Home Articles LEAD: 35-under-35

LEAD: 35-under-35

The process thus far …

After advertising the competition in March and April, it gave us much excitement to receive hundreds of enthusiastic, high-quality entries and nominations of CAs(SA) under 35.

We were amazed at how many successful CAs(SA) there are out there who have already achieved so much in their life.

For the judges it was certainly not the easiest of tasks to decide who the top 35-under-35 finalists would be, but at the end of the day the aspects that carried the most weight were leadership, career achievements and CSI initiatives.

All finalists flaunt inspiring career avenues and it is interesting to see how they have all managed to find themselves where they are today.

In the next three issues (August, September and October) we will be featuring more detailed profiles of each of the Top 35-under-35 finalists.

Then finalist will be going through a personal judging process by a panel of business leaders.  All the finalists will be invited to a glitzy cocktail evening where the competition will culminate as the winner is announced and will then make their grand appearance on the front cover of the November issue of Accountancy SA.

For more information visit: www.accountancysa.org.za/35-under-35

Be inspired as you read more about our finalists and watch this space in the next two issues to learn more about the other ones …

It’s amazing how much they have all accomplished in their careers so far, and that’s precisely the reason they have been handpicked as Top 35-under-35 finalists.

You’ll read more about them and find out how they have managed to climb the ladder in such a short time, or bravely set out to launch their own companies in the midst of a recession

Alphonso Brand

Owner, Brand Financial Services

Alphonso (Alphie) Brand, owner of Brand Financial Services, admits he did not do all that great in his matric exams. One of the “A-students” even arrogantly remarked before their first Accountancy class: “You’re probably one of those who will drop out after the first semester.” Alphie assured him that he would not only obtain his degree, but would do it cum laude. And this was only the beginning of his many successes.

After his studies at the University of the Free State, he enrolled for his articles at PwC in Bloemfontein, transferring after his first year to PwC in Sunninghill, Johannesburg. “During my articles I bought a farm in partnership and we started farming pecan nuts. Sheep farming started a couple of years later.”

After his articles he was seconded to Dubai for three months. Upon his return he resigned and started consulting as a forensic audit consultant. He started his own accounting firm with a single client: “As this grew, I started investing in residential properties in and around Johannesburg. Then, about two years ago, I bought a filling station (a lifelong dream of mine) which was in distress, which we (my wife and I) built up again and which resulted in my having the most fun ever! We are still running the filling station and convenience store, we farm, and practise accounting, tax etc, with many more plans and ideals remaining to realise!”

Alphie says he has three types of mentors:

The cowboy: If your gut tells you it is right, jump!

The accountant: If the figures tie up, you are in the money.

His father: Never compromise on integrity, and that both parties should be better off than before they have entered a deal.

Alphie admits his biggest challenge has been fear, or to be more specific, fear of failing. But he adds: “The moment you start spreading your wings into other businesses after being successful in one thing you tend to be afraid of not succeeding in new ventures. My mentors [referred to as ʻthe cowboysʼ] helped me a lot in breaking that fear!”

Right now, Alphie finds much pleasure driving his motorcycle and considers it to be the ultimate freedom. The greatest lessons he’s learnt so far: “Do not ever think that you’ve arrived. One wrong decision can be very expensive … Remain humble!”

Jurie Bester

Co-owner & Manager at Junit Manufacturing

Jurie Bester, co-owner and manager at Junit Manufacturing CC, grew up and went to school in Utrecht. Matriculating as head boy, he did a post-matric at Michaelhouse where he played rugby and completed his first-year studies for a BCompt degree.

Owing to a rugby contract with the Junior Sharks, he enrolled at  Unisa to complete his honours in Durban where he continued his studies. Being the astute businessman he is, he lost no time identifying great opportunities: “While I was busy with that I started a small business of selling overrun garments to lower end stores. This was a great option seeing that we were in the clothing manufacturing business and I had a lot of contacts as well as experience in the field.”

Jurie completed his articles at Grant Thornton, Durban, and stayed on in a managerial position. But that came to an abrupt end after a year, when he decided to join the family business. With over 2 000 employees, the business – which manufactures clothing for Woolworths – is co-owned and managed by his mother and himself. Within four years turnover has almost doubled. Jurie is also currently involved in property development in Zimbali Golf Estate, as well as in Newcastle.

Giving back to society and setting a example for youngsters is important to  Jurie. Some lessons in life he has learnt: “Respect God, the world and the people within it. Remain humble and work hard, but also enjoy life. And do everything in moderation [he is battling with this one]. In the end everything will be alright … and if it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end!”

Juries says he used to be quite a “big” rugby player, but after his rugby days and adopting more healthy eating habits, he has shed more than 50 kilograms. Says Jurie tongue in cheek: “Yes, I spat out my flat mate!”

Staying active and participating in events like triathlons, researching new ideas and innovations, and growing bonsai are just some of the things he loves to do in his free time. One thing he’d love to attempt is bungee jumping: “The only thing we do not do wireless.”

Lauren Berrington

Chief Audit Executive of Bidvest

Lauren Berrington, chief audit executive of Bidvest, gives her parents credit for inspiring her to pursue the CA(SA) route. So successful were they that they managed to convince her three siblings to go the same route: “They felt strongly that it provides an excellent foundation for career growth and a platform from which other business opportunities arise. They were right.”

Her career began as a trainee accountant in the Johannesburg office of  PwC: “I was afforded the opportunity of working in both the PwC London and Boston offices as well. During these abroad secondments my business exposure was expedited, expertise enriched and intellect stretched, in particular, in the advisory and consulting spaces.”

Lauren’s career at PwC culminated in an associate directorship after which she was head-hunted by the Bidvest Group to her current role as chief audit executive. Her role requires her to oversee some 75 internal auditors across 11 divisions of the company. Within two years, she successfully transformed the internal audit function from an underperforming, low-skilled and technologically outdated function to one that is  progressive and strategically aligned to business.

One of the greatest yet most rewarding challenges in her life was becoming a mother whilst maintaining a career at Bidvest. Says Lauren: “Without my support structure, my husband, family, team, friends and nanny, this would not have been possible. Being organised was essential and working smarter, quicker and more effectively resulted in allowing me to balance the demands of both motherhood and my career successfully. Being awake between 2 am and 4 am in the morning also helped.”

She has great dreams and goals for her future. Currently, she would like to turn a distressed business around; own her own brand; serve on executive, audit and risk committees in an advisory capacity; and start a charitable foundation.

Her advice to young, upcoming CAs(SA): “Stand up and be counted. Be the difference you want to see. In our current economic climate, young CA(SA) talent is best positioned to rise to the current challenges by being innovative and inspirational thought leaders and distinctive agents of change within the business world. Own your destiny and develop others on the journey.”

Most of her spare time is spent with her year-old daughter. She also loves the theatre and is a foodie. She loves going for a walk with her family when the sun is setting, followed by a cola tonic …

Jaenrè Blignaut

Managing Director at Blignaut Chartered Accountants Inc

Right in the midst of the global market crash of 2008/09, Jaenrè Blignaut took a bold risk: he resigned from his comfortable salaried position as group financial manager and started his own audit and accounting practice with little seed capital and no client base whatsoever.

“I had to cut costs, open offices, furnish them, and do marketing, branding, etc. I managed to overcome the countless obstacles of setting up and building a sound accounting practice through hard work, having faith, having integrity, going the extra mile for a client, planning strategically, attracting the right employees, motivating your staff, and delegating functions to personnel and thereby giving them the opportunity to grow.”

The firm has recently grown through an acquisition to an incorporated company with a staff complement of 12 and a client base of some 1 150.

This venture continues to be exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, says Jaenrè. “Owning and managing your own business is vastly different from managing a portfolio and earning a salary – you have to manage cash flows, pay salaries, handle staff-related issues, give your 100% every day, and make sure that clients receive the best attention and service all the time.”

Jaenrè’s goal within the next five years is to become involved in corporate advisory services, with a focus on assisting clients with possible public board listings.

Some of the most valuable lessons he has learnt along the way are that “Truth does not have to defend itself. If you act with integrity and sincere honesty, half the battle is won. Money is important, but not more so than your family and your health. Live life to the full and live in the present, not in the past neither in the future.”

Jaenrè loves to spend time with his wife and two-year-old son, going for long walks on the beach on a Saturday morning, travelling, playing chess, and having a great read.

“You can achieve anything you put your mind to if you are willing to work hard and are disciplined:” This is his motto.

Mariam Cassim

CEO of Thebe Connect

Mariam Cassim, CEO of Thebe Connect, graduated with a Bachelor of Accounting degree from Wits University, having been awarded various academic prizes along the way.

Upon completion of her studies, she joined KPMG in Johannesburg on a three-year training contract. She joined Thebe Investment Corporation (Thebe) in April 2008 and formed a part of the internal corporate finance team, honing her skills in BEE transaction structuring through various merger and acquisition transaction deals.

An opportunity arose for her within Thebe as the executive assistant to the executive chairman, Mr Vusi Khanyile. “I grabbed this opportunity with both hands. The time spent in Mr Khanyile’s office was invaluable and I learnt things which no textbook could have taught me.

Passionate about business development and implementing innovative business practices that would unlock business potential across the 30 investee companies, Mariam created an initiative that unlocked R150 million of new value in the Thebe Group in the space of approximately 18 months. The need for a synergistic business model across the group came about when Mariam identified a number of gaps that were caused by the group companies operating in individual silos and when the post-merger activities in the company were still fostering a climate of isolated business practices. Mariam found that the silos meant Thebe Group businesses were not operating optimally and were often missing strategic opportunities owing to a lack of leverage of relationships.

Mariam credits the mentorship she received from Mr Khanyileas a grounding platform for her career success: “Mr Khanyile has taught me the importance and power of humble and authentic leadership. I have never interacted with an organisation where the CEO is as accessible as Mr Khanyile is and I’ve observed how this has had a positive impact on the motivation levels of employees within the organisation. As a leader, he emulates the values of the organisation through his daily behaviour and decision-making.”

In addition to her tireless efforts in the corporate world, Mariam believes in active participation in the community and lives her philosophy of giving back of oneself by mentoring and tutoring maths and accounting students from disadvantaged backgrounds in her personal time.

Achieving balance in her life has been crucial for her on-going success, and Mariam realises that taking time to be with her husband and son has had a positive impact on her career success and has taught her the value of thoughtfulness and creative problem solving. Her best way of relaxing now is spending time interacting with, and often just observing, her two-year-old son. “It’s amazing to watch him grow and develop on a daily basis. I love watching his reaction and facial expressions when experiencing something for the first time and this brings me back to appreciating the things we often take for granted, such as our five senses.”

Lorenzo Phillippe Cardoso

CFO of SA Taxi Finance Holding (Pty) Ltd

Coming from a family of self-made entrepreneurs, as a kid Lorenzo Cardoso instinctively aspired to becoming a successful businessman. Today he is CFO and director of SA Taxi Finance Holding (Pty) Ltd.

SA Taxi provides access to finance for individuals running small entrepreneurial businesses (SMEs) underpinned by income-producing vehicles. Says Lorenzo: “We improve lives in South Africa every day by actively contributing to the upliftment of previously disadvantaged South Africans through the sustainable provision of finance, financial services and other business support, to entrepreneurs who believe SA Taxi will increase their likelihood of success.”

Lorenzo completed his articles at KPMG, Johannesburg, in 2006 and was fortunate to be offered a short-term secondment to the Prague office of KPMG. Thereafter he remained with KPMG for about a year to get managerial experience. In 2008 he joined the finance department of SA Taxi where he progressed through various roles, from special projects analyst to his current role as CFO.

Lorenzo has learnt many lessons, but two stand out: “The success of business is dependent on leadership’s ability to generate a sustainable vision and strategy that differentiates itself within the chosen market segment that it competes. It is crucial that this is delivered and understood by all employees in the business. The greatest asset in any business is its people. A leader’s biggest challenge is ensuring that you are always finding ways to innovate and un-tap the talent from those individuals within your work place. More often than not the best ideas come from the places you least expect. Leaders should provide employees with the confidence and support to enable them to share these ideas within the business and help take it forward.”

While Lorenzo does consider himself as being successful, he believes there is a lot more he needs to learn and achieve in his career. “In any future endeavour I would measure how successful I was by whether I have been able to use my knowledge, talent and skills to inspire my colleagues, peers and subordinates to leave the company we work for in a better and more sustainable position that it was when we first started.”

His favourite way of relaxing is spending time with his wife, Jenna, and their two children, Luca (4) and Mia (18 months), and finding interesting activities and places to visit which allows him to be present in their lives and at the same time take his

mind off the daily stresses from work.


Cobus Grove

CFO of DigiCore Holdings

Cobus Grove, CFO of DigiCore Holdings, says he breaks out of the stereotypical mould of an accountant by refusing to wear a grey suit.

Cobus completed his training contract at Deloitte and remained with the firm for a as manager specialising in the application of IFRS, also being seconded to SAICA where he managed rolling out Statement of GAAP for SMEs and doing training courses on behalf of SAICA.

Cobus then moved to the Innovation Group (subsidiary of a UK-listed entity) where he was appointed as the executive of the Finance Department. During this period Cobus was also appointed to the SAICA APC committee for a period of three years as well as continued lecturing the Accounting Honours programme of the National School of Accounting .

He then decided to move to the University of Johannesburg as a senior lecturer in the Accounting Honours programme. Here he learnt one of the greatest lessons of his life. After one of his students tragically passed away, the family requested Cobus to be a speaker at the burial ceremony where he also got the opportunity to see where his student studied. He was shocked to find the student had shared a room with four other family members, studied by candle light in the evenings, and drove a taxi over weekends to support his family along with his own battle of fighting of a terminal illness.

“During the ceremony it became very clear that this student was seen by his family and his community as an advocate for education inspiring all to get the best qualification possible. The thing that struck me most about this particular student was how positive he always was and that I can’t remember a single moment were he did not smile! To face his pressure of doing his honours, being the breadwinner in his family and dealing with a terminal illness and still be able to have that remarkable outlook on life is nothing but inspiring!”

Cobus was then appointed as associate director at EY specialising in the interpretation and application of IFRS for a period of two years. DigiCore Holdings Limited, a company listed on the main board of the JSE, then approached Cobus to become the group CFO / financial director where he is responsible for the entire finance function of the entire group that has an international footprint in more than 50 countries.

His ultimate way of relaxing after a stressful day is taking his boys to the park and letting them impress him on the jungle gym.

Cuan Chelin

Founder and CEO of the Super-Brands Group

Cuan Chelin, founder and CEO of the Super-Brands Group, aced matric with six distinctions. His father completed his articles but never obtained the CA(SA) designation and his mother worked in a financial role, so between the two of them they both advised him to pursue being a CA(SA). Cuan himself strongly believed this was the golden highway to many opportunities to be involved in businesses at a more senior level and would give him the financial acumen necessary to go out and build his own business.

Wasting no time, he worked on his articles while studying and joined BDO Spencer Steward in Durban. Unlike most of his peers, he did not regard articles as “jail time” but rather embraced it as a once in lifetime opportunity to explore and see the inside workings of a variety of different businesses and industries.

“I wrote my final board exams in 2004 and immediately took up employment with Chemical Specialities (Pty) Ltd as an exceutive. Within a few months of joining them I identified and presented an opportunity to structure a management buyout of the company. The management buyout later took place and I was promoted to the position of CEO of the company’s retail division, The House of Paint.”

In 2007 Cuan decided to pursue his own interests after a friend and himself identified an opportunity to start an online sports-betting business which was to be fully licensed and regulated, the first of its kind in South Africa. He also had an opportunity to partner another business to build a brand distribution business.

“Our businesses quickly grew and eventually the Super-Brands Group was formed comprising four businesses including a sports brand distrbution business which was sold earlier this year to a subsidiary of a JSE-listed group; Brand Identity, a 100% subsidiary of Seardel We currently continue to build on on our other business which include Sportingbet (South Africa’s largest online sports betting website) = and Toy Kingdom (a chain of toy retail stores  expanding across Africa). Then there is a joint venture with the South African Golf Association in which we run golf handicaps in South Africa under a business called Handicaps Network Africa …  There is so much I would still like to achieve and probably my top priority would be to build a truly global business.”

Being adventurous, he pushes himself to face his fears. “Most recently I have jumped off the highest bungee jump in the world, I have sky-dived, and I have ridden on the fastest, longest and tallest rollercoaster in the world. Next I would like to compete in the Iron Man and climb to Everest Base Camp.”


Celeste Hendricks

Co-director of Donna HD Chartered Accountants

For Celeste Hendricks, now co-director of Donna HD Chartered Accountants, it felt absolutely insane to study full time for seven years to become a CA(SA) and she decided  try a different route: “During my matric year I decided to study part-time whilst also completing my articles. So I went for a few interviews and started working at a medium-sized firm at the age of 18.”

Celeste completed her degree and honours as well as her articles in four years. “I then became a manager and also wrote and passed my first and second board exams. The ultimate goal had been reached; at the age of 23 I became a chartered accountant.

“I then stayed on at the firm and provided training to all the branches across the country. In my last year I worked for the firm as their IFRS specialist, providing services to all branches nationally. At the age of 24, I and a co-worker at that stage decided to start our own auditing firm. I have now been a co-director of our firm for almost three years.”

Celeste’s ambition is to leave a legacy of purpose. “I feel most energised when I use my strengths and talents for a purpose beyond myself. I want to make my life about something bigger than me. While I am not going to live forever I want to live on through the legacy I leave and the positive impact I made on the world.”

Her first boss taught her that every big dream begins with a dreamer. “All I needed to do was accept responsibility for my life and understand that nobody will take me where I want to go, except me. Simple, right?”

Surrounding herself with people who are interesting, eccentric and adventurous is what she truly loves. When people she meets see her pictures and hear her stories  of skiing and zip-lining, she says they often mistake her for a lawyer and even a lead guitarist. “Perhaps one day I will write a book on ‘Why accountants are cool’ and debunk myths like ‘accountants are nerds’ and ‘accountants aren’t interested in social change’.”

Jana Duvenage

Co-director of Donna HD Chartered Accountants

All Jana Duvenage, co-director of Donna HD Chartered Accountants, dreamed of becoming as a little girl was a fashion designer. She made and adorned her Barbie dolls with lovely clothes which ended with grand fashion shows, but things changed dramatically in Grade 10 when she got 92% for accounting she realised that this is what she’s really good at and, most importantly, what she enjoyed.

Studying full-time at the University of Johannesburg, she completed her articles at PKF (Jhb) Inc, which merged with Grant Thornton in 2012. Whilst preparing for her PPE exam, she was also preparing for her wedding. Proudly, she passed both her board exams on her first attempt. “In my second year of articles my husband (then fiancé) and I decided to get married two weeks after writing the PPE exam. All my fellow clerks thought that the pressure would be too much for me to pass and get married, but I did!”

Jana then became an audit manager at Moore Stephens but decided to start her own firm, Donna HD Chartered Accountants Inc, in September 2011. “We started with no clients and had no income (we really had nothing and knew nobody to help us); only after a few months we could start earning a salary. This was a huge obstacle to overcome as we still had a household to run and bills to pay, and the fact that the industry is so regulated that the only way of getting clients would be by word of mouth and giving the best quality service to our clients rather than making money –  this is what we ultimately strive for.”

“My mentor in life is without a doubt my dad as he became a bank manager before the age of 30. This is why I was so driven to be so successful: before the age of 30 I had my ownsuccessful business.”

Her dad taught her to be independent and that nothing in life is for free; you need to work hard to achieve your goals and with hard work nothing is impossible.

A challenge Jana says she faced in her career, but overcame: “After university when I started my articles (in the ‘big’ world) and was out of my comfort zone, I had doubts about my confidence and self-belief, but I decided that I needed to overcome this obstacle and focused on solutions. Therefore throughout my articles I have developed the necessary confidence and self-belief and in my time as an audit manager I even gave training to groups of article clerks.”

A favourite quote of hers is by Frank A Clark: “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Rayna Dolphin

Head of Business Finance at Stanlib Asset Management

Rayna Dolphin, Head of Business Finance at Stanlib Asset Management, discovered in high school she had a great aptitude for accounting. In Grade 11 her mother arranged for her to attend a stock count in Lesotho where she also helped out first-year auditors. It was here she discovered that this was the environment she enjoyed.

During her matric year she was awarded a study bursary from Deloitte where she completed her articles. When she qualified, she spent four months on the JIT programme in Minneapolis, St Paul, USA, and returned to join the Deloitte Corporate Finance team in Johannesburg. However, by then the travel bug had bitten so hard that within a year she decided to pursue a career abroad.

“I was fortunate to move to London with EY and join their Transaction Advisory Services. By the time I commenced my career at EY, the financial crises were in full effect and the credit market and deals had dried up, so there was also a significant reduction in clients and assignments.”

One of the greatest challenges, but at the same time a very profitable growing experience, was moving to a foreign country on her own and starting a career while the financial crises were in full swing: “I had to strengthen my self-confidence and become more vocal about my ideas and show my abilities while working and competing with talented people from all over the world. I had to improve my written and verbal communication skills, spend more time observing and active listening to understand what is really being communicated especially working in a multicultural environment.”

In light of the impact of the crises, Rayna decided to return to the audit field and moved to Internal Audit at TNT Express’s head office in Amsterdam where she served as senior international auditor. During her employment with TNT Express, she had the opportunity to travel (for work) six continents and visit 25 countries.

After three years at TNT she decided to pursue an MBA full time in Madrid and returned to South Africa soon after graduation. It then took some time finding the right role and she took up the role of head of business finance at Stanlib Asset Management.

“In my personal life I like to have fun, have a good sense of humour and maintain and optimistic outlook. I also keep an eclectic mix of friends which help maintain an awareness of social, economic issues and popular cultural trends, both locally and abroad.”

Sapna Galal

Co-owner of Impumelelo Financial Advisory Solutions

As someone who did not have the privilege of attending a private school or a more diverse school, Sapna Galal, co-owner of Impumelelo Financial Advisory Solutions, found that her articles provided one of the best experiences, as it developed her self-confidence and provided a solid foundation for her career. “I think that it is critical that this is a key consideration in every child’s development and upbringing in order to equip them with life skills to enable readiness for the working world.”

Sapna obtained her honours degree at Wits University and completed her articles at PwC in the Metals and Mining Division. She then chose to move into commerce at a leading automobile manufacturer as a corporate accountant.

The decisive point came when she was ready to start a family. She knew it was time to move on, but at the same time she wanted to create something sustainable. “I wanted to enjoy my children without sacrificing my career. My partner had similar aspirations and wanted the same. This was the leading factor which resulted in the formation of Impumelelo Financial Advisory Solutions (IFAS). Our consulting firm provided me with the perfect base for staying abreast with the profession and stimulation, whilst retaining the flexibility in being a mum to my children.”

Her vision for IFAS is to expand and grow it into a recognised consulting house. Great emphasis is placed on contribution tosociety and the good of others which underpins the reason for starting the business.

Her biggest inspiration has always been her mum, who encouraged her to follow her dreams with perseverance, determination and, most importantly, faith, believing that anything is possible. “She was very strong academically while in school, but due to her mother’s ill health she was forced to leave before completing matric. She was a firm believer in education and always wanted her children to study further and obtain university degrees prior to entering the working world. Her nature inspired us to always remain humble and grateful for all our achievements.”

Besides getting lost in novels, Bollywood dancing is one of Sapna’s favourite hobbies which provides exercise and much enjoyment. “This has always been my passion and I have performed at many functions and events since childhood.”