The many relationships Alethia Chetty CA(SA), financial services partner at BDO, has built throughout her career as a CA(SA) have been vital to building a rewarding career. She says creating these relationships takes time and effort and it requires you to maintain the highest standards of integrity so that you can earn trust with the right people. She has never been afraid of doing the next thing.
Alethia Chetty grew up in an Indian township on the East Rand and was one of the first non-white students to attend a Model C high school in 1994. Her highest grades always ranked in accounting, and with a natural affinity for the subject and a career assessment that showed she would be most suited as a chartered accountant, that would be the route she pursued through Unisa.
Alethia attended classes at a private college in Boksburg and started her career as a trainee accountant in financial services at Deloitte and Touche in Woodmead. She spent seven more years after articles at Deloitte.
Her career aspirations always revolved around financial services, so she ambitiously decided to leave Deloitte to join SNG Grant Thornton, which was in a growth phase, seeing this as having great potential to be a rewarding career move for her. And she was right! She found this season of her career to be an exciting time. She then left SNG as a partner to join her new home at BDO, where she is a partner in financial services and the head of financial services markets.
How has being a CA(SA) propelled your career?
Being a CA(SA) has opened doors for me that would otherwise have been completely inaccessible. As a CA(SA) you have the ability to interact with and build networks with the most senior members of industry. My career is owed to the many influential people I have had the pleasure of meeting and with whom I have managed to build and maintain professional relationships throughout my career.
How are you making a difference in your specific industry?
My passion lies in financial services, and I still do believe that women, and more specifically black women, are underrepresented within the industry, and especially within Audit. I personally advocate for the advancement of black women in financial services. BDO has recently commenced the ‘Women in Financial Services’ initiative, where I play an active role in formalising this passion. Our aim is to support up-and-coming women in financial services by providing insights and advice from women who have had the experience of building their careers in this demanding industry and have overcome the many challenges life has thrown at them. Realising the power of the networks we create has been an important life lesson for me. (I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn where I will be sharing more about this and other initiatives.)
What played a vital role in becoming a partner at BDO?
The many relationships I have built throughout my career as a CA(SA) have been vital to building a rewarding career. Building these relationships takes time and effort, and it requires you to maintain the highest standards of integrity so that you can build trust with the right people. Building strong relationships across all levels is important. It isn’t authentic if you’re only trying to grow your relationships with senior and influential stakeholders. You never know where your next lesson will come from!
Integrity should be maintained, not just on a professional level, but in every aspect of your life. This is the only way to authentically build trust and credibility. I was lucky in that I was raised by parents who made integrity a core value throughout my life. And I have been lucky to have been mentored by some of the very best in the industry.
Challenges you have had to face and practical ways to overcome them?
I have had many challenges throughout my life, both personally and professionally. The key for me was understanding that living an extraordinary life is not a straight or easy path. It can never be. And why would you choose mediocrity? There are twists and turns in the road, and with each one, you are provided with an opportunity to test your resolve, your determination and your courage. At each turn, your character is being built. The path to success has to be riddled with challenges so that it prepares and strengthens you for what is to come. Being in a leadership role is demanding and multi-faceted. And it requires lots of challenges and experiences along the way, so that you can overcome, and eventually have the empathy, knowledge and experience required to lead.
My advice for younger CAs …
- Make it a priority to understand yourself − Self-awareness is undervalued, and yet it underpins your career and your life. Receiving feedback assists you in the process, so do not take feedback personally. Use it to make you better.
- Find a mentor − Be proactive in finding someone who has been through it and on whom you can lean when you need career advice.
- Don’t be afraid of hard work! − It takes time and sacrifice to build a successful and sustainable career. In this age of instant gratification, it is difficult to maintain the discipline to work hard and go the extra mile − for your firm, your client, your team. This will set you apart from your counterparts. Keep your head in the game and consistently strive for excellence.
- Speak up − When you witness something you know is wrong, say something. All too often, we see things and become accomplices to wrongdoing simply by ignoring it or being afraid to speak up.
- Make it your purpose to serve −Your success in your career, and in your life, will follow you if you have the right purpose. It all starts with purpose. And serving means that you are able to put aside your ego and focus on what is best for your team, your firm, your client.
- Maintain your balance − Things will happen to you in both your career and your personal life. Challenges are inevitable. If you allow them to, they can provide you with opportunities for growth. What will define you is how resilient you are in facing those challenges while maintaining your balance and allowing them to mould your character.
- Be the solution − All too often we hear negative comments in our profession, our industries and our country. Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution. Look for ways to improve constantly and to serve by providing solutions.
- Be strategic and as specific as you can be − Try and identify your strengths and preferences as quickly as you can in your career. Don’t take too much time exploring too many options. The quicker you find your niche, the more time you will have to perfect it.
- Take time for yourself − As you progress in life, you will find more responsibilities being added to your plate, both professionally and personally. You will find you have less and less time! It is vital to make yourself a priority, so take time for yourself every single day. You simply cannot serve or give if you don’t fill your own cup first.