Home Articles COVER STORY: Top CAs(SA) under 35

COVER STORY: Top CAs(SA) under 35

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As you can well imagine, it was a very tough decision for the judges with so many incredibly successful candidates. After a whole month of anticipating who the winner might be, we are very proud to finally make the grand announcement:

Winner: Gavin Lucas, lead founder and CEO of the Stor-Age Self Storage Group.

Runner-up –  Shiluba Mawela, Corporate Finance Officer of the JSE

Runner-up –  Gareth Olivier, Co-founder of CA Connect

Gavin Lucas

Best of the best

With his superb presentation skills and the enthusiasm of a young successful entrepreneur, it was Gavin Lucas, lead founder and CEO of the Stor-Age Self Storage Group, who finally won the hearts of the judges. And even when the judges drilled a bit deeper, he was able to back up his presentation with such a sound business basis that the judges were blown away. Gavin  is a man with a passion for developing property and says his customers are at the heart of their business.

“Seemingly without effort he did both the talk and the numbers. He managed to sell his business model to us on both the emotional and business levels in a way that was irresistible. This company and this young CA(SA) will go far. He is a worthy winner and has set a standard for the future that will be hard to match,” says John Robbie, 702 Radio host and one of the judges for the Top 35-under-35.

“Through his example he inspires other fellow trainee accountants to not just ‘complete articles’ but to think about their place in society post articles, whilst in articles,” adds Dineshrie Pillay. “Gavin’s business success is a shining example of how in-depth planning, systemisation, and creating a simple solution to a common problem can turn vision into reality.”

By now we are all well-acquainted with the fact that Gavin’s business opportunity came quite unexpectedly at the age of 24. Right in the midst of his second year of articles at KPMG in 2005, Gavin had an idea which literally ignited through light conversation over a braai. This led to starting a business with his dad and older brother – a start-up from scratch. And mere year later he was able to move straight from articles into full-time employment with the fledgling business. Now at the age of 33, the company has more than 370 employees and a portfolio value in excess of R1,5 billion and is well on its way to meeting its target of being a R2-billion, 40-property portfolio by 2015.

Many dream of starting their own business and wait for that perfect opportunity to come their way so they can take the plunge. But more often than not that “big moment” doesn’t always arrive in the package they anticipated and so their great business aspirations eventually dissolve into nothing but empty words.

“Making the most of the opportunities that we all have is very important,” says Gavin. “We all have them – some are just a little better than others at seeing them.”

As Gavin says, people tend to get fixated on looking for the “big” opportunity as opposed to collecting the low-hanging fruit. Invariably the person that has become accustomed to utilising the small opportunities is in a much better position to take advantage of the “big one” when it presents itself.

“I think that ‘innovation’ is a term that is often interpreted quite narrowly in society. People tend to think that you need to come up with a wonderfully innovative idea to be successful. This is simply not true. Innovation can be so much more. It can refer to a mind-set, a culture or an approach to doing business,” says Gavin.

Gavin has the following advice on launching your own successful business venture: “First, when starting a business, keeping it small to begin with is good. Large businesses take many years to build. Starting small is the way to go. If it’s a good business idea and you have the expertise to deliver, it will grow quickly and the momentum will build rapidly. Further to this, all start-up businesses consume vast amounts of cash in the early days. If you have the benefit of being able to start your business while still earning an income from salaried employment, then I would encourage you to follow this path.

“Second, take the plunge and just go for it. You will always find a reason to convince yourself that now is not the right time. But the longer you wait, the harder it will become. And finally, remember that in order to achieve anything meaningful in life, whatever it may be (personal or business), you will have to take on some element of risk. No matter what it is – everything involves an element of risk. It’s important to realise that risk in itself is not a bad thing, but risk which is not adequately planned for and managed – that’s a bad thing.

“Make no mistake, starting a business is tough – it takes an incredible amount of passion, commitment, dedication, perseverance and hard work.”

Gavin also believes that the advancement of entrepreneurs into the mainstream economy is vital and that our society, business and political leaders need to recognise that the free market is the best place to both create and sustain meaningful employment. “Together with changing a mind-set of assuming that the state can and should be the creator of sustainable new employment opportunities, people should realise that entrepreneurship lies at the heart of the free market,” he adds.

“The most important requirement is a culture of promoting entrepreneurship within society at large. This is a mind-set which needs to permeate all levels of society – homes, schools, tertiary education facilities, and government departments.”

Gavin attributes his success primarily to his education as a CA(SA) and describes articles as a “business finishing school” of sorts. He adds: “One arrives as a ‘rough pebble’ and walks out three years later as a much more refined individual from a commercial perspective.”

“What stuck out for me, was that Gavin embodied the CA(SA) values,” says Brett Tromp, CFO of Discovery Health and judge for the Top 35-under-35. “He has built a business using the skills and ethics learnt as a CA(SA) and has showed what a huge advantage a CA(SA) qualification can give you, not only in big business but in the grounding it gives you to start a business. I also enjoyed his social impact and ability to give back to society, which is an imperative for a successful business in South Africa.”

Two of Stor-Age’s four core values are sustainability and relevance – sustainability in this context being a reference to the fact that Stor-Age recognises that every decision or action taken today will have a direct impact on every decision or action which will be taken tomorrow or in the future. They encourage the sharing of new ideas and believe in preparing for tomorrow, today. In addition, they aim to be relevant as a business in the communities in which they operate, be relevant to their customers, and be relevant in the lives of their staff.

Stor-age is very much involved in the community. They make meaningful contributions locally, from supplying matric dance dresses for young women who cannot afford to buy their own to running community projects such as Create Happiness, It’s your turn, and the Santa Shoe Box Project.

They are passionate about seeing growth and development of staff at different levels throughout the organisation. With many of their staff members not having been able to receive a tertiary education, they have put in place a 15-module Learning and Development programme that equips them with skills which can be used not only within the organisation, but also at home and if they eventually move on to other employment.

“Underpinning our success are the four core values of excellence, sustainability, relevance and integrity,” says Gavin Lucas.

Shiluba Mawela

Why Giving Back is Important

The African continent remains plagued by development challenges. The World Bank estimates that of the one billion people currently living in Africa, the majority survive on less than one US dollar a day. These realities are often bleak, but I am optimistic about the progress that can be made when time and talent are invested in the continent’s development.

Giving back is more than just the act of giving. It involves taking a stance and getting involved. This requires that we direct our efforts collectively to better the lives of people of our generation and those of future generations. It is important that those who have been fortunate enough to have had opportunities and privileges get involved in creating solutions that can change the narrative of the continent. Ploughing back is simply service to the continent.

It’s easy to underestimate the tangible impact that can be made. A child, a family, or a community can be transformed by the simple acts of people who choose to get involved. In the three years I’ve have been involved with the Transitions Foundation, I have seen how some who were initially unable to stand in front of an audience and say their names, now have the courage to take the lead in conversations. Others, who didn’t think beyond the weekend’s skateboarding with friends, are now being interviewed for scholarships to study chemical engineering. When one receives a grateful email from a learner or their parents or feedback from a school, one realises how small acts of service can transform lives, communities and possibly – in time – also our nation.

Having grown up in Soshanguve, a township near Pretoria, I have experienced personally how education and other investments have given me access to unimaginable opportunities, changing the trajectory of my life.

I believe that we as professionals have unique skills and expertise that can be used to change society. Our knowledge and understanding of business can be a key driver for social progress. Our small efforts can unlock a world of opportunity on the continent.

“If not now, when? If not us, who?”

Gareth Olivier

Success in the Face of Adversity

One of the reasons that I love my job is that I get to work with some of the most remarkable students. Every day I interact with people who, due to their circumstances, shouldn’t have completed primary school and yet, are nigh on qualifying as chartered accountants.

When we started CA Connect in 2010 and subsequently partnered with Monash South Africa in 2013, it resulted in becoming the only private SAICA-accredited after-hours CTA in South Africa and none of us dreamed of the amazing lives we would become intertwined with.

In the almost five years since we started, we have worked with students who have chosen to rather  buy textbooks than food, mothers with three-month-old babies who are employed on a full-time basis and study between 10 pm and 6 am, men whose deepest wish is to become the first CA(SA) of the remote rural village where they grew up so that they could go back to change it for the better, and grandparents whose lifelong ambition, a year before they retire, is to qualify as CAs(SA); all situations that, had I not experienced first hand, I would say were unlikely and probably impossible.

It is amazing to see the culture that develops when you run a programme that brings together 320 students a year from all 15 SAICA-accredited universities in the country who are bent on becoming CAs(SA) despite their circumstances. These are hand-selected students who generally weren’t accepted into the CTA at their undergraduate university due to narrowly missing entrance requirements or those who, by force of circumstance, are not able to study on a full-time basis but who would like the educational support associated with full-time study and small classes characterised by genuine care. When these students come together, interact and share stories with each other about the trials and tribulations that they have faced. It creates what I can only describe as an unstoppable force of collective determination and, remarkably, the most positive, energetic and focused groups of students with which I have ever worked.

Many of us know CTA as one of the toughest years of study upon which to embark. When combined with tremendously unfavourable personal circumstances, I never fail to be astounded by the strength of the human spirit, of which these students are a special breed. It gives me true hope.

Alphonso (Alphie) Brand

Empowering the community

Operating in a small-town environment involves a lot of challenges, but along with the challenges come massive opportunities, but only if you are prepared to take risks and work hard. The most important thing that I have learned is that whatever you do must have a positive impact on the environment you operate in, being primarily the community. The sustainability of your businesses is directly dependent on the sustainability of the community.

In order for you to have success you need to take all your employees with you on that journey to success. The effect of empowering your employees has a direct empowering effect on their families, etc (paying forward). You need to get the increased wealth distributed throughout the community who then in turn will “invest” in your businesses.

You can have many businesses in a small-town environment, but you cannot have the attitude of keeping all the wealth to yourself! Support local and they will in turn give back to you. Together a small community can make a massive difference and create a brilliant environment and life for all.

Jaenrè Blignaut

Starting your own business … for the serial entrepreneur!

The seed …

If you’re sitting in your cubicle slaving away and you’re thinking…there must be something more out there, this is for you. I believe that one needs to live one’s  dreams or die trying …

So if you really have a passion to start your own venture, then it’s time to start planning.

Plan before you take the plunge!

Failure to plan is planning to fail. So before you go all out and quit your job to start that business, you will be well advised to set up a strategic long-term plan and then break it down to its mechanics.

Your plan should include a vision of what you wish to achieve, the resources required to achieve the vision, goal-oriented action plans and strategies, a budget, etc.

My advice would be to plan for the worst and consider if those risks are manageable, and if so then take the leap of faith.

The unforeseen pitfalls – operational business risk

So you’ve started your business and your client base is expanding and your business has built up a good reputation in the industry. Now hold on tight as in life, things never go according to plan, no matter how well you’ve planned.

You will come to be faced with rising overheads; hardware failures (yes, that second-hand switch board you bought at the onset will eventually cease working); the cost of expanding the business will rear its head in the form of bigger premises, more staff, more advanced software; the cost of compliance with legislation and to remain accredited, measured in the form of time as well as money; all of these will impact on your available working capital and other scarce resources.

The reward

After a long week at the office, having just paid VAT and salaries you get in your car after locking the office and making sure all the lights and air conditioners are turned off and you make your way home smiling … It’s satisfying too know that you do what you love; can provide for your family, employ 15 employees who in turn sustain 15 households; and you have a sound business serving it’s clients on the foundation of integrity …

Ismail Lambat

Contributing to the South African economy

On completion of my articles at PwC I was at a crossroads in determining which industry to join, as my aspiration has always been to work in an environment in which the skills and qualifications that I had acquired could be utilised for a greater purpose than simply generating an income.

Back in 2008, Eskom had commenced the capital expansion programme and there was a negative media frenzy around Eskom’s lack of adequate planning for new infrastructure and skepticism around its ability to create capacity to meet the growth in demand at the time. This apparent crisis appealed to me as a great opportunity to develop as a business leader and to contribute to the macroeconomic success of the country.

Being part of the complex and exciting  solution that the country required and not assuming the role of an armchair critic has been motivation enough for me to be in my seventh year at Eskom. This is one of the few organisations in the country where the efforts of those in a corner office directly impact on the betterment or disruption of lives of all South Africans.

As a chartered accountant, I believe we have a responsibility to be proactive and influence the decisions impacting the country. We are also fortunate that our government is amenable to collaboration with professionals, the private sector and any institution or individual which aims to support the world-class development plans and targets that we have set as a nation. Whilst we revel in the democracy and liberation that our predecessors have striven for, we as the youth need to be mindful of becoming complacent and should start creating a history of our own, adorned by innovation in manufacturing and technology, advancements in academia, and double-digit GDP growth through exploiting our competitive advantage in minerals and resources.

We also need to continue to nurture talent by ensuring that we maintain our reputation of creating world icons in politics, sport and the media. The ultimate questions we as the leaders in business need to ask ourselves are: What exactly are we waiting for? Can we afford not to make an impact? Are we prepared to live our lives with later regrets of what we could have achieved if we just took the initial step?

A wise man once said, “Now is the time”, and I tend to agree.

Jurie Bester

Collaborative working relationships

Senior managers and unionised workers can work harmoniously together – yes that is a fact and not some illusion! It’s easier said than done, but by focusing on the future and forgetting about the past this can be achievable.

It was quite an eye-opener moving from a professional auditing environment (Grant Thornton) to a local manufacturing concern. It was a complete mind shift and the challenges were great, but working as an article clerk for a few years taught me a few priceless lessons. Apart from the academic and technical skills I acquired, I learned to work hard, stay humble and follow my ethics and principles very closely. Since coming into this environment, I have tried to put myself in the shoes of the factory workers and asked myself: Would I want to give my best under those streneous conditions and minimal pay rates?  Maybe … or maybe not.

I realised that workers need to be incentivised and should enjoy work, as they spend 66% of their day at work. It doesn’t make sense not to enjoy your work and one could be much more productive – physically and emotionally.We have since introduced soccer days when  the workers wear their respective supporter jerseys, and it became quite a thing.

Currently we are investigating a system whereby if the scores on factory lines (garment output) are exceeding a cetain percentage of target/SAM, then workers will be incentivised on a certain percentage of turnover. The system is much more complicated but hopefully we can achieve this soon.

At the end of the day one wants to provide employment and achieve the most efficient and effective working environmnet. You have to compare breakeven and profitability with minimum labour rates and local efficencies. Local procurement is always the first choice, but one has to make sure the product mix regarding supply and delivery is correct in order to achieve this and accommodate local production. Having clear goals and results enables one to communicate this to all interested parties. This enables people to understand and respond positively.

Another area is obviously the unions one has to deal with. Emotions never work when dealing with these kind of things and one has to understand where the worker comes from as well as the union leaders. Clear and transparent communication and regular meetings seem to solve most of the problems encountered. We have had a good working relationship with SACTWU and involve them with our ideas and historical results. Showing scores and comparing with other countries to obtain a “happy medium” within the legal limits incorporated by the NBC.

Our main goal is common – achieve a profitable and happy working environment to save jobs and increase local production. We live in a beautiful country and should embrace that!

Lauren Berrington

Become a woman executive without changing your personality

Sought-after expertise, in-depth knowledge of the subject matter at hand, emotional intelligence and a strong business acumen have positioned me to survive and be successful in a man’s world. Nothing replaces hard work and respect has to be earned. Do not expect any favours as a woman, as you will just be disappointed. Eleanor Roosevelt advised women to “grow skin like a rhinoceros” and I would add: develop a sense of humour and dress well.

Cultivate a strong appetite for knowledge by reading and exposing yourself to experts in their field of specialisation which will assist you in holding your own and articulating your views with authority in a male-dominated boardroom, or a social and business environment.

Take yourself out of your comfort zone – situationally and experientially, deliberately and often, as this will force you to grow and develop in areas that you previously may have been uncomfortable in and you will find that you can then speak and act with confidence in any circumstance without feeling intimidated.

Make an extra effort to familiarise yourself with subject matter that does not naturally appeal to a woman’s intellect and which male company has usually (emphasis on usually) dominated, for example global political and financial affairs, disruptive technology, sport, and the current business landscape.

Women bring grace, intuition, sensitivity and style to the workplace and we should not neglect these strengths that are sometimes erroneously perceived as weaknesses. Partnering with management in a trusted business advisor capacity has allowed me to be more relevant, value-adding and strategically aligned to management in my assurance type-role as a woman. Servant-based leadership and humility are key to any successful story – as a man or a woman. Advice I would offer, and not only to women, is to surround yourself with great minds and discuss great things.

Define your purpose in life, create a personal vision and dovetail it into your business goals and aspirations, which you should allow to become the driving force in all your accomplishments. Set aside quality time to reflect on and evaluate the progress in your achievements and then give priority to meeting the needs of others – the only path to fulfilment after all is said and done is by helping others achieve their goals and aspirations which will then establish the platform for you to achieve and be successful – “make others successful and you will automatically become successful”.

As women, we should uplift and encourage fellow women to stand up and be counted.  We should inspire them to be the difference they want to see. We should freely offer support and mentorship and applaud the accolades other women have achieved.

Do not compromise your value and belief system – ever. Act with honesty and integrity no matter what the consequence is and command respect from subordinates and peers by being ethical, fair and professional in your behaviour wherever you may find yourself.

Lorenzo Cardoso

Untapping the talent

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” – Steve Jobs. A leader of today’s greatest challenge is to provide their staff with the ability to be able to explore a problem and allow that individual or team to come up with a solution that considers the overall picture and how that decision may/may not impact the business.

In other words, not thinking in isolation but rather to collaborating with all departments of a business to understand how what appears to be a simple decision in their area may have a significant/material impact on another aspect of the business that was not previously considered.

At SA Taxi we live this culture: we encourage our staff to collaborate with their direct line mangers/executives, peers and subordinates to present solutions to business issues/practices that will result in a more efficient manner in which SA Taxi performs a certain function and ultimately creates a more sustainable and succinct business model.

In addition, at SA Taxi we run an innovation competition throughout the organisation where we promote all staff to come up with an idea, take that idea and through collaboration with other business partners conceptualise the idea, formulate a business plan for the design and development of the idea, and finally embed the idea into the normal business practice of SA Taxi. Without teamwork, consultation and collaboration no idea can be successfully delivered. Our programme has seen some outstanding innovations being deployed into the business, from specific workshop tools being patented in an individual’s name to a media business that generates revenue for both the taxi owner and SA Taxi.

It’s the combination of a learning culture and providing our staff with a platform to develop and deliver new ideas that allows our SA Taxi team to be passionate about their jobs and acknowledge how importance their contribution is to the success of SA Taxi as a business.

Cuan Chelin

Advice for young entrepreneurs

What an honour it is to get to share some of my experiences. I have learned and borrowed from many of the great business and leadership gurus while often having had to learn these personally, the hard way …

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” – I remember learning this early on, from my parents in relation to running races. However, there is no doubt that this holds so 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 alot 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.

“An idea without execution is worthless” – We all have ideas and many brilliant ones. I hear great ideas every day, but unless you get down and execute them, they are  really worthless.

So go out and do it! Now.

Joey Lin

Cultural diversity

Being a Chinese immigrant of Taiwanese origin growing up in South Africa before the end of apartheid has been interesting to say the least.

I recently attended a reunion with some classmates from my old school and they reminded me of the first day I showed up at school and how they thought I was some kind of exotic animal. My classmates never knew any Asians other than those in Kung Fu movies, and thus through most of my childhood I was labelled  Jackie Chan or Jet Lee although they are 30 years older than me (and I am way more good-looking than both of them …). It was pretty clear that Kung Fu movies featured way too often on SABC.

My appointment to the board was more due to the fact that I’m a CA(SA) than Chinese, making my SAICA annual fees worth it! However, being Chinese has its advantages for Groot Constantia (GC). As tourism has become a key focus for GC over the last few years, especially from Chinese tourists, I have done some market research on potential buyers, researched Chinese wine producers, translated labels, dealt with Chinese-speaking buyers, and obtained online feedback from travel blogs.

A long-term goal of mine is to write Groot Constantia’s Chinese Wikipedia entry. Since I am able to read Mandarin Chinese, I have frequented Chinese travel blogs to get some feedback and insights from Chinese travellers. One especially interesting insight was of one traveller who commented on how easy it would be for him to steal the Chinese porcelain displayed in our museum: I quickly got on the phone and rectified the situation.

Diversity is a lot more than just race: people are different by background, gender, culture, and language for example. Diversity is what makes this world an interesting place. As we have just celebrated Heritage Day, let’s all embrace who we are, where we come from, celebrate our differences and use our uniqueness to contribute to society!

Cobus Grove

Advantages of a technical background

Up to a year ago my career was focused on becoming an IFRS advisory specialist. The decision to change this path into a general financial management role was daunting and took me out of a well-entrenched comfort zone.

Once in the new role as a CFO, I realised that my previous technical experience provided numerous advantageous that assisted me to transition into the new role.

More specifically, I found that in technical consulting I was exposed to the manner in which top South African management viewed and structured strategic deals. This gave me a different perspective on how to deal with an entity that has a local and international footprint. The exposure to these individuals also allowed me to gain perception on how they dealt with stressful situations and conducted themselves in the boardroom, which assisted me greatly, especially with it being my first time to participate in board meetings as a decision-maker.

Technical also instilled very useful skills like attention to detail. The preparation and approval of the financial results of a listed company is fairly demanding as every single line published will be scrutinised by shareholders and regulators and therefore leaves no margin for error. Technical provided me the skill to focus a review to minimise errors and obviously enhance compliance with IFRS and regulatory requirements.

Finally, technical exposed me to wonderful training opportunities. This experience allowed me to communicate with ease and confidence in and outside my organisation. Shareholder presentations that could be perceived as being overwhelming was used as an opportunity for me to indicate to shareholders the level of knowledge that I have obtained of our entity and to build confidence in my ability to safeguard their investment.

Rayna Dolphin

Building self-confidence

The majority of self-confident people did not start out that way but have over time worked on themselves to overcome their self-doubt and their fears. In my profile I mentioned how my past experiences led me to having to build my self-confidence and it’s something that I’m continuously working on. I wanted to share a few of things that I have learnt and worked for me so far.

Self-awareness

We are often our own worst enemies and our own fears and doubts hinder our self-confidence. Spend time alone and reflect on the source of your self-doubts, write them down and identify the events or experiences or fears that make you question or doubt yourself. Then consider whether any of your fears have ever materialised. Most have probably not.

Furthermore, identify your strengths and weaknesses and find ways of managing your weaknesses either by getting tools or seeking assistance from others to avoid them stifling your progress.

Planning and preparation

Plan and prepare for meetings, projects and big events. There is nothing worse than the horrible feeling of going to write a test that you haven’t studied for or having to go on a date with someone you know absolutely know about. Similarly, when going to meet clients not knowing much about them or the objective of your meetings. Preparing for meetings ahead of time including doing research on the topic and the people you are going to meet with will make you feel more confident. You’ll have an idea of what to expect, who you’re dealing with and can even plan good questions to ask on the topic. With the Internet there is so much information available, it’s not difficult to achieve.

Reflect on your past successes

When in doubt reflect on your past experiences, your success and victories in overcoming trial and tribulations. The path towards a CA(SA) is not an easy one and both trainee and qualified CAs(SA) can recall the late nights and nerve-wracking tests and exams. The fact that you’ve come this far is a testament of your ability to persevere, work hard and achieve your goals. We need frequent reminders of our strengths, skills and abilities to help us feel good about ourselves and dissolve the moments of self-doubt. If you’re not good at doing this yourself, then surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and make you feel good.

Remember to be confident but not arrogant. The more you know the more you realise how much you actually don’t know. Ask questions and never stop learning.

Jana Duvenage

Ambition …

My ambition is to be distinctive; to be recognised for having providing the quality services that help build trust and confidence; to contribute to building a better working world, because all the work I do and every interaction will help clients fulfil their purpose; to enjoy market-leading growth with competitive earnings; and to have the best relationships with all our clients and other stakeholders.

Tomorrow’s world will be much different and also, much better in many ways. We grow great by our dreams and all successful men and women I have seen are dreamers. It’s not always easy but we have to realise that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My vision is to be the greatest dreamer and working hard towards each dream and making it reality.

The mission of our company, Donna HD Chartered Accountants, is to serve clients with excellence through continual relationships and our vision is to be known as “the small audit firm that delivers greater than expected”.

Sapna Galal

Attitude is everything in articles

At the very beginning, a decision had to be made as to which firm I would be serving my articles with, and as many of us know, that isn’t where the decision-making ends. Thereafter I was faced with the much more important choice: that of selecting the sector within PwC where I would gain the experience I needed to shape my career.

This is when I decided to make the “brave” call and chose to spend these critical years in the metals and mining sector. This attitude was, and remains, the fundamental difference which made my training years the most valuable, allowing personal growth and exponential learning.

Contrary to popular belief and in comparison to my peers of varying firms, my training years were some of the best of my working life. I quickly discovered my own personal style, an unrivalled knack of problem-solving and the ability to manage conflict. This provided a solid foundation for more pressing tasks as I continued climbing the corporate ladder. The skills of self-discipline, tolerance and dealing with people were some of the few that PwC Metals and Mining allowed me to nurture. My positive attitude filled with optimism towards articles and the choices I made led to me enjoying my training years, whilst becoming an important stepping stone in my career.

An open mind, the flexibility to adapt and willingness to learn is often underrated when approaching articles. It must be remembered that this vital part forms the backbone of every young CA(SA)’s career. The blood, sweat and tears spent at university do not adequately prepare one for the challenges of the working world. Articles bridge the gap between academic learning and practical application, and cannot be underestimated in the role it plays to build your character and indeed, your career.

Peterson Khumalo

Overcoming failure

The challenge of overcoming failure mainly lies with not having the word failure in your vocabulary at all. If you believe it and embrace it, then you can do it! Business requires time, patience, nurturing and a lot of sacrifices. There is no proven formula to succeed in business, but there is a proven formula to succeed in anything you touch which has everything to do with your attitude and being a person of principle.

Another crucial in business is not to start it with the intention of making money but rather to change our society and create a better South Africa. Money will be the side effect of the good deeds you do. Money is liquid but the impact on other people’s lives is permanent.

In times of stress and anxiety I will always sit back and fantasise about the future and how wonderful it would be across the river and touching the lives of many South Africans. That always gives me excitement and I get rejuvenated and more ambitious to keep going and stop at nothing.

Thomas Kgokolo

Taking care of the community

Growing up in a poor home without basic resources such as electricity made me quickly realise that I had to work harder than most to improve the situation at home. I also noticed that the problem was not unique to my family as other families around were experiencing similar challenges. Lack of finances and financial illiteracy was the major contributor to this situation and this fuelled the desire to study and work as an accountant.

Being chairperson of the audit committee at the Mineworkers’ Provident Fund  provides me with the opportunity to collaborate with the fund’s management to ensure that mineworkers are financially well looked after, before and during retirement. In 2014, the fund won The Best Practices Industry Awards Gold Standards Certificate for communication strategy at the IRFA (Institute of Retirement Funds Africa) awards.

As the CFO for the Competition Commission of South Africa and Financial Officer for the African Competition Forum, I contribute strategically to the implementation of competition laws locally and in the rest of Africa. The purpose of competition law is to ensure that consumers have access to competitive prices and product choices and to promote the economic welfare of all Africans.

Working in the public sector allows me to contribute to a greater good of South Africa and requires one to have a thick skin. What keeps me motivated is the following question: “How can I say my family is liberated while the majority of South Africans struggle financially?”

The public sector is in need of more chartered accountants in senior financial positions to move the country forward.

Shabeer Khan

Why select the state as an employer?

When I joined government in February 2013, I was given ten reasons by most people why I should not join government. After 18 months as the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Trade and Industry, I would strongly recommend CA(SA) graduates to select government as an employer of choice. This is my story …

The sporting worlds mirrored the change of politics in South Africa and a sense of unity enveloped our country. I realised the positive impact that just one event, one team and even a single person could have, and from that moment on I knew that whatever career path I would follow, I wanted to contribute to our country in some way. Having been in audit and working at the Auditor-General of South Africa for many years made me understand the value that a CA(SA) can bring to the public sector. The Auditor-General has, over the past few years, attributed the slow improvement in the audit outcomes to the critical skills and capacity shortages facing most finance departments in government. My career choice in the public sector allowed me to embrace the challenges in the public sector whilst at the same time make a difference in the lives of fellow South Africans and improve the country.

Here are the ten reasons why I encourage CA(SA) graduates to select government as an employer of choice:

The sense of fulfilment and reward one gains by knowing that the financial decisions made, impact, influence and enhance not only the economy but the lives of fellow South Africans.

Make a difference by improving service delivery and ensure better essential services to the public.

Bring about change through innovation by providing guidance in policies.

Contribute towards the planning and budgeting of

R1 trillion each year.

The diverse exposure one receives includes governance, risk, technology and internal controls.

The accounting practices and standards of CAs result in improved reporting in the public sector and strengthen governance and internal controls and ensure better audit outcomes.

The valuable business acumen of CAs enables one to see the big picture of government and the importance of how the key drivers of the day to day business relate to each other and work together to achieve government’s targets.

Assist in the battle of fraud and corruption.

The salaries, benefits and opportunities in government are competitive and fair.

The goal at the end of the day is not about profit, but rather about the dignity and self-esteem of millions of South Africans.

Devin Sinclair

Broaden your horizons with an MBA

Obtaining an MBA from Cambridge was an incredibly valuable experience that allowed me to broaden my global business knowledge, exposed me to a wide range of people and perspectives, developed my management skills, and served as a stepping stone to an international career. It is impossible to put a value on the contacts made and networks formed, which will no doubt hold me in good stead for many years to come.

In my experience, people do an MBA for many different reasons. As a CA(SA) you already have much of the business and financial grounding that many people look to obtain from doing an MBA. Given this foundation, I chose to focus on developing my wider knowledge in areas such strategy, marketing and organisational behaviour, and to explore business areas such as e-commerce and venture capital that I’d had an interest in, but had not yet had the chance to be exposed to.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of an MBA lies in the development of your management and soft skills. A combination of the management courses done, and the experience and learning gained from working with a diverse group of people from different industries, countries and cultural backgrounds (150 people from 41 countries in my case), serves as an excellent basis for development and also teaches you a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses.

For any CA(SA) with senior management aspirations, or anyone looking to broaden their horizons in either a business or geographic context, a full-time MBA is an exceptional experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Celeste Hendricks

Doctors of the financial world

As I always say, CAs(SA) are the doctors of the financial world. Being a CA(SA) opens so many doors for one: if you can think it, you can be it. And for me, this was being the very successful entrepreneur and co-director of our business I am today. Determination and ambition were my ingredients in my recipe to successfully becoming a CA(SA) at the age of 23.

On your way to becoming a CA(SA) you gain a remarkable amount of knowledge and experience that no one can take from you and increases the possibility to succeed in any career undertaken. In addition, people respect, trust and look up to the profession.

Mojalefa Molete

Reach for the stars

As a young boy from the dusty township of Itsoseng I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be here today. I want to send the elevator back down to children who never in their wildest dreams believe that they can reach the stars. This will be done through a holistic approach of financial assistance for studies, life coaching and mentorship focused on sharpening the entrepreneurial mind.

The day I leave this earth I want to be used up with no potential left. Every new experience brings about new knowledge and with new knowledge comes the hunger to achieve. I don’t know all the experiences I will encounter in my life but I know that with every experience and new piece of knowledge I want to achieve X, until there are no more new experiences for me.

As a company we want to branch out into more than just auditing and accounting work and we have some great ideas in the pipeline that are sure to differentiate us from the crowd.  We are actively working towards the company being one of the top five auditing and accounting firms, with branches in all the major cities in South Africa in the next decade. For all of this to happen we need to burn the midnight oil.

My advice to all young upcoming professionals:

Plan your career with external assistance.

Put pen to paper and write down what and why you want to achieve. Stick it on your fridge door so you are constantly reminded of it.

Go for a psychometric assessment.

Update your CV regularly. This is a great tool to make sure you are still on track and not stagnating.

Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Every experience adds to your learning and can be drawn on in the future.

Just do it! The support from family, friends and mentors will drive you to get over the line, but you alone can run the race. Take responsibility for your own career development now!

Matshepo More

My vision for PIC

My ambition and vision for the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) is to see the PIC invest its funds in the rest of Africa, not just some parts as it is at the moment. It should play the trailblazer in raising the continental growth, to at least double of what we are currently recording. It should be at the forefront of industrialising the continent, by crowding not only capital from other long-term funds, but also traditional private sector investors, to deal with the structural imbalances that are holding back the continent, such as infrastructure, skills, education, unemployment and poverty.

I would also like to see this African jewel compete with reputable and best asset managers in the developed world. It is work in progress for us but we are getting there. My desire is to be part of the team that steers this ship forward to its desired destination, in light of the above objectives for the continent. These objectives are a mirror image of our aspirations in the domestic market.

Personally I would like to advance in my career either by making a meaningful contribution to the advancement of black chartered accountants by ensuring that they are well trained and get the necessary exposure within the PIC. I would also like to influence and inspire aspiring chartered accountants through my work, particularly young black women.

The success of the PIC should speak volumes to those who are watching and following us because it would mean that we are doing something right which is worth emulating. Preeminent here, is the underlying philosophy to serve. The success of the PIC has a deep long-term bearing on how the rest of the economy performs going forward. The reverse is also true.

I would like to contribute to the development and advancement of this country in future maybe, five years from now in another position of influence to make a difference in the development and advancement of our country and its people. I am particularly passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people, because they are the future of this country.

Wikus Lategan

Opportunities that open for a CA(SA)

Becoming a CA(SA) is a small step getting closer to the top, and on the path to being “successful”: being a CA(SA) gives you credibility. The “brand” opens up a network of people, opportunities, and a platform to do business from. It also gives you the comfort of a world-renowned and respected qualification to always fall back on.

What people don’t tell you is that making a success of business is not about a qualification, or experience, or ability, but about you. It’s about whether you can lead without taking over, it’s about honesty, work ethic, being a good leader, being focused and adaptable. It’s about the ability to work harder than anyone out there. You must always look at the bright side and be able to see a solution and opportunity in every challenge, and make the best of it.

Education is key. It affects people by opening them up to new ideas, thus broadening their thinking; in fact, it teaches you to think. It changes what you believe. Education improves lives and minds and offers us more opportunities and possibilities. I am a firm believer that our country can sort out most of its problems by fixing the education system first, and I believe it should be the task of all CAs(SA) to assist in resolving this challenge with the means that have been put in their hands by the CA(SA) qualification.

I also want to emphasise respect. Respect all people and treat all people the same. Speak and respect the cleaner like you do the CEO of the biggest company. Respect other people and they will respect you, and you will go so much further.

And finally: Never stop enjoying life!

Jacques Lubbe

Planning an epic career

A year of meticulous planning and race-specific training goes into preparing for the Cape Epic, Iron Man or any ultra-endurance race. Before your first training ride, you sit down with your team and family down to agree what you want to achieve and, equally important, why you want to achieve it. This is imperative as it will determine how you prepare for the race.

A baseline fitness assessment (VO2 max or similar) will assist in developing a tailor-made training programme to achieve your goals. The programme is divided into base, build and peak phases. At the end of each phase you are retested to ensure you are on track. Your pre-race planning addresses fuelling strategy, logistics, sharpening up technical skills, as well as psychological preparation.

This is what it takes to get ready for an eight-day mountain bike race, yet when it comes to our careers spanning more than 50% of our lives, we fail to apply the same diligence.

At the end of articles I was uncertain whether to stay in the profession or enter industry. I consulted a career counsellor and what followed was similar to preparing for a race. We started with what and why and defined the skill sets required to achieve it. A 12-year plan was developed to acquire these skills, consisting of four three-year phases.

I remember leaving that session knowing exactly what needed to be done. What transpired next was a culmination of hard work, determination, sacrifice and a bit of luck. It took me seven years to achieve my goal of becoming CFO of a listed mining company.

Eben Mare

Advice on articles

Three years is a long time in today’s business world. It is a vital period of time that can see a business turn around or fail.  It is also the same amount of time one spends on quite a trying step in your CA career: articles.

I’m fortunate to have met quite a few aspiring CAs(SA) embarking on the first steps of their career and realised that there is a big theme that these businessmen and businesswomen have in common: an abundance of ambition but not a lot of clarity as to how to satiate that thirst.

Use your three years to grow your business acumen and gain clarity, focus on your clients and colleagues, their behaviours, their skills that make them good or bad at what they do – make your technical knowledge your own and add your own personality for seasoning. Figure out what complements your abilities in terms of work and adjust your expectations. The moment you are clear on your chosen career path – keep that in mind daily and augment that view with objective input from those around you.

Be patient, pay your dues, be consistent, cultivate introspection and don’t forget to have a life, because your qualification will only ever be a part of your life and should never be your life.

Gugu Mtetwa

Skills shortage: an opportunity for South Africa

In South Africa the unemployment rate stands at 25% of the labour force (and 35% using the extended unemployment definition). In addition to the unemployment challenge, the country faces a skills shortage. As per the information from Statistics South Africa of the 75% employed workforce 25% is skilled labour, 46% semi-skilled and 29% low-skilled.

Research done by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in the UK shows a positive relationship between higher education and skills and a country’s GDP growth. The empirical evidence clearly supports the assertion that human capital embodied in higher education and skills strengthen economic growth prospects. Therefore the country’s skills shortage can be seen as an opportunity for economic growth. The focus needs to be not only to increase employment, but to increase the percentage of skilled labour.

There is little doubt that recent GDP growth has been well below potential. As per the National Development Plan, “South African employers spend too little on training their staff and investing in their long-term potential.”

The chartered accountancy profession brings diverse skills including leadership and management skills, which are sought after. As leaders in each of our companies we need to drive higher investment in training employees and encourage continuous personal development. Highly skilled accountants can contribute more than low-skilled workers to effective financial planning, quality decision-making, financial management, managing rapid change, and identification of risks and opportunities. Therefore there is an opportunity for the profession to play a significant role in being part of the leadership of state-owned companies or municipalities and sharing such skills, including at board level. Both the private and public sector will need to have common goals which align with the national priorities.

Companies also need to invest more in innovation in products, services and technology. Continued advances in technological innovation and the production of new knowledge are critical to growth and development.

At an individual level we can each mentor at least one student, guide them in choosing their subjects wisely at school level, and guide them in their choice of higher education. With the over          33 000 CAs in the country we can make a difference in our country’s GDP. We can each contribute towards the country’s economic development.

Vianca Pretorius

The value of mentoring

When I look back and reflect, I realise the benefits of having a mentor throughout my career. I was privileged to have David Reuben, head of Audit at Grant Thornton Johannesburg, as my mentor. Out in the real world, accounting is very much about relationship-building and people skills. Building networks and looking for opportunities are a big part of our work – and David taught me that side of the profession.

For all the young professionals out there, I want to emphasise that it doesn’t matter if there is a formal or informal mentoring programme in your firm, it is your responsibility to identify a leader in your firm that speaks the same language as you, that is your “go to person” when you have questions or when you need input throughout your journey.

I believe a mentor relationship is a win-win situation for both parties, and for young professionals it is important to realise that companies are not only looking for age and experience, but skill and passion are also important factors that have to be taken into consideration. As a young professional you can bring a lot of skill to the table. Mentors can boost your career development by providing feedback and encouragement, but more importantly sharing lessons learned, and in turn you can spark new ideas that you believe can make a difference in the firm. That is exactly how my learning and development model, still in operation today, came on board. I had an idea that I shared with my mentor, and he helped me to take it to the next level. An idea that became a reality, that I am still proud of today.

Gugu Nxiweni

Let us build a caring nation

Annually, on the 18th of July, South Africans give their time towards positively impacting on the lives of fellow citizens. This day triggers young and old, rich and debt trapped, employer and employee towards a new realism of collaboration, sacrifice, unity of purpose and nation-building. As a nation, we aim to live up to Madiba’s vision of a caring society, even if just for one day.

Even after our day’s sacrifice, the stark realism of the remaining 364 days confronts us. Many lives end prematurely through murder, disease and hunger. Education levels of poor black children are a ticking time bomb for our future economy. Child-headed households have become part of the new normal. Many poor families roam our urban streets, confronting the fear of death on a daily basis. Unemployment and inequality continue to erode the social fabric of the new South Africa.

I gave two years as a newly qualified CA(SA) towards serving the community of Motherwell in Port Elizabeth. The return on my social investment was astonishing. I gained new skills – governance, strategy, planning, communication, etc – that propelled my career forward. I proudly contributed towards building the skills of those who dedicate their lives to serving others – my own little contribution towards an Ubuntu-based professional and leadership ethos.

As caring professionals, we need to lead a new type of collective benevolence within our profession. Indeed, we have an opportunity to further this message of compassion and caring. Perhaps time is nigh for us to introduce a one-year “community service”, where CAs(SA) can give towards serving our communities. We could serve in NGOs, PBOs, CBOs and the like. We could even give our skills towards supporting social entrepreneurs and new ventures. Together, we could be a catalyst that ignites sustainable impact. Together, we could “give forward” and make a difference!

It remains up to us – you and me – to make a difference!

Werner Swanepoel

Applying your skills in various fields

No number of lectures on financial instruments or deferred tax could have prepared me for what I have seen in the clinical side of healthcare. As accountants, we are not trained to stare down an open wound while convincingly holding back that queasy feeling; what it does equip us with is a very effective way of thinking and problem-solving that I believe is unique to our profession.

Even though the subject matter we are exposed to on our way to qualifying as CAs(SA) cannot prepare us for each and every industry, it does equip us with a unique problem-solving engine that is moulded by countless hours of staring at complex activity-based costing and deferred tax calculations. These require a level of problem-solving that, in my opinion, has become the trump card of our profession.

As CAs(SA) we don’t know everything, but I do believe that we are taught during our years at univarsity and articles to be able to deal with any problem (whether financial or not) that comes our way. We are taught to effectively analyse risk and to keep track of the big picture while processing vast amounts of detail. It is this skill that I believe has elevated the CA(SA) brand – the ability to make sense of perceived chaos.

My main responsibility is no longer financial accounting or reporting, but I still use these every day.

Cindy Mc Kay

Take that risk!

As a bean counter, I have been trained to limit risk to a minimum. Always do a risk assessment first, put as much control as possible in place, and then still prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This was my biggest challenge to overcome when I decided to start my own practice. I overcame the fear of the unknown through risk analyses and planning. Your business can only be as successful as its concept plan and cashflow forecast, if you don’t set goals you don’t know what to expect or aim for.

I did a lot of soul searching and reflection on advice I had received during my career as employee. The words that stood out the most was “always stay relevant”, therefore I created a diverse practice that is still evolving every day. We actively seek new opportunities all the time, to ensure we are the preferred professional service provider to our clients. That said, be cautious not to be a jack of all trades and master of none, as the professional service industry is cut throat and errors could make or break your reputation.

Make sure you enjoy what you do every day and that you remind yourself of the reasons why you started this venture in the first place for when the going gets though

Abed Tau

Empower through employment

My dream is to be an employment catalyst in South Africa; this is partly driven by my dream to empower my fellow man, however largely because it’s what South Africa needs. To be able to really create a sustainable difference in the lives of ordinary South Africans, one needs to teach people how to fish rather than just handing them the fish. The latter is not sustainable in any economy.

Youth unemployment is at a record high and youngsters are turning to other means to stay alive and relevant, some of which include crime and begging. We are losing an incredible amount of talent to the streets and to crime and it is important that we all accept a simple truth; the government cannot solve unemployment by themselves; no administration in the world can.

It is further something to note that the private sector also cannot create all the jobs the country needs, which leaves SMME and entrepreneurial activity. It is imperative that we, the youth, begin to adopt a spirit of entrepreneurship and begin to create value by starting small sustainable businesses that have the ability to scale and compete on a global scale.

If we use the socio-economic multiplier for lives impacted by a job, one can establish that one job contributes to five lives, thus five more people have a chance to go to school, five more people get to eat, and five more people can change five more lives. Thus the easiest way to affect 500 lives is to create 100 jobs.

Bonolo Ramokhele

Entrepreneurs are vital

Entrepreneurs and small, medium and micro enterprises are the lifeblood of any economy, as evidenced by the statistics in South Africa and other parts of the world.

According to a recent Quarterly Labour Force survey on SMMEs, they contribute 52% to 57% respectively to the GDP of South Africa,  provide 61% of the jobs in the country and are a provider of first-time work opportunities. Entrepreneurs and SMMEs are going to be vital in ensuring that the government’s National Development Plan’s goal of creating 11 million jobs by 2030 is realised.

There are however challenges faced by entrepreneurs and SMMEs including access to finance, skills and training, the regulation burden and so forth. According to an SBP survey SMMEs spend on average eight days a month dealing with red tape ranging  from SARS to labour compliance. The 2014/15 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report which measures competitiveness of 144 countries in the world also reflects the fact that South Africa is overregulated when it comes to business.

In addition SMMEs rely on outsiders to solve skills issues in their businesses and thus there are gaps in terms of what business requires and the skills base in the businesses. This is something I noted when giving a lecture on financial management at an SMME summit organised by Unisa and the Tshwane Economic Development Agency. This skills gap definitely contributes to SMMEs failing within the first five years of operation.

These issues and more have necessitated the creation of bodies such as the Black Business Council (BBC) which through its affiliates covers businesses and professionals in construction, mining, retail, hawkers, accountants and so forth. The BBC’s main goal is to bring the previously disadvantaged into the mainstream economy and create industrialists. This is the only way Africans will gain their independence and dignity: by producing and consuming what they produce and have homegrown multinationals.

My role at the BBC has been working on youth affairs and being a coordinator of the task team to formally set up the BBC Youth since. The BBC Youth caters for members under the age of 35 and coordinates opportunities from parastatals such as Transnet and private companies to members of the affiliates. We help entrepreneurs with access to finance and markets. This ensures that youth-owned SMMEs get a piece of the South African economy instead of being at the periphery.

Mergan Naidoo

On leadership

A fundamental part of leadership is mastering your trade and business. I find that all good leaders have this in common. As for chartered accountants, inherently we are masters of our trade but we also need to be masters of our business.

Understand your business! A considerable amount of my time is spent analysing the business and communicating with colleagues to understand what is going on not only in our business but also with regard to regulators, suppliers and competitors. This enables you not just to present figures and reports but to take those numbers and effect meaningful change in the business. Confidence is not an inherent ability; it is built on planning and having a solid understanding of the subject matter. Confidence allows your colleagues and staff to have trust and faith in your leadership.

Effective leaders are efficient communicators. Unfortunately, this is not something that comes naturally to me and many people. It’s something that requires constant work and evolves every day. Efficient communication is simply getting your message across in a simple, understandable and consistent manner.

Importantly, communication is a two-way street: what comes back is just as important as the message going out. Great leaders are efficient communicators and strategists who evolve from a fundamental understanding of their business.

David Smith

Taking initiative – it is more than you think …

Enjoy university, you’re only a student once and hopefully it is only for a few years. Having said that, knuckle down and get through your studies as efficiently as possible, the lag and spending more time studying at university than necessary just prolongs the process.

Enjoy articles, even if you feel like the most underpaid, overworked, so-called young professional there is. You are surrounded by opportunities. Where else do you get to start a working career with many other like-minded, same-aged and similar-principled people? Other than social opportunities, soak in as much as you can about the different work environments, client business processes and industry practices. If nothing else, it helps you at least eliminate what you don’t want to do one day. The point is, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of it – don’t get hung up if you think auditing is not for you, there is another world out there.

Back yourself. It seems that much more difficult these days for young professionals to land the big job. But be confident in that your qualification is still highly sought after and carries a distinguished reputation. However, with that reputation comes great expectations. Set yourself apart by taking initiative at every corner. This does not necessarily mean you need to be the one who comes up with all the bright ideas, ready to revolutionise the company/business (because let’s face it, you’re young and inexperienced). But it also means applying your mind, understanding an issue, thinking on your own, and being solution driven. Offering up three solutions varying from almost there to nowhere close is far better than simply re-packaging a problem with only questions.

Be assertive, not arrogant; respectful, but not a push-over. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, get involved and understand whatever it is you’re doing.

 

Mariam Cassim

The art of leadership training

More often than not it has been said that leaders are born, but it can certainly be argued that leaders are moulded. It’s not simply an innate ability to take the lead but a skill that is honed through experience and interaction with other leaders who can equip one with the necessary skills.

During my time at Thebe Investment Corporation I was afforded the opportunity to be the executive assistant to the chairman, Mr Vusi Khanyile. This opportunity allowed me to work closely not just with Mr Khanyile but also with other CEOs in the Thebe Group. I immediately realised that this was a chance of a lifetime which offered numerous lessons no textbook could have taught me. I got to learn from the book of life, gaining great insights from the good ol’ wisdom of the grey hair.

Mr Khanyile imparted many lessons, the greatest of these being the power of humility. Never have I worked in an organisation where the CEO is as accessible as Mr Khanyile is. This accessibility has a positive impact in motivating all employees within the organisation. I have learned that being a leader is not always as cut and dried as we would like it to be; having been taken under his wing I came to realise that one must often make unpopular decisions for the greater good.

Through my experience in the chairman’s office, as well as board directorships, I learned how to become a more effective and positive leader who is able to think strategically. I learned about servant leadership which has become a defining principle for me. Placing the needs of those I work with ahead of my own, helping them develop to their full potential while ensuring we all reach a common goal. The passion that Mr Khanyile has for entrepreneurship has honed my skills as a leader. He often provides a platform for young professionals to explore new business ideas in a supportive environment. From his passion, I learned the importance of creating an environment that stimulates innovation and encourages the generation of new business ideas by seeking out and unlocking the talents of those around me.

My advice to future leaders is not to take lightly the lessons you learn on a daily basis, no matter how small. Becoming a leader through the experience of others is unbeatable. You will only gain by being open to learn. Stay humble, make those tough decisions and embrace the people you work with to make for a good team and a great leader.