Stellenbosch University’s Professor Riaan Rudman believes that CAs(SA) have an obligation to make an impact on those around them and to affect change. As they progress through their careers, they should use the CA(SA) designation to strengthen that impact
Professor Riaan Rudman, Associate Professor and Deputy Director: Social Impact and Transformation in the School of Accountancy at Stellenbosch University, is an unconventional accountant. He attended a technical high school and was first exposed to accounting when he registered as a first-year student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Today, he holds multiple degrees, including a master’s degree from UCT in finance and another cum laude in computer auditing from Stellenbosch University. After some time in practice at Deloitte, he joined academia, also consulting part time.
Riaan believes the pivotal moments in his career happened by chance. To name three: First, coming from a technical high school, he studied BBusSc because his mom saw a small advert that said ‘CAs(SA)s earn lots of money’. Luckily his mom had the wisdom to realise that a career as a CA(SA) opens doors and creates future opportunities. Second, he joined academia by accident when he joined UCT as an associate lecturer because he wanted to take a month-long overseas holiday. The third was when Professor Pierre Olivier hired him to start the individual learning and development academic support programme at SU. This started his career in making an impact not only within the university but also in the profession.
MAKING AN IMPACT
When asked how he thinks he is making an impact, he replies: ‘The most valuable asset anyone has is time. Time is the one asset that you can never get back. It is also the one with which you can make the greatest impact.’ Early on in his career he believed that lecturers made an impact on students through teaching, but now he realises that this impact is not reflected in students’ evaluation or students thanking a lecturer at the end of the year. When he encounters past students who are now in the profession, he realises that ‘impact is reflected in the stories that past students tell, the stories that they remember. They don’t all remember the lectures, but they do remember the discussions that occurred outside of class; they remember talks at school camps or career presentations that made them become CAs(SA); they remember the advice that received; they remember phone calls made to the bank to help them to open their first bank account; they remember the encouragement to apply to attend a overseas summer school; they remember the email that was sent to a firm to secure employment or a scholarship application; they remember the workshops that they were forced to attend … they remember more than you ever realise.’
OBLIGATION TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Riaan strongly believes that CAs(SA) have an obligation to make an impact on those around them and to affect change. Reflecting on his career, he recalls opportunities to make an impact: from his days at Deloitte − to lecturer − and now to deputy director.
As a trainee at Deloitte, he learnt the importance of taking time to mentor other trainees so that they developed but he could develop too. As a senior member of academia, he continued to mentor staff. He only learnt later in his career as a senior academic that he has an obligation to open doors for others and fight their fights on their behalf, just like they did for him when he did not have a voice. And mentoring includes taking an active role in promoting their careers. By way of an example: ‘As an academic who is mentoring students, you soon learn that you do not have all the knowledge required to mentor a student and that a student (or person) needs different mentors throughout their career, particularly in the early stages. Students require inter alia an academic mentor to help with learning material, a life mentor to help them adapt to university, a trainee mentor to help them to prepare for the world of work that awaits, and a professional mentor to help them prepare for the future.’
Early on in his career he realised that ‘people don’t know what they don’t know’ and as a CA(SA), he argues that CAs(SA) are in a privileged position to have access to knowledge and experience that many South Africans are not privy to. ‘We take this access for granted,’ he says. Examples range from attending workshops on CV writing to acquiring interview skills, gaining industry experience on an audit, engaging with the CEOs of multinationals, and attending motivational sessions by professional speakers.
As a CA(SA) in academia, he realised that education is expensive and information cheap, and that ‘education is just information repackaged’. Although he was involved in upskilling training at various organisations in basic accounting, finance and internal controls in formal settings, it became apparent that the biggest need for development and upskilling sits in the informal setting. In an attempt to repackage the information that he had access to and others did not, he started giving career talks at firms. He also attended school camps across South Africa talking about the profession, upskilled learners, and trained councillors and other public servants in financial skills.
CAs(SA) in academia do not only teach − they also conduct research, and in research Riaan found an avenue to distribute highly technical knowledge to a wider audience through writing articles and presenting at conferences, institutions and firms, thereby affecting how others view their profession. CAs(SA) are in a position to contribute to and influence the discussion on technical matters and broader societal issues.
By way of an example: as a South African CA(SA) auditing lecturer, Riaan was invited as a keynote speaker to open the 100th-year birthday celebrations of the National Library of Estonia in Tallin, a tech-hub, discussing the impact of the evolution of the Internet on libraries. The understanding of business models that he developed as a CA(SA) and his research on the governance of the Internet allowed for a different perspective. This resulted in Riaan as the only English-speaking, non-European, non-librarian speaker being invited by the Finnish Library Association to highlight the impact of African research and how a CA(SA) in academia can add to the discourse by disseminating ideas.
Riaan serves on various committees and boards in the university and the profession and is currently SAICA’s Southern Region president. This taught him that CAs(SA) can upscale their social impact. For several years he was senior project manager for the Stellenbosch Thuthuka programme, which developed into one of the university’s flagship programmes. However, although very rewarding, being directly involved in community service projects is time consuming and may have a limited impact, and serving on committees and boards afforded him the opportunity to put his skills and knowledge to use, influence decisions-making, and access more resources. He reiterates that ‘having served on various structures within SAICA’s Southern Region, committees with Stellenbosch University and boards of NPOs, I can confirm that there is a need for CAs(SA) to give of their time.’
CHALLENGE TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Riaan believes that the CA(SA) designation affords its holders various opportunities and that they have an obligation to utilise those opportunities. He would therefore like to challenge all CAs(SA) to make an impact by, for example:
- Becoming a mentor to a junior staff member or a university student
- Using the platforms at their disposal to distribute knowledge (that others don’t have access to) by talking to scholars and presenting at local church events and local business associations or chambers of commerce
- Writing articles for newspapers or industry publications, even if it is only posted on a Linked-in blog, or
- Getting involved with SAICA committees and discussion groups or serve on a board of at least one NGO or NPO
Besides making an impact, these activities create opportunities for CAs(SA).
RECOGNISING THE IMPACT
Professor Rudman received various awards for teaching and learning, research and transformation in the accounting profession. When asked which awards stand out, he noted two: having received the SAICA Educational Fund special award in recognition of the exceptional contribution to SAICA’s transformation and growth strategy and the 2019 ABASA Academic Practitioner of the Year award.