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Lead: A keen balancing act

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Vanuja Maharaj – an achiever at work, devoted wife and mother at home
When you are the youngest female business executive of colour in the Auditor-General’s Office (AGSA), based in the KwaZulu- Natal (KZN) Business Unit office, carving out your niche is a challenge at first. But if you are passionate about what you do and a firm believer in skills development and mentorship, then the journey
is far less arduous. So says 30-something year old Vanuja Maharaj. Vanuja is a keen number cruncher from her early school years.

It is clear that she is set to play a decisive role in the public sector, following in the footsteps of the Auditor-General, Terence Nombembe, in his unwavering vision for the skills development so critical to addressing the skills shortage in South Africa, especially in financial management in the public sector.

“This has been an incredible journey. Whilst I was in the private sector I opted to deal with both private and public clients. My interest in the public sector grew as I found the work of the AGSA’s office so much more meaningful and rewarding. It is meaningful in the sense that you are active in the development of people who
previously did not get the opportunity to do so and contribute to the skills shortage in our country. Rewarding in the sense that I am also given the opportunity to positively influence the public sector.

Interestingly enough, it was my plan to return to the private sector. That has since changed, purely because I think it is very rare that as a qualified chartered accountant you get the opportunity to give back to the public sector of our developing country,” says Maharaj.

When asked when this journey had commenced, Maharaj had the following to say:
“Taking up the position of KZN Business Executive is a dream come true. I am extremely passionate, motivated and focused in leading the KZN Business Unit to greater heights. My humble beginnings emanate from a quaint country town in the KZN Midlands called Howick, where I spent my school-going years.

I attended Howick Secondary School and Mr Jungbahadur, my English teacher, was a driving force. He encouraged me to enter speech contests and act in plays,” says Maharaj. “This gave me a good sense of self-esteem and the prerequisite confidence that is obligatory in my current role. It would be unjust for me not to recognise my parents and brothers who have been instrumental in everything that I have achieved. With their support, I registered at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to complete my BCom degree, with the desire to qualify as a CA(SA), a sought-after designation.

After completing my vacation work with all of the ‘Big Four’ companies, I knew I had chosen the correct career and subsequently completed my traineeship at Ernst & Young (E&Y). My interest in the AGSA grew from the first of many interactions with the local Pietermaritzburg office and when a Senior Manager position became available, I decided that it was time for a change, as I found the public sector more meaningful and rewarding. I joined the KZN BU around mid- 2005 as a Senior Manager and was promoted to deputy business executive in March 2008.

Despite my thriving career, I feel my greatest success story is that I am married to a wonderful husband and am blessed with two awesome children. My son and daughter give me the will to succeed in my position, as it means I have the opportunity to provide a better life for all.

I always keep the AGSA vision in mind by living our values at all times, and thereby fulfilling the reputation promise of building public confidence. Our mandate is significant as it is about making a difference to people’s lives. One gets the opportunity to mentor and train people to be future leaders as well as to contribute to a scarce skills pool in our country. Being true to oneself is essential and I truly believe that doing the right thing and doing everything with excellence is essential to one’s development.”

It is selfless individuals such as Maharaj, who not only grow people at the AGSA, but who also serve as impeccable role models for the rest of the country. There is no doubt that South Africa, especially the youth, need credible role models and Maharaj fulfils this need. True mentorship can only be possible when a mentor practises and
reflects good values himself/herself.

“At school I participated in speech contests and obtained the good fellowship award and I was Deputy Head Girl during my matric year. During my first and second years at university I obtained the prestigious Dean’s Commendation award. I completed my traineeship at Ernst & Young. Mr David Withers from E&Y was instrumental
in my training and development. I was then appointed as Assistant Manager and thereafter Manager. I was humbled to be nominated for a woman’s excellence award by the Durban Chamber of Commerce & Industry and had the opportunity to do a Woman’s Day article in the Accountancy SA publication.”

Women, like the youth, also need role models with gravitas and this is the best way to describe this titan. As a woman in a position of responsibility, she offers a simple philosophy to success. She is especially keen on providing guidance and leadership to women.

“I started off with a very simple message: ‘working smarter’ to achieve work balance. This was especially important to me as I want more women to feel confident about taking up leadership positions and also having success in their family lives. The thought that you cannot have both has to be eliminated. I have spent lots of time with external stakeholders to develop relationships and currently my focus is on investing in internal stakeholders to achieve excellence.”

Maharaj sees herself as working extensively in the public sector. She would also like to see more young people pursuing the CA(SA) career path. In 2012, for the third year in a row, the World Economic Forum rated South Africa as the best performing country when it came to the strength of auditing and reporting standards. The nation needs to swell our numbers of dedicated CAs(SA) to maintain this standard.

“I was brought up in a home where we were taught that education must never be compromised. Working hard and being dedicated as well as doing every task with excellence would contribute to a better future for us. It was extremely difficult and challenging for my parents who had to revise their budgets continuously to ensure that they did their bit whilst we concentrated on studying.

I wish that every learner and student could be inspired, motivated and supported to
this extent. Choosing a career as a CA(SA) opens oneself to lots of opportunities, both in the private and public sectors. It is a career that is embodied by a high level of ethics and values that is associated with brilliance and superiority. It is a qualification that is well respected, extends globally and is highly sought after.”