Refilwe Matenche
Aamena Lambat
Sebenzile Mathebula
Denise Maré
Uvitha Pather

In a recent IBM global survey of more than 1 500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, creativity was selected as the most crucial factor for future success. Crazily enough, it ranked above hard work, discipline, integrity, or vision.

Yes, creativity. This fact might hit you with a bit of knock because as a CA(SA) you may not categorise yourself in the creative lane but have probably ‘boxed’ yourself as a left-brainer.

It is still widely believed that highly creative people are right-brained – that they are more spontaneous, emotionally driven and passionate while left-brain thinkers are ‘strictly’ logical and analytical. But this has proven to be a myth, as creative thinkers include people like Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, all of whom were also logical and analytical thinkers.

Interestingly, the root word of ‘creativity’ is the Latin creare, which means to make, bring forth, produce. Anyone creative is able to produce new and original things. But creativity also implies growth. Like a muscle, you either use it or lose it, and the more you use it, the easier it becomes and the better you get. Chat to any artist and they’ll agree.

Creative leaders are believed to have the ability to innovate more and drive change in business – let’s say they just have that special knack of creating the new or coming up with innovative ways of getting things done, or undone if necessary.

And besides helping you to climb the corporate ladder, just being creative for the fun of it – be it to dance, draw, brainstorm or sing – will bring about a sense of fulfilment and a new dimension to your life. You will enter a world that often the busyness of life doesn’t allow. So, why not start off by doing something new or do something old in a totally different way? As Pablo Picasso said: ‘I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.’

On the next few pages, you will read the stories of five women who are all highly creative CAs(SA) and who have artistically broken the box of the stereotype …

Strange how often something seemingly bad – such as a limited budget – can turn into an unexpected surprise. In her first year of university, Refilwe had to attend a welcome gala dinner and she needed an outfit. Being budget restrained, her mom, like a fairy god-mother, proposed to make her a skirt to match the top that she could afford. The final product blew Refilwe away to such a degree that she decided it was time to get better acquainted with the sewing machine herself.

After a basic crash course from her mom, she set about making clothes and turning herself into a self-made fashion designer. In the years that followed, Refilwe would make clothes for herself and then family and friends. And the more clothes she made, the better she became, going on to organising random fashion shows and even entering a talent show at Ernst & Young during her articles to showcase her garments.

A typical fashionista, Refilwe Matenche exudes elegance and says she loves the side of her brain that requires her logic and the ability to excel at science and maths. But being an exceptionally creative is what keeps her excited about life and – most importantly – happy.

’Most people either have left or right brain dominance; I believe I have both. This is both a blessing and a curse, especially in instances where these worlds are in conflict with one another. I try to keep a fine balance but I simply cannot function without either,’ she says, flaunting one of her artistic designer pieces.

As time went by, supervising the making of garments became more practical than making the clothes herself. ‘I then decided to make a career out of it and launched the label Maten’s Closet aimed at providing the end consumer with chic, trendy, contemporary Africa-inspired ready-to-wear garments as well as accessories. This offers a wonderful solution to African women who wanted to seamlessly celebrate their heritage within a cosmopolitan and diverse environment.’

Her brand featured in various noticeable publications, television shows and radio. In the midst of it all, Refilwe fell pregnant and at the same time was busy studying for her master’s in taxation. It became impossible to juggle everything at once. That’s when she made the difficult but necessary decision to suspend the project while she focused on furthering her studies and being there for her daughter in her critical years of development.

However, not all is lost. She is still somewhat involved in the fashion industry and mentors a talented young lady, Khanyi Mnguni, who owns the fashion label House Of Ori.

‘My aim is to impart the business and creative knowledge that I have acquired while in the industry to assist her brand grow and develop her business acumen. I took her on because her creative style resonated with me as she also incorporates that African composition in her garments that is so important to me,’ says Refilwe.

‘There are so many women I find inspirational for many different reasons, young and old. But if I had to choose one, I’d say my mom for raising three successful daughters in the township by herself. I appreciate the love and support she has given my sisters and me over the years.

‘The profession has also opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I never imagined existed. In my opinion, the training we get as chartered accountants sets us up to be the rock stars of the professional world. We dominate the boards of the JSE’s top 200 – that alone is phenomenal. Sadly, I think a sizeable number of CAs(SA) have little understanding of the magnitude of the value this designation holds and do not always seize the opportunities out there that require their expertise.’
Refilwe believes women should be more bold and confident in the workplace as they tend to doubt the value they add in organisations and sell themselves short, especially in times of negotiations.

‘As a woman, you should go for what you want and not be deterred or intimidated to realise your career goals – they are after all your goals, fight for them!’

Contently introverted and relatively ambitious are the terms Aamena Lambat uses to describe herself. But quite beyond mere ambitious we’d say, as not only is Aamena the Managing Director of IFAS Consulting with a primary focus on business development, she is also the energetic and creative owner of Aurelies Health and Lifestyle Café at the Waterfall Estate, which has achieved the accolade of second spot in the top five health restaurants in Johannesburg.

The creation of beautiful baking pleasures, discovering gorgeous table décor settings and gifting artistries are among her happiest hobbies.

‘I stumbled upon this passion as I have always been intrigued at how real and exquisite birthday cakes are made. Planning my daughter’s first birthday was the perfect excuse for me to satisfy my curiosity and I have not looked back since,’ she says.

‘I get to use some of my inherent qualities like precision and quest for perfection but in a very relaxed and stress-free environment. And I also get to be as imaginative and irresponsible as I wish.’

Although these hobbies were intended to be her idea of having some ‘me-time’, she is often surrounded by a little trio, her three kids, who have claimed bragging rights that their Mom creates magical birthday cakes, secret jelly dreams, and dazzling milkshakes.

Most unexpectedly, just a month after acquiring Aurelies Health and Lifestyle Café, approximately 18 months ago, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and Aamena’s focus turned to healthier food options for her family.

The treatment period of her husband was an extremely challenging time for Aamena as she had three small kids aged 1, 3 and 5 at the time and had recently acquired Aurelies Health and Lifestyle Café. She also had to take over the reins as project manager of building their house. She says she simply had to develop resilience and sail through the storm.

At Aurelies Health and Lifestyle Café, she uses a combination of market intelligence and investigating the latest trends in healthy eating and nutrition. Her adventurous pursuit for meals that are not only nutritious and healthy but also delicious has led her onto this path of exciting entrepreneurial discovery.

Being a huge juicing fan, she says it does wonders for your health. ‘During a liquid cleanse, your digestive system has the opportunity to rest, allowing your system to use the energy normally required for digestion to be used to restore your entire body.’

Some of her latest endeavours have been making sugar-free chocolate from raw cocoa and a sugarless chocolate cheesecake.

‘My daughter enjoyed it, but my sons are not buying into the idea of sugarless treats,’ she laughs.

With its great vibe, the health restaurant offers a setting perfect for meetings or retreats accompanied by delicious nutritious meals. Aamena also finds the evolution of the health and food conscious clientele extremely fulfilling.

‘Being a chartered accountant has brought with it innumerable blessings and opportunities. The rigorous academic path and discipline required to successfully qualify undeniably condition the mind to achieve greatness. I have had the privilege of being part of corporate South Africa, starting my own business, venturing into unknown territories and being a full-time mum and spouse.’

Through constant introspection, Aamena has come to realise that these two important elements, career and family, do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive, but she has become extremely selective in the roles that she have taken on to ensure that neither her career nor family are in any way compromised.

‘I honestly believe that women have an immense paradigm in decision-making which encompasses evidence, logic, empathy and the ability to visualise the operational impacts of suggesting a strategic path.

‘I think my female counterparts would agree that being a professional, wife, mother and leader cultivates a unique skills set within us that allows us to flourish in highly complex and interdependent environments,’ says Aamena.

‘The key lesson for me through this journey was having unwavering faith, appreciation of relationships that we sometimes tend to neglect in our busy lives and the realisation that every experience brings with it a degree of wisdom.’

When I play, I can literally feel the weight of the day being lifted off my shoulders,’ says Sebenzile Mathebula, a manager in the Capital Markets Group Division at PwC. On the side, her life is wrapped up in the world of music.

‘Music is an outlet for what I feel inside,’ says Sebenzile. ‘It communicates on a level that goes beyond the mind, but speaks to the inner soul of a person. A single song can communicate to a lot of people in different ways as it is open to interpretation.’

Already as a little girl Sebenzile was captivated by the mood a violin created. She would love to have taken lessons and become a classical musician, but this never happened. But throughout high school and varsity she weaved herself into various musical groups, including church choirs and worship teams.

Her longing to get her hands on a musical instrument remained unfulfilled. In her very first year of starting her professional career – after getting through the first board exam and getting her driver’s license – she bought an acoustic guitar with a few books. She taught herself and enjoyed it immensely. So much so that she decided to enrol for some proper lessons and thrived. Later she joined her church’s worship team playing the acoustic guitar.
After completing her traineeship, Sebenzile had the opportunity of working in Chicago for six months and there too got involved in the church choir, managing to squeeze in a couple of professional vocal lessons too.

And her most recent musical venture – piano lessons. In 2015, Sebenzile decided to advance her skills by enrolling to study part time at a performing school. ‘It has been six months since I started and I am beginning to see the improvement in my performance.’

Says Sebenzile, ‘I would like to think I have a creative side. I love exploring it through music as after playing and singing I feel so inspired. I really do enjoy those intimate moments where I get to play and it is just a bonus that I am able to play and sing in the presence of other people. I do a variety of styles and hope to book myself out for various events.’

Sebenzile has a variety of women who have inspired her – from women in her community to women in the media. But the one that stands out is her mom, as she embodies Sebenzile’s definition of a truly inspirational woman.

‘One thing that stands out with all these women is the fact that they have identified their purpose in life and overcame various challenges to reach their goals. In the process they had to find creative ways of coming up with solutions and, above all, they stayed true to what they believe in.’

As for Sebenzile’s professional career: ‘The CA qualification has given me an abundance of opportunities. I have the choice in terms of the industry I am a part of and the type of work I do as there are a lot of employment opportunities for CAs(SA) in all industries. It has given me exposure to many inspirational leaders in the business world. And it has given me financial freedom as I am in a position to assist my family, whilst pursuing my dreams. When I qualified as a CA(SA) and saw all the opportunities that come with it, my confidence level increased as I truly believed I could achieve whatever I put my mind to.’

Her advice for women in the workplace: ‘It’s really important to know what your purpose in life is and begin to work towards that, as the daily decisions will be driven by that. The sacrifices made towards achieving those goals will not be as exhausting but will be fulfilling.’

First defining what’s important to her and then what makes her happy is the way Sebenzile balances her life.

‘The most important things to me are my faith, family, career, friends, creative arts and health.’ She tells us this with her beautiful voice we’ve just had the privilege of listening to.

Besides using her energy to empower students with knowledge and motivating them to excel and exceed their own expectations,
Denise Maré, Senior Lecturer in Auditing at the University of Johannesburg, spends a great deal of her time being inventively creative.

Born into a highly creative and hands-on family, Denise has always enjoyed letting her creative juices flow. ‘After making the career choice of becoming a chartered accountant it became apparent to me that on this seven-year very rigid study path and training route, where there is very little margin for deviation or creative freedom mainly due to all the rules, guidelines, legislation and predetermined subject choices and qualification path towards CA(SA), I needed to have hobbies to nurture my creative spirit and to help me think outside the box.’

Among her host of hobbies are needlework, mosaic, quilting, scrapbooking, cooking and baking, but the one she is most passionate about is event décor. ‘I was asked as part of my staff duties at the University of Johannesburg to coordinate the Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences’ International Value Conference. These conferences take place every second year and from 2010 to 2016 I have organised four conferences,’ she says. ‘The planning and execution of the Value Conferences and specifically the entertainment and décor at the conferences have been a highlight in my calendar. This exposure to the industry has created networks, contacts and ideas for my hobby to pick up steam and get new ideas.’

Even among her friends and family, it has become the norm for Denise to handle the décor and flowers, and sometimes even the eats and treats. Indeed, she did all the décor for her own wedding.

‘I have done the décor and flowers of a few weddings, year-end functions, christenings, kiddies and school parties, all-aged birthday parties and up to date 12 Value Conference evening functions. I enjoy being creative and inventive and each time doing something different.’

Denise strives toward treating others the way she would like to be treated. She makes the world a better place assisting others and through weaving her passion of empowering others with knowledge and creative talent. For example, when Denise heard that Sarah, her family’s helper, had a dream of building a home in Limpopo for her family, she felt that providing her with a fishing rod and teaching her how to bring in the fish was the best approach.
‘We sat down and discussed Business 101: the concept of needing some funds to purchase the starting product, determine the costing element and then deriving the appropriate market related selling price, where and how to market your products, etc. Sarah came up with the idea that she would like to make beads and some needlework items to sell.’

Denise then assisted Sarah to get in touch with customers that might want her products and marketed her goods among friends, family and colleagues, as well as exhibiting her goods at flea markets.

‘I am proud to say that after two years of hard work and dedication, long evenings and tiring weekends, Sarah has accomplished a major part of her goal. She has purchased a double plot of land and her house has been built and fenced. The next phase of the building project (inside finishes and a veggie garden) is a work in progress but Sarah now has the knowledge and willpower to make it succeed and I know that she will.’

Denise’s advice for women in the workplace: ‘Prioritise and schedule your day. Put fences around your time and make time for your spouse, children, family and household. They are just as big an investment as is the time and energy you put into your career.

‘To be inspirational you don’t have to win a Nobel Prize or find a new medical cure – the most inspirational women are those that can lead by example, women that are true to themselves and who are comfortable with who they are.’

A personal dream of Denise’s is to attend a few short courses at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.

Although she had been born into a third-generation family of jewellers in South Africa, Uvitha had absolutely no intention of following in their trade. After articles at KPMG and qualifying as a CA(SA) in 2009, she moved straight into investment banking. Let’s just say she was too busy pursuing her career as a CA(SA) and loving it!

However, during her time in corporate, friends and colleagues kept coming to her and asking for assistance with their diamond engagement rings, right from collaborating on a design to sourcing the best diamonds.

‘I would have it custom made for them,’ says Uvitha, adding: ‘And the price helped, too!’

This all sparked a renewed love for jewellery and business in her to the point that she decided she wanted to learn as much as she could about the industry, with a particular focus on diamonds. She completed her diamond grading course through the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

‘It all just seemed to be in sync at the time,’ Uvitha explains. ‘I was a new mom and wanted some flexibility with my working hours. And with the valuable work experience I had gained over the last decade and business in my blood, it really was the most natural move for me to start Diamond Days.’

Taking the decision to move forward with Diamond Days has definitely been a highlight in her career. ‘After all the obsessing and overthinking of whether to go ahead with the business, as it does not typically fit the corporate career path of a CA(SA), this nevertheless has turned out to be wonderful. I am able to combine my love of jewellery and business with my academia and work experience.’

Running a new business, Uvitha oversees all aspects from finance and sales to marketing. ‘In retrospect,’ she says, ‘gaining the experience during my articles from auditing numerous companies has greatly benefited me in running and managing my own.’

Diamond Days is a qualified member of the Jewellery Council of South Africa. Uvitha and her team manufacture private jewellery and create bespoke pieces of luxury for her clients. She offers personal one-on-one service on an appointment basis, her business being the design and custom make-up of unique diamond engagement rings.

‘We are able to offer very favourable prices as we do not have the added expense of retail rental, and though the family business, have access to the best diamonds and pricing both locally and internationally. All our diamonds are accompanied with international and local grading certificates.’

In addition to engagement rings, Diamond Days designs and manufactures gents’ wedding bands and bridal diamond jewellery, as well as advising on securing the best possible diamonds with the aim of giving the best deal to their clients.

‘I love what I do, and it is such a privilege to be a part of an industry where you are privy to work with the most beautiful materials in the world! It is so inspiring for me to know that I have the potential for growth in the business and incredibly fulfilling to see the happiness and excitement on my clients’ faces when they receive their jewellery, especially the engagement rings which are so sentimental – pure joy!’

Uvitha finds it incredibly rewarding to be a mum and still have a spot in the workplace, believing that encouraging gender diversity in the workplace can only be beneficial to corporate. ‘There is an old Chinese proverb that I love: “Women hold up half the sky.” So as to encourage abundance, growth and profitability within business it would be in everyone’s best interest to equally include the likes of women!’

The woman who has been most inspirational to Uvitha: ‘My mum – she is the epitome of a person loving and truly enjoying what they do; you can’t help but want that energy to rub off on you! She has been and continues to be my most loyal supporter, encouraging me in everything that I do, offering mentorship and guidance, and she was the first person to encourage me to obtain my CA(SA) – which has to be one of the best decisions that I have made to date!’

Uvitha also obtained a BComm Accounting (summa cum laude) and Accounting Honours from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Author: Lynn Grala