Home Articles COVER STORY: Enjoying the sweet smell of success

COVER STORY: Enjoying the sweet smell of success

“The development of people, especially young women, is something that drives me. It is like watching a flower blossom,” says Tantaswa.

She is involved in the mentoring and coaching of different people and at varying levels. “I do this formally and informally, and I must admit, it’s difficult for me to say no to anyone!” Because of the nature of her job, she receives many requests and tries to  accommodate them all. However, there’s certainly a potential to become too stretched so, “I insist, with all my mentees, that my time with them is limited and it is therefore up to them to get the best possible value from the process. They must identify what they want to achieve, and I give them plenty to do between sessions at which I do not give answers but ask questions.”

Her passion for developing others is partly influenced by her personal journey to becoming a CA(SA). The journey has been filled with great moments of pride and other moments of disappointment. Altogether, it added to making her a better person. Her passion for the development of people does not only lie with junior individuals, but partners alike, exposing them to areas that they may ordinarily not have been exposed to.

One of the defining moments of her life was when she was among the Top 10 in her Standard 5 school circuit (about 100 schools). “My proud father wrote me a card describing my achievement as ‘the sweet smell of success’ – a metaphor that stuck with me.” Tantaswa describes that this affirmation from her father was poignant and has kept her asking herself whether it is ‘the sweet smell of success’ in different aspects of her life. “I’m a person who enjoys new challenges in life and to try things I’ve never done before – so at regular intervals in my career I stop and assess what I’m currently doing against that standard: Is this still ‘the sweet smell of success’?”

Fubu has an interesting career trajectory, having achieved a Bachelor of Administration majoring in Public Administration and Industrial Psychology, anticipating a career in the early nineties in the public sector. She had a great urge to give back to South Africa by serving its people through the public sector. However, this dream was not realised as the public service of the 1990s had not yet transformed sufficiently for a highly energetic black female, and a politically active one at that, to command respect among the still white, male-dominated civil service of Cape Town.

She spent the first two years of her career doing clerical work and again asked herself whether this was the sweet smell of success. She realised that “in corporate South Africa, not to be exploited, I need to be a professional. I need to say, I am a doctor, an engineer, etc. A generic degree like the one that I had was not going to help me.” This is a question that many young people find themselves asking in order to make a success of their careers in the corporate sector. It was with this that Fubu decided to embark on a journey to become a CA(SA).

But why accounting? In school she had studied and enjoyed accounting. In 1995 she learned the University of Cape Town (UCT) was offering a conversion course – a year’s study that would convert any degree into a BCom that would lead directly to the CA(SA) route. It rekindled the accountancy flame and she decided to give it a try. She’d missed enrolment by a bare two weeks but with her enthusiasm fired she still enrolled at Unisa to do a bridging accountancy course that did not count towards her conversion course but nonetheless kept the focus on her dream.

“I did well at Unisa and in 1996 enrolled at UCT for the BCom Accounting conversion course, which I passed – mainly through blood, sweat and tears.” It was another defining moment of perseverance in her life, passing 13 courses in a single year. The next step to conquer was the BCom Honours, or CTA.

“I failed at my first attempt at the CTA. I was devastated as this was the first real failure I’d experienced in life – though with the hindsight of today I feel I probably learned more from that failure than many of my successes,” says Fubu. It was also but a speed bump, as she successfully rewrote the exams a year later at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and started articles with KPMG shortly thereafter.

Fubu was always a student activist on campus and it is through this that she was introduced to ABASA, the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa. The work that the organisation was doing to open up the profession to other young black people spoke to her personal calling to give back to South Africa. Although she did not get to serve the country in public service, certainly she has continued to play her role by developing the country in her activities with ABASA.

In September last year, Fubu was elected as national president of ABASA, having been an active member for over a decade, including serving as the first deputy president for the preceding two years.

As to why a CA(SA) should become head of HR (called People at KPMG) and Transformation, Fubu explains that the opportunity came at the right moment in her career, when she was ready to shift into the ‘people’ space. When KPMG CEO and senior partner Moses Kgosana approached her to take over the HR function for the entire firm, she was delighted to take on this new opportunity. Kgosana had just been re-elected CEO for his second term and was putting together his leadership team.

One of her major achievements at ABASA before becoming president was being intimately involved in the development of an Executive Leadership Development Programme (ELDP), together with two ABASA colleagues. This was after attending the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) Conference in Atlanta, USA. Upon their return to South Africa, they immediately set about creating, implementing and funding something similar in South Africa which became the ABASA ELDP.

“We approached the University of Stellenbosch and tailored a programme to local conditions. But we also wanted to make it affordable – no more than R10 000 for the course (which actually cost R30 000). So we went on the road fundraising.” The programme seeks to ensure that black accountants are ready to take up C-suite jobs. The ELDP model is based on the NABA one as it concentrates on honing the leadership skills which are already existent, but just need an extra nudge to get an individual to the next level. “The success of this programme has been an absolute team effort; I am incredibly proud to say we have just graduated the third annual batch,” says Fubu.

After completing her articles at KPMG Fubu worked for other organisations such as Standard Bank (in Group Risk) and Nkonki Inc where she was an audit manager, becoming partner just one year later. She rejoined KPMG as a partner in the technical department, Department of Professional Practice (DPP).

In the month before joining the HR department Fubu prepared herself mentally for this new chapter of her career. She reappraised the HR strategy and stepped in well prepared into her new post as Head of People in September 2011, while still maintaining a portfolio of audit and other clients.

“There is no doubt that integrity is core to our profession both at an individual level, a firm level and a profession level – one mistake can kill your reputation. But I believe I bring something more to my leadership position – a sense of humility. Respecting people and their views is a part of who I am, and this too is a KPMG value.”

She is a values-based leader with integrity being at the core of her leadership. Other values include humility and empowerment. Those who work with her describe her as a ‘servant leader’, choosing to serve those that she leads. She seems to make a huge impact wherever she is. As with many other companies, the strategy followed mimics the type of leader that is on the fore. To this end, as head of HR she is custodian of the firm’s annual Global People Survey, locally. As a member of KPMG’s ExCo, she also plays the role of taking her team’s recommendations and action plans to address development areas for the firm in order to make the environment one where all employees will feel a sense of belonging, regardless of race, class, gender or any other background. “I drive the action plans to ensure we continually improve,” she says. In recruitment, she is ideally positioned to ensure recruitment practices are in line with the KPMG vision and transformation agenda, which is “to change the demographics of the firm to reflect those of the country and achieve our transformation vision as KPMG of being a truly transformed firm” says Fubu.

Some of the milestone successes that the firm has achieved since she became head of HR speak for themselves. KPMG’s Employment Equity score increased on the B-BBEE scorecard, which is  a considerable accomplishment for the firm. The firm has also been independently voted ‘the most preferred employer’ by Universum among university undergraduates – a telling accolade for any firm in the intense war for talent – two years in a row (2013 and 2014). KPMG was also given an honorary award by Top Women Awards for its work in empowering women in 2013.

Fubu has evolved her management style over the years to a highly pragmatic one that adapts to circumstances. “I will be consultative when that is called for, decisive when decisions are required and even autocratic when necessary – but my preference is always to grant people the space and latitude to perform and learn from mistakes. This is in recognition of the fact that I believe I learned more and consequently benefited more from my initial failure in CTA than from almost anything else.

“My approach is to expect my team to exercise their own minds and bring to me their solutions, knowing that mistakes are not necessarily career-limiting events. I am a challenging leader, one who in constructing a team did so with the understanding that knowledge can always be acquired but not so without inherent attributes of energy and enthusiasm. These are the characteristics I look for in people – a positive energy, and desire to not hog the limelight but to uplift their own team members.”

Being surrounded by professional people who are just as capable as herself has been a humbling experience, says Fubu. To work in this environment you must have and develop a high degree of self-confidence that you can do a good job.

“I have learned to laugh at myself, and become more forgiving of my own mistakes. One learns resilience,” she explains.

As part of her mentoring and also considerable work she does both for KPMG and ABASA in giving career advice to school learners, she very often offers the following homespun advice: “Identify what would make you happy in life and do that. Nobody wants to work with someone who would rather not be there. Second, be willing to work hard, be open to learning and especially learning from one’s mistakes.

“Finally, while you get many blessings in life, what really counts is being a blessing to others,” says Fubu.

Today, Fubu is a member of KPMG’s national Policy Board, the highest decision-making body in the firm and the firm’s national Transformation Advisory Committee. If she has one regret, it is that the considerable efforts of audit firms, SAICA, ABASA and African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) are not achieving the outputs of transformation the profession so desperately wants.

“My dream is for more people to be exposed to the opportunity offered by the CA(SA) qualification. It is a door opener, one that can make dreams real and makes your world truly alive with possibilities,” adds Fubu. ❐

Photography: BrightLiquidLight.