As CAs (SA), our training has provided us with several pervasive skills required to be successful business leaders without, and when we consult the correct Big 4 internal executive personas or leadership styles within the sky continues to be the limit. By Riaan Rudman and Natasha Sexton

CAs(SA) strive to be leading business professionals who often play a leadership role within organisations, departments and teams. Part of our training process as CAs(SA) instils in us a pervasive skill to continually want to improve any facet of our professional persona, including our ability to effectively lead ourselves and those we work with. We do not always know which skills to harness to effectively lead, however.

As leaders and individuals we are confronted on a daily basis with questions and situations that require a decision to be made on the way forward. This brings the responsibility to guide those working with us through the process of understanding how decisions will achieve the vision and strategy of the organisation, even if it is not the popular choice. To be this kind of leader we are required to be aware of and understand the need to change the roles we play (that is, leadership styles) based not only on the situation and audience that we are addressing but also our natural tendencies driven by our personality traits, characteristics and personal experiences. As individuals we tend to label ourselves based on our most prominent personality trait or characteristic, for example, as perfectionists or dreamers or another. Our natural leadership style is more than likely not going to be appropriate in each situation. We need to either change our leadership style, or engage the services of someone in our team with the most appropriate skills given the situation. Being able to identify the skills required for a situation will allow us to achieve the desired outcome effectively, whether it be to energise staff, plan effectively, or design a system.

Erica Ariel Fox in her book Winning from Within suggests that there are four internal executive personas (referred to as Big 4) that largely govern the way we as individuals function every day in our personal as well as our professional environments. The Big 4 internal executive personas are the following:

  • Inspirational dreamers create and dare to pursue their dreams. This is typically the type of person that who drives an organisation vision and mission, such as the chief executive officer.
  • Analytical thinkers apply facts and logic to each situation, assessing all angles and consequences before deciding on a course of action. This is typically the executive who is responsible for the financial and governance aspects of the organisation (such as the chief financial officer).
  • Practical warriors are people who will speak hard truths, stand their ground and take action, able to absorb the punch. The chief operating officer typically is the person in an organisation that is known for getting things done.
  • The emotional lover is someone who will connect with emotions, build and maintain trust, and collaborate with others. They tend to be good with people, fulfilling the job of the chief people officer, the executive who is responsible for all elements of human resources and how human resources fit into corporate culture.

At any point in time one of the Big 4 are at the helm of our decision-making and drive not only our behaviour but also our leadership style. When deciding on the most appropriate persona and related skills that are applicable to a given situation, two aspects need to be considered. Whether we are oriented towards detail or big picture and whether the focus is on ideas, processes, actions, or strengthening relationships. Understanding our own persona or our ability to identify the persona required for a given situation will allow us to know where to focus our attention and understand the key performance drives and motivators, as well as how value is created.

As CAs(SA) we need to be able to adapt to different personas or leaderships styles as and when required. If not, we need to surround ourselves with people that have these skills. By harnessing the strength of each of the members of the Big 4, we could lead ourselves and our teams more effectively.

Within leadership teams each of these executive personas are equally important as they take the lead in different circumstances and are there to offer support at all times. We look at a couple of examples where a specific skill set would have been the most beneficial. Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group Limited, let his inspirational dreamer lead when founded and expanded the Virgin Group with little funding and the sheer will to succeed.

Mark Cutifani, the CEO of Anglo American Plc, had to not only be an analytical thinker but also act as a practical warrior when deciding on a course of action after facing significant losses in 2015. Anglo American Plc decided change its focus to mining of diamonds, platinum and copper, resulting in a planned reduction in mining assets from 45 in 2015 to 16. Mark Cutifani had to make hard choices based on his analysis of the facts and assess the best way forward, even if it was contrary to market expectations and had significant impact on employees and the global business. Once the decision had been taken, Cutifani had to set goals to take action, including the sale of previously core value adding assets.

In 2015, when PKF expanded its national footprint by adding Rademeyer Wesson to its professional services network, from a Rademeyer Wesson perspective, Derick Wesson, as the managing partner, would have had to use his emotional lover persona to lead not only the team members but also Rademeyer Wesson clients through the change. The trust that had been built over time would have supported him as he collaborated with all stakeholders in navigating through the transition of uncertainty and settling into the new network.

CAs(SA), as business leaders, should embrace self-awareness of our own strengths and weaknesses within each of the Big 4 internal executive personas to ensure that we, and our leadership teams, always have the right executive for the job.


Erica Ariel Fox, Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change, HarperBusiness, 2013.

Mark Boncheck and  Elisa Steele, What kind of thinker are you? Harvard Business Review, 23 November 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/11/what-kind-of-thinker-are-you.

Martin Creamer, 2016. Kumba shares soar as new Anglo American makes its entry, Engineering News, 16 February 2016, http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/share-price-up-as-new-anglo-american-makes-its-entry-2016-02-16.

PKF back in Cape Town, http://www.pkf.co.za/capetown/news/2015/pkf-back-in-cape-town/

Authors: Riaan Rudman CA(SA) and Natasha Sexton CA(SA) are lecturers at the School of Accountancy, Stellenbosch University


CAs(SA), if you are not moving up the corporate ladder, know this: it’s not about the ladder! Clive Kaplan explains

More than a few of my clients become clients because they are stuck. No matter what they do, they just cannot seem to make their way upwards. Needless to say, they usually insist that they have to leave their current position to seek greener pastures. And that is when I give them the bad news: the reason they are not moving up the ladder has nothing to do with the ladder! And yes, you’ve guessed it: It’s not what the present company is doing that is keeping them stuck. It’s what they are doing that’s keeping them stuck!

We are not talking about first-time job seekers with a basic education. We are talking about people who are getting paid upwards of R600 000 per year. That’s a lot of money and it’s an important person who does such a big value-adding job. That person is you, CA(SA)!

So, here is the most important thing you will ever learn in your life: The reason you are not moving up the ladder has nothing to do with the ladder! This also means that moving to another company is more than likely not going to solve the problem – a lack of upward movement. It may feel changing companies is the solution because you may have a sexier title, a thicker wad of money and a bigger desk. But in reality nothing’s changed and you haven’t changed.

‘All well and good,’ you may say. ‘Don’t throw vague innuendo at me,’ you may say. ‘Put something on the table.’

Well, here it is: The reason you are not moving up the ladder has nothing to do with the ladder! ‘Come on now! You sound like a broken record – move on!’

Well, what I’m trying to get across here is that we all create exactly what we get. It’s that simple. This is a massive lesson. It took me most of my adult life to find this out. And I rose through the ranks over the years. What I missed was that I was not acknowledging me. I was too busy blaming the ladder to realise that I was just doing it all wrong!

So what’s the issue here? The bottom line is, that if it is not working out your way, you have to change your way. Do not expect the way to change for you.

Above is a lovely little poem by Portia Nelson that says it all: What a wonderfully simple way of describing the journey from victimhood to empowerment. At which point are you?

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost … I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out!

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe that I am the same place! But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. My eyes are open, I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

By Portia Nelson

Author: Clive Kaplan CA(SA) is an executive coach with more than 25 years’ experience as an executive director in both listed and unlisted companies


Running a business is actually easy. You can read every business book and watch every motivational talk on circuit, but being a good leader is just about a vigorous application of good judgement, writes Steven Cohen

Before leaders can appreciate the value of their role within an organisation, introspection is what’s needed and then you can focus on your people and your customers. Success isn’t necessarily about a unique product or service, but rather about the environment that you create and the way in which you engage with your colleagues and your customers.


We’ve created a life where we are on the treadmill. We seek immediacy and skim through news sites and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to become informed. But, you just can’t trust facts anymore. Spend time on collecting quality information by reading articles from credible sources carefully.

Focus on deep good things rather than this surface of unnecessary information that clutters your mind and then results in you forming your own opinion. I never believed that my opinion was worthwhile. I was always trying to emulate someone else’s. It has taken me a long time to realise that my opinion is valuable – but this is because it comes from an informed space.


Opinions can be tainted by your own belief system. Belief systems can be dangerous and they filter the facts and opinions. This can make you defensive. Try and be open to a new way of thinking even if it proves you to be wrong otherwise you are never going to grow. Remember, your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s as long as it’s thought through.


Be a do-er and not a talker. Stop talking about frameworks and committees that do nothing. We need executors rather than committees.


Perfection doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as perfect. Don’t paralyse yourself in pursuit of perfection. Make a plan, go for it and if it doesn’t work, then change.

That also goes for implementing ideas. Is an idea bad because it was a bad idea or is it because it was badly implemented? It’s all about how you put energy and investment behind that idea that will decide its fate. It may be a great idea, but it needs to be implemented with passion and vigour.


Get the right team working with you. People that are competent, people you can trust, people that have the right attitude, and then empower them.

If I hear a business owner saying, ‘If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done,’ then I tell them, ‘It’s your own fault, and you haven’t trained your people.’ Hire the right people, invest in them, train them so that you won’t have to make that remark.


Most of the time management interferes and takes up the time of the people trying to do the work. As management, your role is to make sure they’re on the right path, that they have the right tools to do the job and that they’re paid well.

Also, give recognition where it’s due, and do it in a sincere manner. In the corporate world, valuing people gets lost somehow.

Recognition is not just a pat on the back, it’s about valuing expertise. If I get a call about a query or something that I cannot answer, I say, ‘I don’t know’ but I will ask the person in the company who does have the answer to the question. There are colleagues in my team that know more than I do, and that’s a good thing.


Listen to your customers, listen to your team and connect. Service your customers properly and get back to them. At Sage, we enable our customers to focus on their business and help them to leapfrog to the future. We take real pride from how many of our customers have flourished and, that our products have grown with them as they moved from start-up to successful, international businesses.

Connect with your community and actively play a positive role in communities and with your customers. Be active in investing in making a real difference through philanthropy. This is just the right way to do business.

Author: Steven Cohen CA(SA) is Head of Sage One International (Africa, Australia, Middle East and Asia)


But we’re number smiths, not technologists, you cry. Bear with me. Tackling ICT, and demanding it delivers the ROI it promises, can be an important strategy for becoming an industry leader and building lasting relationships with your clients. By Kevin Phillips

typically information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the largest line items on any company’s income statement. For most organisations, it is second only to salaries. And it’s growing. According to analyst house Gartner, ICT spend in South Africa is forecast to hit R272 billion in 2016, which is 3,8% up from 2015. Software, specifically, is set to reach its highest year-on-year growth at 11,4%, or R25 billion.

And, based on predictions around the rise of the machines, and how automation is going to take over many tasks that are carried out by people today, this spend is going to keep on rising – probably even cannibalising salary spend.

What does this have to do with accountants? You just check the numbers, right? You don’t decide where the money is spent. While this may be the case today, you need to ensure you stay relevant tomorrow. And as an accountant, you and your firm are probably looking to add more value to your clients. You’re exploring ways to offer enhanced services over and above the ‘grudge’ purchase of audits and other mandatory financial services, in order to entrench yourself as a valued, strategic partner in your clients’ businesses.

I’d suggest thinking strategically about your clients’ ICT spend is a good place to take the lead. Increased involvement with this crucial, and massive, cost centre could hold the key to a more meaningful, closer, accountant–client relationship. One where your client comes to you for strategic advice and input, and, come the big deals – acquisitions, mergers, IPOs – you’re called in to get involved sooner rather than later.

With ICT spend such a big, and growing number, on any income statement, it’s an area where you can help effect big number changes.

What’s more, the turbulence and disruption in the business world at the moment, thanks to digitalisation and the urgent need for businesses to transform themselves into digital economy operations, means that what worked a few months or years ago, has very likely been supplanted by a better option at a more affordable price or with a more relevant payment structure.


You can start by helping your clients measure the return on investment of their current ICT systems. Is ICT ROI something your clients even check? Three to five years later, have the ICT products and services delivered what they promised? Have the software, hardware and related services really added value to the business? And don’t forget to factor in the total cost of ownership several years down the line, not just the initial outlay.


A key marker here is finding out to what extent the user-friendly solutions your client was sold have transformed into ‘black box’ solutions, where, even five years after installation, experts still need to be called in to make changes to the so-called flexible systems.

This situation is in no way delivering optimal ROI. Today, software should be user-friendly and enabling to ensure that, once it is installed and the users are trained, your client should be able to self-manage day-to-day and month-to-month changes. Otherwise, it’s like going to the doctor for a head cold, and getting them to blow your nose!


Then, is your client using all the bells and whistles they were sold on, or are they only using the essential 5% but paying for everything? It’s an easy trap to fall into. Think back to the last time you bought a car and were wowed by the functionality of the on-board computer. Or the fact that the wing mirrors have a defogger and the seats, a warmer. And then think about whether you really use all these features of your car. Being realistic and rationalising what the company actually needs, and only paying for that, is going to dramatically affect the procurement decision and the ultimate ROI.


The biggest challenge any business faces is that they need to make decisions today for an uncertain and rapidly changing digital future. Indeed, futurist Ray Kurzweil says (no surprise here!) the pace of technological change is accelerating. This is because each iteration of tech builds on what has happened before, and so each step forward paves the way for even better technology in the future, resulting in the rate of progress from version to version speeding up at exponential rates.

To take an example from the non-business world: think about how fast, and with increasing speed, how we consume music has changed.

From vinyl, to more portable cassette tapes on Walkmans and car radios, to better-quality sound on CDs. And now, MP3s that we simply buy and download off the Internet, wherever we are. And although we loved our iPods, very soon there was need for an external ‘container’ or playback device: today we store and play music on our laptops, tablets and smartphones.

But even this is soon going to be old-fashioned. Thanks to dropping data costs and increasing bandwidth, streaming music from the cloud is going to become standard. No need to store files locally, or curate your own playlists. Rather listen to what you want, when you want it, on the go.

Unfortunately, on this one I don’t have a quick answer or top tip for you. Apart from recommending that you be mindful of the rate of change we are experiencing, and advising your clients accordingly. Quiz ICT service providers on how they future proof their products and services. How open and adaptable are they really?

While vinyl has made a comeback amongst hipsters and music purists, it’s unlikely that retro business software and practices are ever going to be a sensible choice for a successful business.

All businesses are IT-enabled businesses today. And neglecting ICT for any length of time could be costing your clients dearly. But pay it attention, keep on top of changing legal, regulatory, skills and business requirements, and ask how ICT can support these, and you can gain big wins for, and big love from, your clients.

Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is CEO of IDU