Since the launch of the Top 35 competition in 2014, every year we are yet again completely blown away by the calibre of the Top 35-Under-35 finalists. Each finalist walks into that judging room at Investec to tell their journey of success; some are nervous, others more confident. But the story that each of the finalists shares is absolutely incredible – beyond phenomenal, to say the least.

One almost can’t believe that these 35 youngsters under the age of 35 have already done so much with their lives and are definitely destined to achieve even greater things.

They are giving their all to make our country a better place. When you hear them sharing what they are doing, one can only think – South Africa, you have hope!


Andile Khumalo CA(SA) : Presenter of Power Business on Power FM and Chief Investment Officer of MSG Afrika Investment Holdings

‘James Wilkinson is an all-round top candidate. Confident, ambitious and has already achieved so much at his age. Francois Herbst is nothing short of brilliant. His story and his focus are something special. Ayanda Kanana is a humble yet steadfast young man who has taken the road less travelled and put his career firmly on the line to ensure government does the right things and serves its people.’

Dineshrie Pillay CA(SA) : Business Consultant and Public Speaker

‘James Wilkinson embraced all the qualities of an overall winner. Francois Herbst is a prime example of the impact of one business can have a ripple effect in a community. Ayanda Kanana is a role model of what a professional accountant can achieve in the public sector. Robert Zwane is proof of how a ripple can create a wave. Tyron Barnard combines his love for development of people with his passion for life and finding fun in everything he does.’

Brett Tromp CA(SA) : CFO of Discovery Health

‘I always leave the judging process inspired and full of hope in the future of South Africa after spending two days being exposed to these brilliant young leaders. We are really fortunate to produce talent like this in South Africa.’

Gugu Mtetwa CA(SA) :Non-executive Director

‘The two-day experience was such an inspiration. It confirmed that the CA career is a great career and that young CAs(SA) are contributing towards the country. What I also enjoyed was that these were conversations with young people. I’m sure they too took away a lot of insights from the judges. I must also thank the candidates for sharing themselves with us. Well done to all!’

Sanjay Galal CA(SA): CFO of Syspro

‘Judging in this competition was a privilege and my experience was that of true inspiration. I was reminded of the brilliance and talent that South Africa has, inspiring me to be a better version of myself. Wishing everyone the best as we count down to crowning the winner!!’

Njabulo Nyawo CA(SA): Financial Insights Lead at Standard Bank

‘The talent that was on display and presented to the panel was strikingly amazing. I said in jest to fellow panel members that if I was a sole judge I would have pulled a Tokyo Sexwale in The Apprentice and declare all the amazing participants winners!’

Michael McHugh: Team Leader at Investec Private Bank

‘James Wilkinson impressed me with his “out of the box thinking”: he loves to create value from unexpected places within the business! Francois Herbst impressed me with his quiet demeanour and very well-balanced success story. Ayanda is a shining example to other CAs(SA) that the public sector can be as rewarding and fulfilling as any other sector.’



James Wilkinson (33), Group General Manager: Business Improvement at Distell Group Limited

James Wilkinson is an all-rounder. He’s a smart guy, yet remains humble and leads his team with a style that has earned him much respect at Distell. With his technical expertise equally matching his innovative and creative flair, James has embraced all the qualities of an overall winner

Business is in his blood. As a schoolboy James was already doing deals with high-end car dealerships by renting out parts of the rugby field on the school’s open day. At university, James did something similar and turned the SRC from a cost-centre into a good business by renting out the plaza to corporates in orientation week. And the profits were used for a good student cause.

James Wilkinson not only understands the issues affecting our country but is very determined to do his part to making South Africa succeed. Those who know him well say he is one of those rare individuals who understand that leadership and service are inextricably linked.

Being the first recipient of the very first PwC CEO Innovation Award, when James moved on to Distell he of course took along his innovative spirit. At Distell, James is Group General Manager for Business Improvement with a team of about 20 professionals within Group Corporate Finance. They report to the CFO and are made up of a very different skills set. And they like to think of their purpose as helping the business to solve difficult problems. Through interpreting the group strategy, they make it real through relentless implementation and adding value through considered innovation.

‘It’s a division within Group Finance and our mission is to tackle difficult, often cross-functional challenges and opportunities. Some of us are CAs(SA), others have a background in industrial engineering, business process optimisation, business consulting, and innovation management. I value our team’s diversity the most as we all have different views and ways of approaching projects,’ says James.

‘Additionally we operate some specialist capabilities, manage and deliver multiple projects, provide commercial decision support to various business functions, like M & A, Group Marketing and the CFO, and business partnering to our Africa business unit.

‘Some in the business think of us as a kind of internal consultancy – we think of ourselves as occupying those spaces between the typical business silos and helping to innovate and create value through the unexpected.

‘In the last year we delivered some really cool new capabilities like the Procurement Shared Service Centre – I don’t think there is another integrated technology platform like it in South Africa so it felt great to build something new.’

Business Improvement went live with a first of its type centralised procurement shared service centre that operates dynamic new capabilities such as reverse auctions. For a business such as Distell, with over R9 billion of procurement from more than 6 300 suppliers, taking on the mammoth task of simultaneously redesigning their indirect and marketing procurement processes and mitigating to a shared service operating model has been a huge and exciting highlight for James and his team.

James and his team also launched the E+Scalator programme, which supports rapid acceleration of black-owned businesses in their supply chain. The programme works with over 40 Distell suppliers to drive transformation and create new jobs.

33 Degree Energy Systems is an associated start-up company launched by his department that delivers group power solutions. Besides that, James has also been a guest speaker at the first Business of Design Conference in Cape Town and has worked as a start-up coach.

Distell has some beautiful properties, with the distillery tour at Van Ryn’s in Stellenbosch being voted the best in the world at the Distillery Experience Awards. Then James says Plaisir de Merle, which was built in 1764, is very special to him and is probably the finest example of early Cape Dutch architecture. Visiting these brand homes and learning about their history is probably his favourite hobby right now.

‘It’s always accompanied by a tasting, which I regard as my contribution towards quality control at the company.’

That is besides visiting his favourite holiday destination, Paris, which he believes is the most beautiful city in the world. His favourite part is walking through Saint-Germain-des-Prés and admiring all the small galleries.

‘I remember the first time I did and how I wondered if any of them made money. At some stage I stopped thinking like that and just started to appreciate their existence. That’s hard for someone like me – but it’s probably good!’

Secret to success

I don’t think there is necessarily a secret key to success – I don’t even think I have a good definition of it for myself yet. I do believe that you become a product of the people that you associate with – both your friends and your colleagues. If they exhibit those traits you respect and aspire to, you’ll drift in that direction. The opposite of that is also true.



Ayanda Kanana (35), Managing Executive at Metropolitan Trading Company (SOC)

He’s resilient and motivated by challenges, so if Ayanda Kanana has set his mind on a goal, you can bet he is bound to make it happen. As a young person in a world that is pre-defined by standards of those much older, it was tough for Ayanda to try and prove his elders wrong and that it would be worth it studying beyond just a degree. But true to himself, he had made up his mind where he was heading and at 26, Ayanda proudly achieved his goal of qualifying as a CA(SA). He was the first one in the family.

‘I knew though that I was meant for more than this… something in me said you can do better than this. So I pushed myself to be better,’ he explains. ‘I pushed for more. I got myself involved in leadership roles. I challenged the status quo, and sometimes upset others. That’s just how I do it. I don’t accept things as they are,’ he states.

Post articles, Ayanda joined the Deloitte Learning Team and through that role, he influenced professional lives of trainees as a learning manager and also developed a keen interest in the public sector.

‘My journey in the public sector began in 2010 when I became a member of Municipal Owned Entities’ audit committees. There was a drive by the National Government to ensure that all government entities and departments were to achieve clean audits by year 2014, an initiative formulated by the late Sicelo Shiceka, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, in 2009. I took this Operation Clean Audit 2014 initiative as my opportunity to make a difference in the public sector. This marked the beginning of my career in government.’

Ayanda was not deterred by the perceptions that there are jobs for pals in government. He knew that there was room for what he needed to and can do. He immersed himself in the detail of what was going wrong in the local government sphere and found the opportunity to implement solutions that would see clean audits being achieved. He quickly learned that this task was much greater than himself and turned to the CA profession for assistance.

‘I joined the SAICA programme that placed CAs(SA) in FET colleges in 2012. Soon after, I joined the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality to strengthen corporate governance in the municipality group. While in that role, it became much clearer to me that the private sector has a bigger role to play in transferring rare skills to the public sector. Why is it that the public sector can have such glaring financial and governance weaknesses when we can attract skills from the private to the public sector and change the landscape?’

Ayanda joined the Group Governance Department as the director responsible for governance in the City’s municipal entities. This role was central to his objectives as he was responsible to guide board members on governance and support the shareholder with ensuring that their mandate is being carried through by the boards.

‘I recruited young professionals and developed their ability to best represent the shareholder interest and uphold the principles of corporate governance. I am proud to say that they carried this function better than I could have imagined,’ he says.

‘We built the #JoburgCAs programme in the same department in order to attract aspiring CAs(SA) to join the public service. The rationale was simple – we need this pedigree to manage the R55 billion budget entrusted to the City of Johannesburg and eventually to achieve a clean audit.’

In 2017, Ayanda was seconded to the Metro Trading Company (SOC) Ltd as a managing executive to manage the broadband company. This was another demonstration of confidence by the City in his abilities to stabilise and lead the entity with good governance principles. Today, Ayanda is the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the largest fresh produce market in the country. All this is testament to his hard work and dedication and support from the leadership.

‘I believe that it is important for the country that we develop accountants that understand the nuances of state laws, policies and processes. In this world of social media and quick news, we run the risk of our future leaders being more sideline critics and not actually owners of the country’s success. Yes, I sacrificed being an audit partner in the audit firm and chose the less glamorous and travelled route of becoming a civil servant, and every day is a discovery in my world because I chose to raise my hand to the state’s call.

‘Being recognised as SAICA’s Top-35-under-35 CA means that SAICA and the profession at large recognise the importance of supporting those that have chosen the path less travelled. To future accountants and young CAs(SA) I am living testimony that you can make a difference in the public sector and still uphold the important lessons of honesty and integrity that we have spent hours learning as part of our training. Equally, you build a career and present yourself as an expert and a trusted advisor who is prepared to assist our politicians deliver a better South Africa.’

Ayanda is an avid farmer in his spare time. He is also the proud father of two beautiful girls and he says that watching them grow and preparing for their future is one of the most fulfilling achievements of his life.

‘We horse ride, take walks, go for swimming lessons, and feed the livestock together. I cannot ask for more!’



Francois Herbst (30), MD of House of Growth (Pty) Ltd

Francois Herbst was born with one serious entrepreneurial spirit. He is a life optimist and strategic-minded businessman who has learned that networking and building strong relationships are the bridge between education and success

Francois Herbst, an experienced serial entrepreneur, is the founder and Managing Director of the business advisory and consulting firm House of Growth. He is super-skilled in leveraging strong entrepreneurial expertise in corporate and financial transactions while pioneering, establishing and directing start-up companies and investment projects. To date, Francois has successfully secured R40 million in investment capital to finance start-up companies and investment projects.

Through House of Growth he has established 13 successful start-up entities over a wide range of industries, including retail, manufacture and construction. Francois has an incredible ability to track market trends and manoeuvre business to benefit from these developments.

Further to that, Francois is the strategic partner to as many as 12 small and medium-size entities. Serving on their boards, his key purpose is to ensure the companies prosperity by collectively directing the companies’ affairs and helping them identify and optimise their full growth potential.

‘As a business consultant for small and medium enterprises, I get to assist numerous entrepreneurs with the design and implementation of their financial structures, as well as their strategic planning. I see first-hand the growth of these individuals and their businesses. I am fortunate to find myself in an environment where I keep on learning, keep on challenging myself, and keep on growing as an individual and professional. To achieve this has been one of my career highlights,’ says Francois.

‘For such a young man to build such an impressive global business is nothing short of brilliant,’ says Andile Khumalo, one of the Top 35 judges. ‘His story, and his focus, is something special. He’s a really special candidate.’

But where Francois really caught the attention of the judges is the way in which he has been instrumental in initiating and establishing a community upliftment project called Shift-The-Frame. The name Shift-The-Frame came spontaneously. Not only can Shift-The-Frame be a building term, but the main objective for this project is to shift the frame of mind of their students.

At Shift-The-Frame in Hermanus, where it’s based, unemployed individuals are being taught the craft of carpentry. The SETA-accredited carpentry programme does not only provide the practical skills but is also a mentor programme. Francois is actively involved in mentoring, motivating and coaching these students in order to promote entrepreneurship, personal growth and self-worth.

‘After having being part of Hermanus community for more than a decade, we identified a massive shortage in the trade of artisans, and especially in the craft of wood,’ says Francois. ‘In 2016 House of Growth and Coastal Timber Mouldings decided to team up and start addressing this need. We initially identified one individual and ran a very successful pilot programme with him. With Coastal Timber Mouldings providing his practical training and House of Growth the financial-and-business coaching, he now owns and operates his own successful carpentry business, employing two more people and owning his own equipment.’

House of Growth, in partnership with Coastal Timber Mouldings, decided to extend this initiative in order to reach more people. In 2017 the Shift-The-Frame project was born, which allowed them to increase the number of students. They also had the programme accredited with SETA. Currently they have 15 unemployed individuals enrolled for a one-year course where theoretical and practical skills are being taught.

House of Growth, being a management consulting firm, conducts the business and entrepreneurial part of the training and helps the students to really understand what it takes to become a viable business, as well as understanding the business environment and the matters relating to setting up a successful business. Shift-The-Frame aims for these individuals to become self-employed and self-sustainable entrepreneurs.

And the results Francois and his team have seen in 2016 just as a pilot programme, and their current successes in 2017 as a project, were enough to encourage them to make the project more permanent. They are currently registering a public benefit organisation where they can attract private and corporate donors in order to sustain the initiative and keep on making a difference.

‘Being actively involved in numerous businesses across the spectrum I came to experience the many challenges businesses in South Africa face daily – in particular the start-ups,’ explains Francois. ‘Once you have experienced these, you cannot turn a blind eye to these stumbling blocks. We need to recognise our individual privileges. We do not only need sympathy for each other’s situation but also empathy. It is our moral obligation to give back to the less unfortunate, and not necessarily in a financial capacity but also on the mentoring, training, skill transfer and social fronts.’

Francois is a firm believer of performing all duties with honesty and integrity while consistently displaying respect for the diversity of people, cultures and businesses.

Francois was fortunate to meet the love of his life at a young age. Being ambitious and driven, Francois says the challenge was to juggle time between his partner, his studies, his dreams and goals, besides networking and hobbies.

‘Luckily, I have a very supporting and understanding wife who is the cornerstone of my achievements.’



Tyron Barnard (31), Head of Audit Training at KPMG

Tyron’s dynamic personality and great love for sports have given him an incredible knack of developing relationships and creating a fun, sharing environment wherever he goes. His passion for the sports field has opened doors to success both in and outside his career

Tyron Barnard is affectionately known as Jabu, a nickname he was given at the age of 9 when he struggled to pronounce his friend’s name, Nonhlanhla. Apparently the mispronunciation caused so much laughter that the youngster was permanently dubbed with the nickname Jabu, which means happiness. The name has indeed stuck and he’s even passed it on to his tiny son. And if you ever have the opportunity of talking to Tyron, there is not a doubt he will somehow bring a smile to your face. It’s just his knack.

Influential, inspirational and motivational have been used over and over by his colleagues to describe Tyron in his nine years at KPMG. And that is exactly what caught the judges’ attention about him, too.

Starting at KPMG as an article clerk, Tyron moved to the Learning and Development Department where today he is the head of Audit Training and the Head of Trainers.

In 2013, Tyron started the KPMG Spring School initiative where KPMG hosts more than 100 school teachers for one week a year and offers them free soft skill training. The teachers are largely from less privileged schools. Tyron believes that the best teachers are those that help kids to know where to look without telling them what to see. In 2017, the 500th teacher will be trained by KMPG.

Tyron also established the KPMG Sports League, an initiative that sees KPMG staff compete against one another in sporting competitions. The current KPMG Sports League involves four different sports and is played by over 400 staff. The team spirit has transferred into the workplace.

‘Nelson Mandela once said that sport has the power to change the world,’ says Tyron. ‘It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. I have been privileged to see this first hand. Relationships built on the sports field are some of the strongest I have seen in business. There is no doubt that the bonding among employees involved in the KPMG Sports Leagues is better than at any other time.’

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Tyron started a sports blog named ‘All Things Jabu’ that garnered immense interest as Tyron, with his great writing skill, managed to communicate the views of a fan. ‘All Things Jabu’ eventually led to Tyron having his work published in Sports Illustrated and numerous other well-known publications. He has since appeared as a sports analyst on 702 Sports Talk, Old Mutual Live and SABC News, and even recently made his 100th appearance on ETV Sunrise. Tyron was also featured in Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium as their South African fan of influence in a campaign of fans around the world.

‘All things Jabu’ was recently rebranded to Sports 24 Seven, as it continues to grow. Tyron has even excelled full-time journalist, winning the SAB Sports Award as Best Online Writer.

‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.’ These were the great words of Henry Ford. – Henry Ford



Robert Zwane (34), Director: Education & Transformation at the IRBA

On 1 October 2016, Robert Zwane was appointed as the first African and youngest director of the IRBA. His whole life resonates with passion to drive youth development and see young people prosper

On 1 October 2016, Robert Zwane was appointed as the first African and youngest director of the IRBA. His whole life resonates with passion to drive youth development and see young people prosper

Robert says most people assume that he is the big brother at home and are taken by surprise to hear that he is actually the second youngest of ten children. He was the first one to go to university, with his little sister following suit.

‘Coming from a big family,’ Robert explains,’ I have always believed in family values and in helping one another reaching our potential. I believe in the concept called “servant leadership”, which recognises that all leadership positions must be about serving those who have shown confidence in you by putting you in that position of leadership.’

In addition to another of his dreams coming true of sitting on the International Federation of Accountants Board (IFAC) as the technical advisor, Robert has been instrumental to the team that have co-founded the Alexandra Mathematics Programme, which is headed by SAICA and the IRBA. This initiative focuses on providing support to accounting and mathematics learners. Over the last year, Robert has delivered talks to more than 28 000 learners and students across South Africa.

‘For me, the call to duty has been to coach and mentor young people,’ says Robert. ‘For me it has been about selling hope to young people. For me it has been about making young people dream differently and realise that there is no one special; we can all be what we dream to be.’

Today Robert is extremely grateful to the Thuthuka Bursary Fund, saying he is one of the fortunate students who were able to start their tertiary life at an institution in Johannesburg and to successfully graduate with a degree in accounting. And it was during this journey that he also met a lot of CAs(SA) who were great examples of doing their part to help South African youth. He realised he wanted to do the same.

Robert has learnt a lot from his mother and continues to learn from her even today. But one thing that he has learnt from her was: ‘Don’t worry much about tomorrow and the problems you may be facing; work hard and put in your best … even if it doesn’t go your way, you have succeeded since you have done your best.’

The best advice Robert would give someone leaving Grade 12? ‘I would tell them: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your financial background is. All that matters is what you do once you get to university. How much effort you put into your future studies determines the success story you will be one day.” And I always say that even if you have financial difficulties, once you are at university, the university will never let you go if you are a star performer.’