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LEAD: Profile: Proud educator of CAs(SA)

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Professor Akbar Bootha’s fulfilling career includes lecturing young people from less advantaged backgrounds, but his own children are also making their mark in the accountancy profession. Lynn Grala spoke to him

Picture for a moment young boys or girls living in a rural community under the most difficult circumstances imaginable – on the one hand they are very bright and eager to learn, but on the other they are very poor. So poor, in fact, that things you and I consider bare necessities they regard as luxuries, and their future seems doomed to be one of absolute poverty, too. But through the benevolence of others, fortune has smiled upon some of them: they receive a bursary and the opportunity to study at university. They work hard, graduate, and later go on to qualify as CAs(SA).

That’s not the end of the story, as in later years you get to hear inspiring news about some of these youngsters. One is now a senior partner at a large international auditing firm, another is an executive director of a JSE-listed company, and yet another is a trustee and chairman of a R10 billion pension fund.

For Professor Akbar Bootha CA(SA), director of the School of Accounting at North-West University’s Mafikeng Campus, these are a few of the true stories he’ll proudly share with you and what have made his career so immensely fulfilling, as these students are children he once taught or who have gone through his department. “Those very rural children I have referred to are now successful and wealthy leaders in the community. Can there be anything more fulfilling than that, when you know that you played some part in getting those persons to where they are today?” he adds.

This is not the only proud story he’ll share with you. Professor Akbar will also tell you about his three children, Saffiyah, Farzeen and Shaah, who are also all successful in the accountancy profession. “Regarding my children, I always held the view that they should choose a profession of their liking, but it was their mother who encouraged them to become CAs(SA).”

All three children knew what they were going to study at university before they had even started school. Their mother, Shireen Akbar, who also has a background in education (and also just completed her MCom in Industrial Psychology) realised that with a CA(SA) designation they would have varied opportunities, earn well, and be highly respected in society. By the time they matriculated, their minds had been so conditioned that they could think of no other field to go into. Professor Akbar adds, “Of course, they have no regrets about their choice. If they had to start all over again, each one of them would go the CA(SA) route.”

Professor Akbar first found out about the profession through his father, who had a small bookkeeping practice in Lichtenburg, in North West. Some of the clients’ financial statements had to be audited, thus there was a lot of interaction with chartered accountants in practice. His father held CAs(SA) in very high esteem, giving Professor Akbar the desire to want to be one too. He says, “I understood then already that it wasn’t an easy qualification to obtain, but my father encouraged me towards it. And the proudest day of my life was when I passed the final qualifying examination, in a year when the national average was a dismal 34% [1977].”

Prior to moving to NWU Mafikeng, Professor Akbar spent six years lecturing at the University of Durban-Westville (now part of the University of KwaZulu-Natal). He left because he desired to go back to the place where he grew up. He has since being at the NWU Mafikeng campus for more than 30 years, just over five years as director of the School of Accounting. He adds, “I started as a senior lecturer in the Department of Accounting in 1983, but later moved out to become dean of the faculty and thereafter director of the Centre for Business and Management Development. After remaining in that position for some time, I became Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Administration and Finance.”

The greatest satisfaction for Professor Bootha being in this position was that within two years of his appointment, the university’s financial statements were transformed from a disclaimer to an unqualified audit opinion and they were no longer in the red. A few years after the merger with Potchefstroom University he decided that it was time to return to his post as professor of accounting and thereafter took over as director of the school.

Saffiya, Professor Akbar’s eldest daughter, became entitled to the designation CA(SA) in 2014. She did her BCom at the Mafikeng Campus of NWU and her articles with PwC, Mafikeng, and is now a manager in their assurance division. Last year she was among a small group countrywide to receive the prestigious PwC Experience Award. At school she regularly took part in speech and drama competitions at eisteddfodau, where she won many trophies for coming first. Participating in eisteddfodau has given her a great deal of self-confidence and the ability to communicate well with individuals and groups and has helped her in her daily interaction with colleagues and clients.

“Saffiyah loves her job, but at times works more than 15 hours a day, especially when there are deadlines to be met. That leaves her little time for hobbies,” adds Professor Akbar.

Her preferred form of relaxation is watching movies or reading, with Jeffrey Archer as one of her favourite authors. Trying out exotic recipes is something else she enjoys.

Farzeen seems to be the one that has surprised her family most. Although she never took accounting at school and seemed to show little interest in the subject, she was tops in her BCom chartered accountancy class from the outset, obtaining her degree cum laude. She has passed Part 2 of the Final Qualifying exam, but will be able to use the designation CA(SA) only at the beginning of 2015, after completing her training period at PwC Mafikeng. Farzeen enjoys travelling and likes to read when she has time. Baking is also one of her hobbies. She loves adventure sports and has already done skydiving. During her years of participation in the eisteddfodau, she always excelled with gold or gold star certificates.

He father humorously adds, “One of her other pastimes (that she would not admit to) is teasing and making fun of her brother, Shaah.”

The youngest of the three children, and Professor Akbar’s only son, Shaah, matriculated when he was 15 by doing Grades 8 to 12 over two years of home schooling. While his primary school mates were just finishing matric, he had already obtained his BCom chartered accountancy degree at NWU’s Mafikeng campus, passing his ITC at the age of 20. Currently he is in his second year of articles with PwC Mafikeng and will be writing the APC at the end of this year. In his CTA, which he completed through Unisa, he was amongst the Top 10. Shaah is a sports fanatic and represented North West Country Districts in primary school cricket. After playing at club level while an undergraduate, he gave up the sport due to various reasons.

“Among all my children, Shaah shows the most interest in business. He came second in the 2010 Standard Bank Liberty Life Investment Competition in which South African universities participate.”

“With a CA(SA) qualification you cannot starve,” says Professor Akbar, “There are multiple opportunities available for you all over the world. Our qualification is well respected and in demand in the developed countries. The fact that there are over

7 000 CAs(SA) overseas, of which almost 3 000 are in the UK alone, is proof of that. Furthermore, unlike most other professions, you are not restricted to one field such as auditing and can switch careers even after you have qualified. Approximately 32% of CEOs and 75% of CFOs of the JSE’s top 200 companies are CAs(SA). That should say something about the profession.”

Those who have completed their undergraduate studies at NWU Mafikeng and subsequently have become CAs(SA) are now all successful, holding senior positions wherever they are. However, Professor Akbar says that CAs(SA) originating from

NWU Mafikeng are still too few. But he adds, “The good news is that things have changed and the numbers are increasing. Within a couple of years we will double what took us 30 years to achieve. Though I must emphasise, this would not have been possible without the dedicated personnel in the School of Accounting and the Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF). My colleagues work extremely hard to ensure that our students succeed. But without the assistance of Chantyl Mulder from SAICA and her Thuthuka team, we would not have been able to come anywhere near to where we are now in such a short period of time. Being a TBF university, and having achieved a Level 1 accreditation from SAICA, we are able to attract more of the quality students than we did before.”

As Professor Akbar has observed, it is heartening to note that more and more parents are becoming aware of the CA(SA) brand and are persuading their children to take BCom Accounting and encouraging them to be CAs(SA). However, one thing remains: parents still need to ensure that their children take the right subjects at school, especially mathematics instead of maths literacy. ❐

Author: Lynn Grala is publications assistant at Accountancy SA