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LIFESTYLE: Driven Humility

The words that are often used to define PwC’s Suresh Kana. He shares insights on leadership and skills development.

Great leaders are often unassuming people who create environments where others can give their best to what they do best. We greatly misunderstand the origins of great leadership and underestimate what we can learn from ‘Level 5 Leaders’. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins defines Level 5 leaders as having the following five attributes:

• Embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves
• Display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated
• Are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results
• Display a workman-like diligence – more plow horse than show horse
• Look out of the window to attribute their success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility!

A leader in our profession who displays all of the above attributes is Suresh Kana, PwC Africa Senior Partner. He grew up and worked in the trenches, started his career in 1976, and with perseverance, patience and hard work became the leader he is today. He is happily married to his wife, Kalpana, and they have four beautiful children. In discussions with his family, those he mentors, and various stakeholders in our profession, a phrase that is very often used to define Suresh Kana is Driven Humility.

Up until 2012 his role was CEO of PwC Southern Africa. His position and focus as from 1 July 2012 is Senior Partner for PwC Africa, driving and leading the expansion and growth of an investment of US$100 million in people and infrastructure, and the recruitment of around 8 000 additional partners and staff in Africa over the next four years.

Being a passionate, lifelong learner, professor at the University of Johannesburg and honorary professor at the University of the Free State and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Suresh founded the PwC Business School with a vision to expand it to Africa, contributing to skills development on our continent. Despite his busy schedule, Suresh made time to spend a morning with us at his offices, sharing insights into his life and career experiences.

On… Personal Leadership

The value of Discipline – 5 disciplines Suresh lives by that contributed to his success and fulfilment

• Humility and respect. Suresh is a close follower of Ghandi and believes his life to be a sterling example of how leaders should conduct themselves – striving at all times to serve the best interests of those around them and treating all people with dignity and respect: “Becoming proud and arrogant is the greatest risk to success and fulfilment.”
• Life-long learning. Suresh is a firm believer in continuing professional development (CPD): “When we stop learning we move backwards.”
• Combining one’s passion with work is critical: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
• Be an interesting person: “Interests outside of work are very important and provide one with perspective and balance.”
• Dream big. Suresh’s mother was not educated, but she was very wise and lived by a very simple philosophy: “The quality of your life will come from the richness of your thoughts, overcome your nightmares with your dreams!”

The value of self-leadership – 4 personal dimensions Suresh continuously develops as a leader

Suresh has always remained active
through trekking, mountaineering
and yoga – these are his golden keys
to radiant health, lasting happiness
and inner strength.

He sets aside specific time to
nurture his spiritual growth making
it a non-negotiable. His days start
at exactly 3:08am, affording him the
opportunity to mediate and focus
spiritually prior to the hustle and
bustle of the day taking over. He
also tries to visit places of spiritual
significance to him.
Mental growth and development is a
continuous journey, requiring focus
and hard work. Suresh tries his
best to stay focused while at work
by applying himself fully to tasks at
hand. He never shies away from
challenges as without challenges
there simply is no growth. For
Suresh, mental growth is also firmly
linked to surrounding himself with
fresh ideas and perspectives as this
forces him to test the status quo and
broaden his own perspectives

Emotional well-being for Suresh
is a combination of well-being
in the other three areas together
with quality family time. Family is
Suresh’s ultimate support structure
and he places a lot of emphasis on
spending time with his wife and four
children. He believes that by being
emotionally in tune with his family,
he is better equipped to deal with
any other challenges which his work
days are sure to deliver.


Challenges that SA business leaders are facing
PwC South Africa produced and released the 4th edition of the South African CEO Survey to supplement its global edition. It was, again, well received by the business community and the press. This survey provides great insight into the issues affecting and worrying CEOs.

The challenges outlined in the survey are consistent with Suresh’s views on the “big ticket items” affecting business. As difficult economic conditions persist, CEOs are increasingly worried about a wider range of issues than they were a year ago:
• More than two-thirds of South African CEOs (Global 17%) believe that social unrest in the country is the threat most likely to materialise and to have the greatest negative effect (86%) on their organisations
• Recession in the US and a slowdown in China’s growth were also recognised as likely. However, less than half the respondents held this view
• Bribery and corruption and uncertain or volatile growth are the most pressing concerns cited by CEOs. Levels of concerns about uncertain or volatile economic growth have improved slightly, declining from 81% last year to 75%, but still remaining quite high in absolute terms
• Unease about the rate of exchange has grown from 53% to 70% over the past year and is now a significantly greater concern for South African CEOs than their global peers
• Although two-thirds of CEOs are worried about over-regulation, this is broadly in line with the global average
• Concerns about lack of stability in capital markets and the government’s response to fiscal deficit and debt burden have grown by more than a quarter in the last year to 40% and 63% respectively
• A significant percentage of CEOs (88%) are extremely concerned about the availability of key skills.

A solution for these challenges – partnership between Government and Business
Suresh believes that if both business and government continue to focus on sound economic and business fundamentals, which must include promoting and strengthening individual and collective corporate governance responsibilities, it will go a long way
towards overcoming the business challenges we face.

The partnership between government and business should include:
• Responsible leadership: we have to conduct business and government in a responsible manner, taking into account the views of and impact on all stakeholders
• Increased engagement: government and business must be collaborative in their approach to establish economic initiatives and conditions which are conducive to investment and ethical business practices
• A focus on skills: business and government should expand skills development initiatives to address the skills shortage. An increase in skills will ease the impact of a number of the challenges we face
• An eradication of corruption: corruption is, at its root, another burdensome tax on the poor, and the CA(SA) profession has a very important role to play in eradicating this plague. We have the knowledge and expertise to assist with the implementation and monitoring of effective internal control processes which will greatly eliminate the majority of corrupt business practices.


Growing 1st World Organisations on a Developing Continent
Andrew Rugarsira (2009), a Ugandan Economist and CEO of Good African Coffee, challenges leaders in Africa to build sustainable businesses through trade and not aid, basing his argument on statistics that show that when aid is at its highest in Africa, GDP per capita is at its lowest. Suresh emphasises that the investments that businesses plan to make in Africa need to explicitly be of a trade nature, and they must seek to develop local capabilities and capacity.

The world is looking to Africa to make a significant contribution to global trade and economic growth, and Suresh believes that the following five mega-trends will fuel this growth going forward:
• A larger, younger and more affluent population;
• Africa’s transformational urban swell;
• Leap-frogging through technology;
• Africa’s dormant resources potential; and
• Africa’s deepening financial sector.

It is certainly advantageous being at the heart of this economic growth, as well as part of a profession that has the ability and global capacity to assist existing and potential clients in achieving their growth ambitions. The challenge is matching our profession’s skills and resources with our clients’ and Africa’s expansion – Africa is a treasure trove of great talent which needs to be developed, and hence we need to recruit and support the development of local professionals across Africa.


Skills shortage in our Profession
Suresh is passionate about skills development and emphasises that the skills shortage is severe and becoming increasingly pressured. He supports the profession in actively marketing itself and engaging with students so as to explain the benefits of becoming a CA(SA), while acknowledging the limitations in its recruitment drive due to capacity constraints experienced by our tertiary education institutions.

The lack of numeracy and mathematical skills among school leavers are additional problems. Progress is also slow as it takes seven years on average to train a Chartered Accountant. Suresh is actively involved in addressing these shortages and sits on the board of SAICA’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund that provides academic and financial support to disadvantaged students on the CA(SA) programme. These funds are fully supported by government and business. PwC, like many of the other firms, also has a bursary scheme and invests around R100 million on average over every three-year cycle.

Pay it forward – Young Professionals and Trainees
Suresh encourages young professionals to seek out someone whom they can help and whose life they can make a difference in. Invariably, every professional had/has a mentor or leader from whom he/she has learnt a great deal, and who took an active interest in his/her career. Each of us has a responsibility to pay it forward and be social entrepreneurs.

Supporting CPD

The world is volatile, and this creates an inevitable challenge to the profession to move in synch with our clients. As businesses operate in an increasing world of complexity, the key is to stay relevant and up to date. To address these professional development
requirements, the PwC Business School was birthed under the leadership and vision of Suresh and currently provides approximately 45 000 hours of internal and external learning and development programmes per annum.

The skills imparted by these programmes enhance the skills-base throughout South Africa, and as these skills are subsequently transferred, the wider population also benefits. Suresh emphasises that to stop learning is to move backwards, and it is through joining and supporting visionary skills development initiatives that each person in our profession can play their part in addressing the skills shortage in our country. ❐

• Collins Jim (2001). Good to Great. USA: Harper Collins
• Rugarsira, A (2009). Aid versus Trade. Guest Speaker – Global Leadership Summit. USA: Willow Creek Association.
• PwC (2013). Annual CEO Survey. Making Strides to survive and thrive. 4th South Africa Edition. SA: PwC

Author: Adel du Plessis CA(SA). Photography: BrightLiquidLight