As we pay tribute this month to the women who created a platform for greater gender equality in South Africa, here are some pieces of advice that have had a profound impact on the female finalists of the Top-35-under-35 competition, and their thoughts on being nominated.
Have a positive attitude
Having a positive attitude has an impact on those around you and a tough situation can become a great learning moment. ‘People watch how you conduct yourself under pressure,’ says Andrea Klassen, Senior Manager, Financial Reporting at Bayport Financial Services. ‘Remaining positive in stressful situations can teach the team to stand together.’
When feeling overwhelmed by her goals, Andrea breaks them down into more manageable tasks. ‘Prioritising in order of importance and spending as little as 30 minutes daily on each task gives me time to do a self-review to ensure the deliverables are accomplished according to the highest level of quality.’
‘The Top-35-under-35 competition taught me to stop and reflect on how far I have come on my journey to be a CA(SA),’ Klassen says. ‘The world is always pushing us to complete goal after goal, but never to take the time to appreciate the ride. We must learn to express gratitude for every season.’
Know yourself; trust yourself
Akona Gazi-Babana, Senior Lecturer in Accountancy at the University of Johannesburg, believes it is important to know yourself and stay in your lane. ‘We are all driven and destined for success in our various fields,’ she says. ‘Trust yourself and the process.’
The saying, ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’ helped her identify her passion for the development of others – specifically in the transformation of the accounting profession. ‘You will not always feel motivated and that is why you need consistency and discipline,’ she adds. ‘The moments that count the most are when you keep going even when you feel you don’t have it in you anymore or you want to give up.’
As an academic, Gazi-Babana is not often exposed to professionals in the corporate and entrepreneurial world. ‘The interaction with like-minded individuals who are passionate and driven by the various sectors in which they operate was my biggest highlight of the Top-35-under-35. The competition has expanded my professional and personal network.’
‘In an interview, a hiring manager once told me that she focuses most on how curious the candidate is because this reveals how willing that person will be to learn,’ says Tokelo Mulaudzi, Senior Manager, Investor Relations at Momentum Metropolitan.
‘I have found curiosity reveals viewpoints from others that I may have never thought of before. When a curious person takes interest, they strive to achieve and embrace the unfamiliar, allowing them to think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more creative solutions. I try to approach work and life in general with a child-like curiosity. This means I learn and grow all the time.’
The Top-35-under-35 experience happened just when Tokelo needed it. ‘I had gone through a difficult time, and I needed to be reminded of where
I’ve come from and all I have achieved. I was extremely motivated by the interviews with fellow nominees and their stories, and the networking opportunity was invaluable. It really is an honour to be counted among such talented people.’
Be twice as good
‘You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.’ Those words from her late mentor have resonated her whole life with Lydène Kombo-Packou, Head of Internal Audit at MTN Congo. ‘Women’s rights have come a long way, but we still are not seen as equal when it comes to decision-making. I have had the “luck” to always be one of the youngest around the table, but people tend to underestimate your technical and strategic skills when you are young,’ she says.
‘I spend time learning, getting to know how the system operates and creating long-lasting relationships with stakeholders. A dear friend once told me
I am a woman with a cause. I feel tremendous joy when I make life a little easier for the next generation.’
For Lydène, the Top-35-under-35 was a moment when the world stopped so that she could capture her light. ‘I feel even greater responsibility to contribute to a more accountable world. We often forget how hard the road has been and to be grateful; the experience reminded me of that. I felt humbled, empowered, and valued.’
Look after yourself
Mmabatho Hantise, Associate Director, Strategy and Transactions at EY, lives by the maxim that health is wealth. ‘This has taught me to take care of myself so that I can give my best in everything I do. Someone once said to me, “you are not alone” and that was valuable. It taught me to find people in my life and career with similar interests and beliefs and who support my career aspirations.’
‘I surround myself with people who are willing to advocate for me. I also look for people I can mentor and whom I can help to shape their career. We all need to find a community to belong to, where we fit in and grow as individuals.’
She met many amazing people as part of the Top-35-under-35 competition. ‘I didn’t know how much people out there are doing that is so incredible and different,’ she says. ‘It made me appreciate the versatility within the profession. The competition reminded me that our dreams are valid, and we must not be shy to dream even bigger.’
Life is yours to control
Your life is in our own hands. 90% of it is within your control. Those words made Lize Lubbe, Principal at Phatisa, feel empowered as she set out on her leadership journey. ‘Consistent hard work, grit and perseverance is vital,’ she says. ‘Remaining balanced is key to keeping going during tough times – this requires us to maintain healthy habits every day.’
‘You always have to be on the lookout for growth opportunities and assess every opportunity with an open mind. A lot of these opportunities come through continuously investing in relationships and networks. Sometimes it’s just luck. As Roman philosopher Seneca said: “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”’
The Top-35-under-35 competition has been a major investment in Lize’s personal brand. ‘Throughout the journey, I have also met wonderful people who remain close friends and have significantly expanded my network. I have really enjoyed working with the SAICA team on various initiatives such as FinBiz2030 since the competition.’
Don’t be afraid of your power
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,’ Marianne Williamson wrote in her book A Return to Love. ‘Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’
These words have inspired Millycent Mashele, Founding Director, The Legacy Centre. ‘I have a habit of pursuing greatness even when I am personally frightened or feel inadequate. I choose to be bold and courageous in my actions, to do it scared. I choose progress over perfection in working towards my goals.’
On the Top-35-under-35, Millycent says she loved the experience as it exposed her to other professionals who are doing amazing work that has an impact on society. ‘It has been an opportunity for me to reflect on the positive influence we collectively have as young professionals. It’s a platform of excellence.’
Niraksha Sookraj, Finance Director at SACD Freight, says success is a relative term. ‘I define it as the utilisation of a number of tools to facilitate movement from point A to point B,’ she says. ‘These include the ability to lead change, being resilient and self-mastery.’
‘Globally, many industries have been forced into a state of constant change which requires adaptable leaders to steer the organisation to success, while self-mastery refers to the ability to lead yourself. This requires increased levels of self-awareness and the ability to influence and motivate others to a common goal. The journey to self-mastery is exciting and daunting at the same time but yields significant results.’
The Top 35-under-35 experience is a great way to encourage individuals to pursue their goal of achieving the CA(SA) designation and become impactful leaders, says Niraksha. ‘It has been an eye-opening experience to meet remarkable individuals who are reshaping the world as we know it in a variety of industries. I have made friends for life and am now part of a network of like-minded individuals.’
Read, read, and read more
Being an avid reader from a young age, Head of Finance, Life and Employee Benefits Divisions at the Alliance Group and founder of Inspire Innovation Business Consultants, learned through motivational books that she had the power to influence her destiny.
‘This self-belief motivated me to overcome challenges by being intentional and working hard to give myself a greater chance of success. I truly believe that “success happens where preparation and opportunity meet”. I continue to read a lot, pursue further studies, seek mentorship, engage in networking, and intentionally participate in professional development opportunities to ensure that I position myself for opportunities in my areas of interest.’
‘I love how the Top 35-under-35 competition highlights the impact of CAs(SA) across the world,’ Likeleli says. ‘Being a finalist is an affirmation that we are not just “number crunchers” but that the profession provides us with skills to make an impact in any role and in any industry and has also helped amplify our impact even further.’
For Nkateko Mathebula, managing director of a portfolio of companies, success is cultivated, and three important contributors are self-awareness, boundaries and faith. ‘In Christianity I found a peace that remains regardless of the path or atmosphere I find myself in,’ she says.
‘Self-awareness sets expectations and boundaries maintain them. The more self-aware I am, the more realistic and reasonable I can be. I can set goals bigger than me and know they’re achievable because asking for help is necessary; it empowers me to call for higher levels of accountability in areas where I am weak and compels me to help others in gratitude. Boundaries nurture healthy relationships and prioritise rest.’
The Top 35-under-35 forced her to celebrate herself. ‘I use the opportunity to make a habit of it,’ Nkateko says. ‘Because of my fear of becoming arrogant, I would shy away from honouring myself but the experience of celebrating myself has become an important practice for me. It’s different from being celebrated by others.’
Be the best version of yourself
One of the key habits Mutondi Mashamba, Senior Lecturer and Head of Financial Accounting at the University of Venda, has cultivated in her life is ongoing personal development. ‘It’s important to always show up as the best version of yourself,’ she says. ‘Constantly working on yourself makes you able to handle what the world throws at you and keeps you anchored no matter what. My five pillars of personal development are: physical wellbeing, mental health, solid relationships, education and finance. We need to be healthy, to have people who care for us, to always be learning, and to be responsible with money. Financial freedom is fundamental to having a happy life and peace of mind.’
For Mutondi, the Top 35-under-35 experience was ground-breaking. ‘To be exposed to people doing great things was remarkably inspirational. It has pushed me to dream bigger, see new possibilities in life, and learn from my peers. I was particularly moved by the number of people in that group who are doing things for others and building communities. The selflessness of my fellow finalists was awe-inspiring.’
Embrace your ambition
Beejal Vallabh, CFO of the NFS Group, says there are many reasons why she is where she is today. ‘My core values are humility and ambition.’
‘Some keys habits that stand me in good stead are: having a learning mindset and always being eager to grow, surrounding myself with people that challenge and support me, being open to what might lie ahead, differentiating myself and accepting that I am not here to be just like my peers, understanding that what drives me is making a difference and having an impact on people, a willingness to help and go the extra mile, remaining authentic and humble no matter what, and expanding my exposure to allow me to find my passion. Of course, luck and timing always play a role.’
Beejal was honoured to be part of the Top 35-under-35. ‘It is a prestigious group of individuals, and the submissions were challenging. This took me out of my comfort zone, as it is not easy for me to write and speak about myself, let alone do photo and video shoots. But the opportunity to reflect on my career, be grateful to the people who contributed to my success and allow myself to recognise that I am worthy is something I will always remember with pride.’
Keep the dream alive
Hlengiwe Ndlela, Audit Partner at EY, believes that whether you win, or learn lessons, every experience is an opportunity to grow. ‘I have the ability to keep dreaming and aiming for more and more. I am always ready to be pushed outside of my comfort zone, but I make sure that I am kind to myself so that I can make the most of every opportunity.’
Diversifying the profession and nurturing the underrepresented is important to Hlengiwe. ‘The Top 35-under-35 experience reminded me how much representation counts − whether I am that representation for someone else, or I see myself in those who are ahead of me – it makes what I aspire to so relevant and possible to achieve.’
Define your own success
Sincerity, dedication, and leading by example with fairness and transparency, are all important ingredients to successful leadership according to Ashanika Perimal, Head of Finance & Business Control at engineering firm Sandvik.
“It’s important to stay true to yourself, and maintain personal standards and principles,” she says. “Taking the time to celebrate achievements is as important as the time you invest in achieving. Adopting an attitude of continuous learning is key to personal growth. This means being open to listen and goes a long way towards making you approachable. Success means different things for different people; understanding yourself and what’s important to you will enable you to stay committed to reaching your own definition of success.”
Ashanika sees the Top-35-under-35 competition as a wonderful celebration and a platform to showcase young professionals. “It demonstrates that success is not always linked to age, and that’s what I loved the most. This programme negates the generalisation that young people are inexperienced. It proves that – given the opportunity – younger professionals have a lot to offer when it comes to expertise, leadership and business improvements.”
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