can make a difference.
THE TREASURE IN SERVICE
The treasure in service lies in purpose and leadership. To explore what would leave you content or fulfilled in life and the workplace, you have to broach the topic of purpose.
Many have strong views about the context of their purpose. Purpose is loosely defined as ‘the reason for which something is created or why it exists’.
I would argue that fulfilling your purpose is unrelated to your position or your pay or your prospects. It is therefore within your reach wherever you find yourself.
Understanding that this is a very personal concept, I can only share my thoughts on my purpose.
I agree with the famous words of Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life: ‘It’s not about you.’ This means that my purpose needs God and other people.
There is only one thing to do when it comes to people and that is to love and respect them. And people are best loved and respected by service. Service is a universal purpose giver. But service is also a misunderstood concept. Service is not slavery but a choice. It is at the heart of the message of Jesus Christ and suggests that power and position be intentionally applied to better others first, rather than yourself.
Service includes everyone, from the tea lady to the CEO, and includes every action, from helping to carry something heavy to investing significantly in someone’s life as a mentor.
A generation that understands the strength, benefit and impact of service will be the generation that successfully integrates commerce and community development leading to true sustainability.
When it comes to leadership, there is incredible power in not using your position for your own privilege but rather for impact. This has been the distinguishing factor of every true leader to date. If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.
Therefore, if you are yearning for purpose or aiming for leadership, consider serving wherever you are.
ADVANCING SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH
It is generally accepted that government alone cannot manage the transition to creating a sustainable and equitable economy in South Africa; the private sector and civil society play a fundamental role. Only by working together can we resolve the structural problems that limit sustainable economic growth.
We each have a purpose in life that drives us to contribute to creating a world that is conducive for our children to be born into. We need to look for innovative ways to drive change that will help South Africa and the continent as a whole achieve a sustainable and equitable economy. This change requires human capital development and a robust education system for the youth who are our future leaders; women empowerment in business and in the public sector; as well as infrastructure development that will promote regional integration and competitiveness.
There has been a lot of growth since independence in South Africa, but we are yet to be truly transformed. We need to harness the power of the youth through education and skills development that provides sustainable and quality jobs, thus reducing poverty (60% of the population is made up of youth); and the gap between primary resource and beneficiation needs to be addressed through SMEs that will provide services to develop primary exports. The Ministry of Economic Development projected that about 50% of GDP would be from SMEs in the next 7–10 years.
Education and skills development are key in ensuring that our youth get better opportunities than previous generations. We need to contribute to the education system to adequately prepare students to meet the demands of the labour market through organisations that aim to grow chartered accountants such as ABASA and AWCA and initiatives such as Thuthuka.
THE LADY FROM ALL THINGS CONCRETE
Aveng Infraset is the manufacturer of cementitious products. My suits are often traded-in for a hard hat, safety shoes and goggles. I am usually the only female in the boardroom and certainly the only female member of the Exco team (yes, the youngest too). My male counterparts have incredible leadership and technical skills which complement mine, and together we make strong, powerful teams. Be reliable and trustworthy either with the good or bad news, this builds credibility.
The Aveng Manufacturing FD has always readily shared his knowledge with me. This has contributed immensely to my professional and personal growth. I am always of the opinion that regardless of the environment, ‘a willing learner equals a willing teacher’. Be open to new learnings opportunities. Dare to come out of your comfort zone, to expand into new experiences.
You may ask – what is the secret to these great relationships when I am the lone female, the only one sporting pointy high heels in the boardroom?
It’s simple: Why beat up the guys? No, embrace them, while retaining your feminine charms – and always be a lady! Ensure you have a broad network of contacts and grab every opportunity to network – join business groups and ask for advice. I contribute enthusiastically to conversations centring on work, sport and politics. Discussions at work in the morning are around the coffee machine with my fellow colleagues, and we discuss sport, work and politics. Our many cultures enrich our progress, so I embrace the differences, and we learn from one another. Create your career plan and goal with timelines as young as possible. Having mentors from various backgrounds during your career growth is crucial to your individual development.
My grand finale – always be humble and wear lipstick (even if it’s very light)!
LIBERATING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL STRUGGLE
There are different stages that an entrepreneur can encounter in the life-cycle of his or her business. My experience lies largely in the early stages (first two years) of a start-up. It’s pretty common knowledge that nine out of ten businesses fail in their first year, which highlights the struggle faced from day one.
The first thing I would promote is getting your product to market in some version as soon as possible to start getting customer feedback. Don’t get lost in the detail of trying to perfect something that may not even sell or doesn’t have a scalable market. When I launched my first company, we significantly tweaked the business model three times in the first six months. Only through customer feedback and constant analysis of the business did we realise what the market really wanted and how we could provide it to them.
Spend money on a good design to ensure you look like a professional outfit and not a small-time operation – be it your logo, website, marketing material, or the actual product. Customers and suppliers want to know that they are dealing with quality, and good design goes a long way.
Chase down every opportunity because you never know what doors it might open. I don’t enjoy the term ‘hustling’ but that’s pretty much what you need to do. If you’re in your comfort zone in the early stages of your business, then you’re doing it wrong.
Finally, try finding a co-founder for your business: someone you respect, who buys into your vision and adds value where you can’t. I was the sole founder of my first venture and probably won’t go down that lonely road again. You need to be able to bounce ideas all day every day while you are bringing your dream to life!
EDUCATION: WHAT’S THE QUESTION?
What is critical to a prosperous future South Africa?
Education is the process of transferring knowledge, abilities, values and skills from one person to another. It is a social activity that helps to develop the personality of a person and their ability to find a clear picture and direction in their life. Looking beyond the personal level, it is a fact that an educated population increases the economic potential of a nation and the future of the South African economy rests on the ability to educate a greater percentage of the population. Education is the key to reducing inequality, to eliminating poverty, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering harmony. We cannot afford to waste the talents of another generation.
Most people are aware of the many challenges. In my opinion the biggest challenge are educators who, immersed in a host of administrative and social responsibilities, have to deal with challenges such as a lack of mother-tongue education, sound subject knowledge, proper lesson planning, effective discipline, co-operation from parents, suitable resources, and effective school administration.
The solution lies partly in the development of learning programmes, work schedules and lesson plans, as well as the improvement of classroom facilities. But, most importantly, the empowerment of the teachers, which would include purchasing and providing teaching resources, monitoring teaching practices, observing teachers in the classroom, and getting the support of the community in general and parents in particular.
The solution is obviously complex and can’t be outlined in a short article. But each one of us, no matter who and what we are, has a shared responsibility to ensure that education in South Africa is successful. It is in the interest of us all and in the interest of the nation.
FROM BURNING BRAS TO BURNING OUT
Is a young woman, I was always challenging any obstacle set before me: by my age, gender, social demographics, etc. Being the granddaughters of a generation that had to burn bras to vote and the daughters of a generation forced to stop working when they had their first child, I felt the obligation to bear the fruit of many hardships suffered by the Eves before us. My own mother sacrificed her career to raise three children.
Ten years into my CA(SA) career, I found myself the wife of a successful entrepreneur, mother of two children, and employer of a staff of 16. I was running half-marathons, renovating properties with my husband, and travelling the globe. All of this despite having an autoimmune disease that I first heard of when I was diagnosed with it. And I was not having fun. I had to ask myself: Why?! With all of this technology and knowledge, why does the pressure outweigh the pleasure? I wasn’t alone. My inner circle of strong and entrepreneurial females, all face the same conundrum, every day.
This brings me to the one great fact that no-one ever told me. Yes, women can do anything. But – and this is a big but – we shouldn’t do everything. You still have to carefully choose your own recipe to success and happiness, because despite the gender world turning on its head in the past 100 years, there is still just 24 hours in a day.
Perhaps our generation’s women will teach our daughters that self-knowledge is even more important than book knowledge; that you can achieve anything, but shouldn’t think that you can do this alone. You need a support network: a supporting husband, colleagues, family, friends, a domestic help, and even your own children. Behind every successful and happy working mom, there will always be a great team in the wings. And that is 100% OK! Men have been in on this secret for thousands of years!
Across the globe, social unrest, economic decline and political conflict have prompted debate around the concept of leadership in the modern era. Against a backdrop of capitalist-fuelled greed and humanitarian insensitivity, true leadership is seen by many as a phenomenon of days gone by. Corporations have emerged in recent decades as the world’s dominant economic institutions and as such, leadership within the corporate world deeply impacts leadership in civil society as well.
It is the mandate of SAICA to develop among its members business leaders who serve the public interest. The role of formal education in developing leadership within the profession is being boldly explored in the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Accountancy (Accountancy@UJ). Historically being noted for its excellence in developing technical expertise among its graduates, Accountancy@UJ has recently embraced the challenge to instil within its graduates the dynamism, creativity and grit needed to emerge as meaningful leaders in a world fraught with challenge.
The Accounting Studies courses in leadership boldly challenge traditional education practices by positioning subject matter of practical relevance within contemporary pedagogical frameworks of learning. Through engaging with contemporary issues of socio-economic and political importance, we plant within students the developmental seeds of critical and macro-level thinking, professional scepticism, empathy, fairness, and social justice. These are seeds that we expect young learners to harness throughout their lives with a view to one day effectively lead by being equipped with forests of insight and understanding.
Many of the greatest challenges facing humanity today are man-made: poverty, income inequality, discrimination, and environmental degradation, to name but a few. In the same way they were created, they can be reversed as well and to effect this change, we will need leaders with educated minds but, more importantly, with educated hearts.