‘If you ensure that you remain in business every next day, you will be in business indefinitely,’ says Wilfred Ngubane, founder of Ngubane & Co. Sasheera Gounden spoke to him about his firm’s success
Donning a striking red tie and blue-striped shirt, the founding CEO of Ngubane & Co., Wilfred Bhekabantu Ngubane CA(SA), barely looks 61, with success constantly keeping him on his toes.
Growing from a small business comprising three people when the practice opened its doors on 1 March 1995, Ngubane & Co. has harvested a remarkable crop of talented CAs(SA) led by Wilfred Ngubane and his trusted partners. When asked what ignited the spark in him to start his own business, he smiles confidently. ‘There is a natural feeling of being in business and selling intellectual capabilities. I had a vision of being in business.’
Success is defined by the moment. To Wilfred Ngubane, success is ‘to be in business the next day because if you ensure that you remain in business every next day, you will be in business indefinitely. Growth then becomes your next target and the next logical step is providing training to sustain that growth.’ He admits that business takes precedence in his life and that this affords his family a quality lifestyle. ‘Financial resources need to be contained. It is important to contain your expenditure; I would gladly choose a cup of tea with bread over a luxurious holiday. In business, every day you fight for food and accumulate your finances,’ says Ngubane.
A typical day for Ngubane consists of management meetings to chart activities for the next three or four months, as well as attending audit committee and board meetings. At Ngubane & Co. client satisfaction strategies take up most of his time.
He admits that exercise is a priority, which explains his good physical condition. ‘Once you reach 60, you start being aware of doing the right things to prolong life.’ Ngubane is a recent convert to road running and when he is not juggling figures and engaging in business planning, he is training to complete the Bela-Bela half marathon, which he hopes to complete in two hours – a major personal achievement.
Ngubane & Co. is described as a family with a humble approach towards success. ‘As a company, we remain humble. Our clients are our pillars of strength,’ he says. ‘Everyone whom we met has travelled with us and supported us.’ To maintain their continually growing success, synergy is vital in the business. Synergy creates a positive environment and preserves positive energy.
As a small start-up business, Ngubane & Co. faced significant challenges in their quest to gain clients. They overcame these challenges through hard work and perseverance. ‘Already within two to three months clients were gained with the accumulated fee of R15 000. We were able to overcome financial challenges through marketing. It is all centred on diversification by offering services such as bookkeeping and consultancy.’
With the unemployment rate increasing to 26% in 2015, unemployment has become a growing concern in South Africa. Ngubane & Co. has been working towards alleviating the unemployment rate by training and employing people who wish to enter the accounting field. ‘Our business is based on a number of things, such as providing skills and accumulating clients. Small clients are important as they build confidence, and large clients are equally important as they provide us with the opportunity to increase human capacity. There is a dire need for accountants.’
Having been a small business, Ngubane & Co. supports the development of small businesses as it creates job opportunities. ‘Creating small businesses involves removing people from the streets and reducing the need to take out grants. Small businesses create a multiplier effect: generating income increases demand.’
The firm supports the development of small businesses by participating in workshops offering motivational talks and advice to people who would like to venture into business.
Female empowerment is entrenched in the firm’s culture, with more than 50% of the employees being women. ‘Discrimination against women exists on a global scale. Women have been and still are regarded as traditional homemakers. Equality is extremely important in business. Women need to be in high positions as well. I have three beautiful daughters whom I encourage to maintain independence. We need to consciously break away from the archaic mentality that women are inferior to their male counterparts.’
Limitations exist within the accounting and auditing industry. ‘The profession is dynamic and to protect clients, new rules are introduced which don’t always take into account the plight of the small practitioners. The vast majority of JSE-listed companies is owned by those who owned them during the old order, and they don’t appoint black audit firms as their auditors.’
To combat the limitations their business faces, strong marketing strategies need to be put in place. ‘We need to change our mentality. Marketing needs to be sustained as the primary business activity. We use various media as a platform and publicise the services we offer. We also rely on the trust and goodwill of our clients who have trust in our ability to provide the professional services we promise them. Our current and future existence is in the hands of our clients.’
Having worked in an academic environment as an internal auditor at the University of Zululand as well as in a media environment, Wilfred Ngubane thoroughly enjoyed following the corporate route. ‘I became a businessman, transitioning from employee to employer. I learned lessons that contributed to my success in the business.’ Feelings of trepidation and promise pushed him to achieve. ‘What dominates your mind is a positive vibe. I took a leap of faith. Starting a business is similar to going to war, where fear and excitement seep in. I told myself I was going to make it; like a soldier who goes to war with the certainty that he is going to conquer.’
As one of the founding partners of the firm, Desmond Msomi has had a huge impact both professionally and personally on Ngubani & Co., having joined only four months after they started. ‘By bringing order and administrative synergy, Desmond has been management strength in admin, which complements my strength in marketing. He brought order to the firm based on his administrative skills.’
When asked who his mentor and role model is, Wilfred Ngubane said fate led him early in his working life to Cosmas Ngcobo, who was a training officer at Toyota Motor Assemblies. Their brief one-year period together impacted Ngubane significantly, since it was after this encounter that he started studying bookkeeping for the then AICB examinations by correspondence, thus reaching the first milestone to becoming an accountant. ‘I had never studied any commercial subject or maths at matric level.’
Wilfred is proudly South African and admits that ‘I am an African. I would proudly go to my grave with peace having advanced African people in the smallest of ways by employing people from South Africa as well as from neighbouring African countries. Assistance should not be confined to South Africa.’
Ngubane’s advice to young black chartered accountants when it comes to starting their own firm is to have a passion for business and an unbreakable mindset. ‘You must be a business person. It is not always about making money. It’s about knowing that, like the seasons of the year, there will be good and bad times, as long as there are more good times than bad,’ he says.
‘You must have a passion for business and respect the golden principle, which is to pay your workers. It is then vital to get at least eight years’ experience to reach some level of maturity before starting your professional business. You need to develop a thick skin to withstand pressure.’
He believes his family and colleagues are the reason for his phenomenal success. ‘A family that supports you is crucial. It is extremely important to share your vision with that of colleagues: disagree, debate and argue with respect.’ Allowing younger people to become directors and shareholders at Ngubane & Co. is another priority for the firm. ‘The introduction of young people in this business is similar to replacing the engine of an old Mercedes-Benz; the machine is improved instantaneously. It is crucial to give younger people the opportunity to transform business.’ He advises those who are in business not to chase money but to instead continue professional learning in order to enhance the service offering. ‘Clients pay for quality with a great smile,’ he says.
‘We currently have a young and energetic leadership in the firm. If I were to die today, I can meet my Creator in the knowledge that the firm has been left with people who would do better in the next twenty years than to date.’
Ngubane & Co. has contributed to the transformation of the landscape of chartered accountancy by providing training to those from disadvantaged communities. ‘I do wish to delink myself from the firm so that when people hear about Ngubane & Co. they think of an entity run and owned by a capable, proud and confident group of professionals, not only by one person, Wilfred.’
Wilfred Ngubane has a positive outlook for the firm twenty years from now. ‘The firm has set Vision 2020, which targets growing its revenue and increasing its staff complement from the current 230 to 300 people in five years’ time. The firm plans to achieve this by growing organically.’
Our country needs visionary leaders such as Wilfred Ngubane who can create a breeding ground for developing talent, especially among the youth: people like Ngubane who, together with his team, is having a huge impact on the accounting landscape of the country.
Author: Sasheera Gounden