These seven incredible ladies are all leaders in their own right who are striving to help our country become a better place in their own authentic way. Not all of them were born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths – some even had to deal with the tragic death of their parents. But they dreamed big, believed in themselves and yes – they’ve made it happen. And now they are leading and inspiring others.


Fast Lane to Success

Defining moments change us forever. For award winner Thuto Masasa, moving to Cape Town from the small kingdom of Lesotho was such a turning point

Masasa’s mom sent the then 15-year-old Thuto to a prestigious boarding school in Cape Town. ‘It wasn’t just that it was a big city,’ she reflects. ‘Moving from a rural place to a Model C school, attended by privileged children, required me to adapt on several levels.

‘It was a different culture altogether. On top of this, my English wasn’t good. But the experience moulded me into an independent person.’

Today, Masasa is Head of External Audit and leads Integrated Reporting at Nkonki Incorporated. Regarded as a leading practitioner, she advises South African organisations on the development of their integrated reporting and is active on the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

In her thirties, Masasa is highly respected among her peers and won the prestigious Young Accountant of the Year at the 2016 International Accounting Bulletin (IAB) and The Accountant (TA) Awards. The occasion in London was followed by an industry forum at which Masasa chaired a session on the global accountancy landscape.

The young professional’s win acknowledged her significant contribution to the industry in the 10 years since qualifying. ‘The award has given me a little more recognition back home,’ says a modest Masasa of her accomplishment.

Her insatiable curiosity and drive have seen her progress steadily against stiff competition. Born with ‘the desire for self-development’, she was energised by it. After completing her traineeship at Deloitte, the Big Four firm offered the newly qualified CA(SA) the opportunity of a lifetime: a secondment to London. It was Masasa’s first trip overseas, let alone working in another country.

An interviewer in London offered sage advice to the wide-eyed professional: ‘This is a very competitive environment. Do everything to stand out and work very hard. Everyone is smart.’ She has adopted this modus operandi ever since.

But Masasa credits the late Roger Reeves, the former chief financial officer of Murray and Roberts, as instrumental in accelerating her career. ‘Roger mentored me. A year into management level he told me: “Keep a journal. Make sure you are able to write something new you have learned monthly otherwise you are not developing.”’

The CA (SA) qualification is also an enabler and ‘allows one a seat at the table’. For all her success, Masasa has faced critical choices. ‘Making the decision to leave Deloitte was very emotional. The company provided me with my first job, and I’d developed good friendships and mentors after seven years there.’

She decided to take a leap of faith. ‘I needed to try out being a rainmaker as most of my experience had been in a cost centre in my role within the learning and development department at Deloitte. I had to let the market give me feedback on my readiness for the next step.’

Masasa landed a leadership role at Nkonki Incorporated, one of the largest black assurance and advisory firms in South Africa with a global reach through Kreston International. Nkonki Incorporated has been tracking how South African Top 100 listed companies and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are adopting integrated reporting best practice since 2011.

Credible commitment is being shown by SOEs and the Top 100 Listed Companies in preparing integrated reports. ‘This includes Transnet and Eskom by volunteering for the IIRC pilot programme alongside listed companies like Goldfields to contribute towards shaping the IIRC international frameworks as released in December 2013,’ explains Masasa. ‘Remember that integrated reporting is voluntary outside of the listed companies and is designed to assist organisations to communicate a clear, concise, integrated story that explains how all their available resources and relationships are creating value for stakeholders, so this is cause for celebration for us South Africans as we have set the bar for the world.’

Masasa regards winning the International Service Line Development Award at the 2015 Kreston World Conference in Rio for driving the adoption of integrated reporting as her most significant professional accomplishment to date.

She is animated in her explanation of the role of integrated reporting. ‘Integrated reporting is one of the three shifts we are hearing the world talk about currently shifting from silo reporting together with inclusive capitalism and focus on long-term capital markets. Society is looking for more sustainable markets.’

Masasa has firm opinions on South Africa’s junk status and reactions to the downgrade. Given the option to sink or swim, with her positive disposition, she chooses to swim.


Helping people to realise their potential through pushing them to do those things they never imagined they could be capable of doing, and to become that person they never thought they could ever be. Initially it may be unpleasant for them, but when you watch their growth and confidence, it is  the most fulfilling aspect of what I do.


Two Qualifications One Calling

Starting out as an attorney, a year into law Tracy Brophy decided to become a CA(SA). Today she’s glad she took this route and wouldn’t change her choice for anything

As head of Tax Risk Management at FirstRand Group Tax and the new chair of SAICA’s National Tax Committee (NTC), Tracy shares what makes her day job so special and the impact she hopes to make as the first woman chair of the NTC.

Tracy was just eight years old when her father tragically passed away. She witnessed her mom’s constant struggle on her modest salary as a paralegal secretary to raise her and her older brother and she made an inward decision to make something significant of her life.

Street-smart Tracy reduced the length of her Legal articles through a strategic move. ‘I did six months’ full-time training through the Law Society’s School for Practical Legal Studies. Being multi-disciplinary, it shortened the duration of my Legal articles to only a year. Lecturing in the evenings for Midrand Campus to earn money while at law school  was the only drawback,’ she says wryly.

The newly qualified lawyer entered the world of litigation but soon realised that drafting ante-nuptial contracts and handling divorces wasn’t for her. ‘I wanted more commercial experience,’ she reflects. ‘A friend suggested that I convert my degree to become a chartered accountant (CA(SA)) and I thought that was a good idea.’

Given the choice, Tracy would choose the same path again. ‘My background in law has helped me in my approach to solving a problem and articulating an argument.’

Tracy moved into tax at KPMG in 2001 and later, in 2003, helped to establish the EY Financial Services tax team, which was focused on servicing the banks and looking at their tax needs.

She left EY after 15 months as a principal tax consultant to join FirstRand as their international tax specialist. This was 13 years ago, and Tracy applauds the ethos of the organisation. FirstRand is one of the big four South African retail, commercial and investment banks. Through its ownership of businesses like First National Bank, Rand Merchant Bank, WesBank, Ashburton Investments and FirstRand Life, the group operates in most areas of the financial services industry.

As FirstRand’s international tax specialist, Tracy was responsible for implementing tax solutions, an aspect of her career she particularly enjoys. She needed the knowledge base to back her decisions, and enrolled for a Certificate in International Tax. ‘It was so enjoyable applying what I was learning. Usually it’s theory, then practice.’

‘As a perfectionist I tend to take on too much but I’m working on this as a leader. I’ve been told not to hold people to the same standards; instead I nurture their strengths. Responsible leadership is being cognisant of which hat I’m wearing, whether representing FirstRand, the Banking Association, or SAICA, and being responsible in my approach for all of them.’

Tracy became the head of Tax Risk Management at FirstRand Group Tax seven years ago and describes her team as absolute professionals. ‘Besides being tax experts they are incredibly innovative. Giving people space to be innovative is part of the DNA of FirstRand,’ says Tracy.

‘You need to be enthusiastic about what you do, or risk stagnation. The magic is just outside your comfort zone.’

Although she favours an open management style, she does not shy away from making courageous decisions. From having eight direct reports three years ago, today Tracy has three. She shrugs, ‘Sometimes you have to give people responsibility and accountability.’

She implemented the first ever transfer pricing (TP) policy and controlled foreign company reporting model for FirstRand. ‘A TP policy refers to the manner in which a multinational group enters into cross-border transactions within its own group. It details the nature of these transactions and the methods adopted to ensure that the pricing is on an arm’s length basis.

‘I was given the freedom to engage with the businesses and to come up with a TP model, which from the start in 2004, was implemented in 2006. The reporting model included approximately 175 offshore entities.’

Tracy joined SAICA’s National Tax Committee (NTC) 10 years ago. As the first woman chair, Tracy plans to bring a different flavour to the committee. ‘Women are generally more engaging in terms of leadership style.’

‘My husband, Justin, is in asset management. We have two daughters – Bethanie (10 years) and Lilly (7 years). We’re trying to instil the belief in them that they are each other’s best friends!’ laughs Tracy. ‘My family is everything. They ground me.’


The leaders I have looked up to in life are the people who make you want to be a better person! I found that Robin Sharma has encapsulated what leadership is all about in his book The Leader Who Had No Title, because you don’t have to have a title to be a leader. You just need to be the best you can be every day and make an excellent contribution in every touch point of your life. I strive to live these beliefs every day in my own life.



A Focused Leader

‘Focus’ is a trait of leaders who get things done. This trait defines CA(SA) and JHI Properties CEO Nomzamo Radebe. With it, she has scaled the heights of the property industry

There are times the world feels like one big distraction. Smartphones chirp and laptops beep with dozens of daily message notifications. Colleagues distract you with the latest gossip.

Nomzamo Radebe regularly implores her staff to cut through all the external noise; focus, keep it simple, have a game plan and execute it! It’s become her hallmark, as it is of most good leaders. She admits to possible overkill at times, having noticed some managers stifling sniggers and inspecting the ceiling when she gets on her hobbyhorse. ‘But they get the point: it’s important to have action plans and to implement in a focused manner,’ she says. Radebe’s own single-minded focus is on driving high-performance from teams.

Living her own advice, Nomzamo has immersed herself in the property sector since qualifying as a CA(SA) and today sits at the pinnacle of the property industry: she is the immediate past president of the South African Property Owners Association (Sapoa).

It was in Grade 11 that Nomzamo decided to follow the chartered accountancy profession, having participated in a SAICA / Standard Bank Annual Business Development Game. The death of her father when she was just 12 was a formidable obstacle to her attending university, but she was awarded an all-costs bursary by Sasol, enabling her to get a BCom (Accounting) degree.


Nomzamo’s involvement in property began in 2006 when she joined shopping centre owning fund Pareto Limited as its CFO. She caught the property bug and went on to study further. She acquired a Property Development Programme Certificate and a Certificate for Commercial Property Practitioners, as she transitioned from finance to become Pareto’s Chief Investment Officer in charge of its portfolio.

Her next step came four years ago at the age of just 36 when she was appointed CEO of JHI Properties, part of the Cushman & Wakefield Excellerate international group.


Being black and female makes her particularly conscious of being a role model to many less privileged South Africans. She herself has had a number of mentors, both men and women, on her ascent and now acts as a mentor and role model to others. ‘My mother, a teacher, was probably the greatest mentor I had, teaching me to be career driven without sacrificing balance in life. She made me a warmer person.’

Nomzamo is passionate about mentoring others. She formally mentors two women and provides ad hoc mentoring of others. It’s a guilty pleasure of hers because she admits to enjoying as much self-growth as she does growing others. ‘Mentoring is really about having conversations on experiences and mistakes, especially those not found in any textbook. I also mentor many men who are in need of assistance. Gender inequality remains a major issue in property as much as racial inequality and at any meeting will be an agenda item.’

She participates in a forum of women property CEOs which meets monthly to share challenges. Nurturing and retaining talent are such issues, as is managing a company while not losing sight of running one’s family. ‘Women do need assurance from other women that they’re not bad mothers just because they work hard,’ she explains.

Nomzamo was appointed at a young age as CEO of a major property services company and before the age of 40 had been chair of two of the most important industry bodies. She has a list of other accolades, including Institute of People Management Business Leader of the Year 2016 and Woman Property’s Five-Star Woman of the Year.When Nomzamo became CEO in 2014, the JHI business primarily serviced commercial property, with a R50 billion portfolio that was 70% offices and industrial buildings, compared to 30% retail. The strategic change in direction resulted in a R150 billion portfolio in 2017 closer to a 50/50 ratio.

Her four-year-old child looms large in her life (her most recent movie was The Smurfs in 3D) and her appetite for reading is eclectic. ‘I love spending time with my family, catching up on weekends with friends, and sometimes just doing nothing!’ concludes Radebe.


When choosing new executives, Nomzamo has favoured people with leadership ability and ‘the right attitude’. The additional qualities she looks for are commercial awareness and a client-centric philosophy. Technical know-how is important. If anything, it is secondary as ‘know-how’ can be learned whereas the right attitude cannot be. My practice is to identify people internally and to groom them.



Ayanda Shows Africa can Lead the Way

Ayanda Ballensiefen’s gracious and outstanding leadership abilities have seen her to be selected as one of 20 dynamic young leaders on the African continent to join the Leadership Council of the Harvard University Center for African Studies (CAS). Ayanda tell us more about her journey

At just 26 years of age, Ayanda Ballensiefen had already landed an executive position at Barclays. Last year she joined EY as a financial services senior risk consultant – no easy feat either. And this year she is one of the 20 dynamic young leaders on the African continent selected to join the Leadership Council of the Harvard University Center for African Studies (CAS). She will be at the forefront of driving a hub for academic thought in the field of African studies and will act as a cross-pollinator of ideas.

‘I have always wanted to inspire other young people, especially women,’ says Ayanda of her decision to become a CA(SA).

She saw the profession as a stepping-stone to vast opportunities. And she was right, but even Ayanda could not have have foreseen being part of the big league so early on in her career. Being offered the amazing opportunity to move to London as an auditor as a business manager for Absa assisted her rapid ascent up the career ladder.

Ayanda’s has the ability to attract attention as ‘the one to watch’. And although her entry onto the executive committee of Absa Business Banking came about through a referral, her success has been largely self-propelled.

‘I think it is very powerful to have sustainable, genuine networks so people keep you top of mind,’ says Ayanda. ‘But you need to be memorable. So when they say “I need this kind of person,” they think of you.’

Her new role came with a huge jump in responsibility. Ayanda, as the business manager, assisted the head of Absa Business Banking with managing the overall business, in everything from strategic and operational issues to stakeholder management.

‘My employer handpicked me. She wanted a CA(SA) and a black woman that she could nurture,’ explains Ayanda. ‘She understood the rigorous training required of the profession and that my skills set would complement hers, specifically when it came to the numbers.’

But after three years with Absa, she realised that she wanted to develop her skills beyond a generalist role. ‘I asked myself when I was going to start making a name for myself and not just shadow a dynamic executive. Us millennials realise quite quickly when something isn’t working for us anymore.’

Still, leaving the bank wasn’t an easy decision. But today Ayanda’s face lights up as she clarifies her current role as a financial services senior risk consultant at EY. ‘What’s exciting is the technology that’s in the works that will enable organisations to drive regulation and use it more efficiently.

‘We are trying to unpack the culture of risk in a way that is digestible. Currently, conduct risk is extremely topical in our space; it determines how financial services, including banking and insurance institutions, interact with the market, which is for the benefit of the market: treating the customer fairly.’

While at Absa, Ayanda started Women in Business Banking (WIBB), a vehicle to educate, connect and inspire women within this division. ‘It is hugely inspiring for entry level and less senior banking staff when someone like Maria Ramos says she started out as a bank teller.’

In 2015, Ayanda received the Rising Star Award at the Global Diversity Business Awards in New York for the work that she had done through WIBB as well and as a co-founder of the Mbewu Movement – an organisation external to her Absa portfolio – which empowers young women. In 2016, Ayanda was chosen as one SAICA’s Top 35 under 35 finalists.

‘As young black ambitious women we were desperate to learn how we could navigate the corporate world, and the world beyond that. As you climb the corporate ladder, you always want access to those that have come before and succeeded, to share their trials, tribulations and triumphs,’ she says.

‘It’s so inspiring! Seeing the impact; how women’s lives are transformed through a new way of thinking about themselves and their potential.’

Another milestone was getting married last year. Her husband is German. Ayanda, typically, attended language classes at the Goethe-Institut and now speaks German with confidence.

We can all learn from Ayanda’s ‘can do’ zest for life!


Besides being strong, confident and decisive, it’s important that a leader be humble and develop their listening skills, says Ayanda. A leader should make a conscious effort to see through the lenses of other people around the table because there may be a better way. In the consulting world, you’re often on multiple projects, with tight deadlines and it becomes crucial to understand how you can enable, uplift and encourage those that you lead so that you achieve the greatest outcome for the client.



The Leading Lady of Male Grooming

Proving that a CA(SA) can do anything she sets her mind to, Cara Andersonleft the professional services world to open a hip luxury barbershop, successfully tapping into the unmet needs and growing trends in this field

Who doesn’t love a retro barbershop? The cultural resurgence of men’s grooming, estimated to reach $26 billion globally by 2020, has barbers lining up to get their cut. It’s a trend that caught the eye of Cara Anderson, a CA(SA) who on returning to South Africa after many years abroad, quickly spotted a gap in the market.

Her Sorbet Man store in brand-new Kyalami Corner was a year in the making. It combines retro styling – think black and white subway tiles, chevron floors and shiny chrome – within a sleek and über-stylish environment.

Anderson, originally from Pietermaritzburg, spent a decade with EY specialising in internal auditing. While at EY, she was offered an opportunity to apply her expertise in Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in California, where she lived for three years. In 2008, after becoming desperately homesick, she returned to Johannesburg. But EY had other plans for her and a few years later she was offered an opportunity to work at the firm’s risk advisory practice in Doha, Qatar.

‘After a few great years in Qatar, I realised that to pursue my personal life goals, I had to exit the profession,’ she recalls. ‘It can be extremely time consuming, and that takes its toll on your personal life. I didn’t have a family at the time, and I was starting to worry that I never would because there was no time for anything outside of work.’

Like any CA(SA) worth their salt, Anderson designed a personal five-year plan which included returning home, settling down, and making it possible for her to work for herself. ‘It was an active decision, comprised of clear goals that were made conscientiously. If you avoid that exercise, life can pass you by. I had to make some tough choices, and the toughest of the lot was choosing to leave the professional services environment and finding something that would afford me more opportunity to explore other aspects of my life.’

She stayed on in the Middle East but joined the risk management department of an Abu Dhabi-based telecommunications company in 2012, a move that gave her an insight into the private industry and even more opportunity to travel.

A year later, it was time to come home. She was offered a position that combined risk management and her experience in SOX into one role at Mix Telematics. It was there that she found a mentor, CFO Megan Pydigadu, an influential figure in Anderson’s life. After working for many years in the male-dominated Middle East, Anderson found a mentor who helped her grow in both her role and her career. That was also when she met and married her husband, Julian, who designs and builds wooden outdoor playground equipment for children.

‘I took stock and realised it was time. I was ready for my own business, and I wanted to wear jeans to work every day. During my travels, I had seen many male-grooming salons. It was noticeable, especially in cities like London, that men were taking pride in their appearance and putting in the effort to look good. When I heard about the grooming bar Sorbet Man, it was a perfect fit.’

The Sorbet franchise model, launched by Ian Fuhr 12 years ago, made sense for Anderson. She had the business and accounting skills that appealed to the franchisor who, in turn, could provide a turnkey system, easing her entry into an industry she loved but did not know much about. For all the rigidity of a franchise system, her expertise as a CA(SA) has been welcomed, particularly when it comes to input on systems and controls.

A people person, Anderson was drawn to Fuhr’s strong emphasis on staff, who are called ‘citizens’ by the franchise. After all, she came from the EY environment and its ‘people first’ culture.

Her focus now is on what she needs to do for her people to make them the best barbers and therapists. ‘It’s a mix of ongoing training, of sending them to have treatments at other barbershops and salons and of bringing in experts to our store. On top of that, my experience in business is something I enjoy sharing with the team.’

Does she ever regret leaving the corporate world? ‘There are days when I miss the stability of the pay cheque on the 25th of each month, but I now employ 13 staff and I work in a system that is focused on empowering people and always doing the right thing. I have learned that that’s a winning formula in any business.’


Female entrepreneurs have taken the world by storm, yet they still face unique challenges. A senior partner at EY told me I was committing career suicide by leaving the profession. He was defining what I should want in terms of his own goals in life. I learned to own my personality regardless of how others might see it. It is important to never lose sight of your objectives. Believe in the power of your convictions, be steadfast, do your best, and chance will settle the rest.




Born to do Great Things

Faced with the loss of her mom at the age of 15 and her father losing his job soon afterwards, Zizipho (née Mqwala) Nyanga, CEO of the Masisizane Fund decided that there is only one way out of her depressing circumstances: to focus on getting educated

Today, at 35 years old, Zizipho Nyanga is a professional career woman with her own beautiful family. Walking into the plush boardroom at Old Mutual, Sandton, with its leather seats and carefully chosen artwork, Zizipho gives a welcoming smile. She is down to earth, humble and loves to laugh.

There are many lessons Zizipho’s mother left behind and Zizipho says she can’t really single out one specifically. However, her mother’s emphasis on her kids getting quality education is something she has treasured most.

Zizipho has travelled a long road from her childhood in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape when, as the youngest of six children, she sold sweets for pocket money. ‘But I have my mom to thank for steering me in the direction of becoming a chartered accountant (CA(SA)). As a school teacher, she saw that I was interested in business from a young age and encouraged me to become a CA(SA),’ says Zizipho.

‘She was a strong woman who also taught me how to go for my dreams and how to be a great wife and cheerleader to my husband, as she was to my father when I was growing up. I learnt the importance of team work and partnership in marriage by seeing how she and my father lived at home.’

Today, as CEO of the Masisizane Fund, an Old Mutual initiative that was established in 2007 to provide loan financing and support to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), Zizipho’s role truly resonates with her values.

‘My motivation for becoming a CA(SA) was financial security. I also wanted to change the script of my family dynamics,’ she says stoically.

In 2004, Ernst & Young seconded the newly qualified CA(SA) to their San José office in California to audit US-based companies such as Data Domain and Xenoport Inc. Zizipho didn’t expect to encounter prejudice during her four months’ secondment in a US city the size of Pretoria.

‘The Americans I was interacting with looked at South Africans as coming from a country which was underdeveloped and they doubted my capability. They’d only give me work that a first-year accounting student could do.’

She put her foot down. ‘I didn’t travel 17 hours in a plane to audit bank accounts. At the time Xenoport was preparing for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. I was frank with the audit manager: I said I wanted exposure to initial public offering as I hadn’t been involved in it before.’

‘What I learned from the experience, besides the need to prove myself, was the American spirit of entrepreneurship. They make opportunities out of nothing. I also appreciated the diversity of people from different countries.’

Attitude is everything

‘One of my mentors, Dr Judy Dlamini, told me that attitude is everything. If you don’t like something, change it. And if you can’t change it, then change your attitude,’ she says.

‘You must be willing to do the ground work. When I come across entrepreneurs who are not even willing to put in the effort into a properly researched business plan I know they are not cut out for entrepreneurship.’

The Masisizane Fund provides loan financing from R500 000 and above in agribusiness, franchising as well as in supply chain and manufacturing. Besides funding SMMEs and partnering with them to be sustainable, there are instances where jobs have been saved and hope restored to rural and peri-urban economies.

‘WP Timbers, a wood manufacturer and one of the biggest employers in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, is one such example. The business was on sale due to the passing of its founder,’ confides Zizipho. ‘Thanks to collaboration between the Old Mutual Foundation, Masisizane Fund and its strategic partners, 136 jobs were retained through assisting Thabo Sikukula and his wife, Nox, with funding to acquire the business. Two years later the business employs 145 workers and services clients such as Boxer Build and Cash Build.’

Zizipho admits that juggling a flourishing career and a family can be really difficult: ‘I don’t always achieve a balance, it is about juggling the two (family and work) as long as I have communicated with my family in advance of the stressful times at work such that they are aware and are accommodating for that particular period.  The same applies at work, my team needs to know what’s happening in my life such that I am able to prioritise important family events as and when required, because family comes first, without them I am nothing.’


Identifying everyone’s strengths and giving the team the space to do their part. I always say we as the team, we are a puzzle. I identify which part of the puzzle everyone is and lead according to that and address any gaps accordingly where there are gaps, such that we all play our part in ensuring that the entire organisation (the puzzle) wins.  What’s important for me is to set the expectations clearly upfront, so that everyone plays their part and we all celebrate as a team when we’ve succeeded in achieving the organisation’s objectives.