Koko Khumalo is the CEO and founding partner of Motlanalo Chartered Accountants and Auditors Incorporated (Motlanalo Inc), a majority African Black women-owned South African audit, accounting and professional services firm. As Motlanalo has steadily grown, her vision has not waned
Koko is more confident than ever that there is room in the market for an emerging firm such as Motlanalo and that the firm and its employees have an important role to play in contributing to South Africa’s economy.
Her first life lessons came from her parents in the village in Sekhukhuneland in Limpopo where she was born and raised. Here, her parents taught her that education was the path to freedom, especially for women. She recalls the words of the village elders, mostly her aunts, who said that ‘Education is your first husband’.
Five years ago, Koko founded Motlanalo Inc by acquiring the PwC practice in Polokwane through its Enterprise Development Programme. Using her over 20 years’ experience of the time she spent at two Big Four audit firms, and as an audit professional, Koko has brought together her abilities and experiences earned from serving as an executive and partner in the two firms. Koko’s desire to start her own Black women-owned firm was driven by her core belief in the need to accelerate transformation in the South African audit profession and create opportunities and experiences for emerging Black audit professionals. In addition, this desire is underpinned by her unwavering pursuit to restore confidence in the profession and build the professional development of her teams on the fundamental values of respect, integrity and honesty that her firm is founded upon.
‘Added to this, my over 20 years’ experience in audit and professional services firms has enriched the tapestry of my professional experience by exposure to international business and best practice, and to work side by side with some of the greatest minds. I have an obligation to future generations to ensure I pass this experience on to Motlanalo employees and the communities that I serve. It is my greatest professional privilege to open doors so that those who follow us have an easier path to walk towards achieving success.’
Her experiences with blue chip corporates and in Big Four accounting firms have exposed Koko to global best practice and enriched her worldview of standards of excellence in governance, ethics and business practices. Prior to serving articles, Koko worked for South African Breweries and Standard Bank of South Africa. She then joined PwC, where she was a partner and held various leadership positions, including managing partner of PwC’s operations in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. She also served as a member of the PwC governing board and the Southern Africa executive committee, being the first female to be appointed in this role. From 2012 to 2016 Koko served as an executive and partner at EY Africa as the Africa Leader for Risk Management. In this role she was the executive responsible for risk management, which included internal audit, legal, compliance, independence, risk management and regulatory services in EY Sub-Saharan Africa.
Koko is also a wife and mother to three adult children (two sons and a daughter).
We asked her to map out her career for us.
How has Motlanalo grown over the years?
The first three to five years of a business are a critical indicator of the potential success of an enterprise, and in its first five years, Motlanalo has grown from strength to strength: from around 12 employees in Polokwane to some 90 employees in Polokwane, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
This is, in large part, due to the support I have received from the PwC, EY and Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) Enterprise Development Programmes and the clients who had confidence in the firm, as well as from my protagonists in my professional network.
A turning point for Motlanalo’s private sector growth came on 7 December 2018, when EY announced a strategic partnership with Motlanalo to the market. The partnership meant that EY would leverage Motlanalo’s skills and knowledge with initial focus on bank audits and in return Motlanalo would have access to EY’s global network of resources, integrated teams and auditing expertise.
What makes Motlanalo special to you?
When I founded Motlanalo in 2017, I was focused on creating a company that contributes to the development of professionals and auditors of our land and beyond. I want to achieve this through teaching and by creating a nurturing and empowering environment for future auditors and accountants, especially those who may not have the opportunity to serve articles in the Big Four audit environment, and also give them similar opportunity through the strategic partnerships we have and the clients we serve.
We want to share our future with smart, young, talented, and diverse people, who embrace our values of Respect, Understanding, Trust and Accountability (RUTA), which means ‘to teach’ in Sepedi.
What should young members of SAICA bear in mind about what is required to be appointed to board positions?
Board appointments are earned by bringing to bear the collective of your experience, skills and wisdom, together with an attitude of service and contribution towards the sustainability of South Africa’s economy for future generations.
We must always keep in mind that our professional judgment and legacy of ethical conduct are important qualities that boards draw from to provide valuable oversight and governance of an organisation’s strategy. We must not be afraid to ask hard questions and hold true to the fundamentals of ethics and integrity. Board members play a key role in the consistent application of these qualities and ensure that good governance and transparency are upheld in business practices.
What are the greatest lessons you have learnt as a CEO that positions you well to serve on boards?
I believe that we cannot achieve our goals on our own. I have made a concerted effort to be in the orbit of knowledgeable and experienced people, who live values of integrity, respect and ethical conduct, and who were willing to show me the way.
I always have an eye open for those who are hungry to learn, and who have the potential to achieve great things.
The secret to success is not achieving it on your own and keeping your knowledge to yourself, but sharing it and bringing others along with you.
What advice would you give to young CAs(SA)?
Wherever there is a conflict between cash and growth, always choose growth. Jealously guard your own development, as this will pay dividends later in life.
Women, especially, should keep this in mind, as this choice will be pivotal in giving them more choices in life with a greater chance of a sustainable future.
What would you say to young CAs(SA) about building their personal brand, especially in the age of social media?
I caution young professionals who liberally use social media without consideration of what the impact will be in the long term. While I value the freedom of expression, it would be wise to understand the risk of what to express, where to express it and how it is being expressed.
In 10 to 15 years, young professionals may have the opportunity to serve in advisory roles on boards or public policy committees, and basic due diligence may unearth inappropriate content coming from a professional on social media platforms, which could negate opportunities.
As CAs(SA), we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We should always ask ourselves whether our conduct is ethical and if we are acting with integrity in line with our code of professional ethics and conduct. If you cannot tick these boxes, don’t do it.
What is your view of continuous professional development (CPD) for CAs(SA)?
As CAs(SA), our learning should never end. I believe there is a great need for professionals to contribute towards meaningfully influencing policies, helping organisations to grow and succeed, and making a positive impact in society and the economy. This cannot be done without staying ahead of the accelerated pace of change and keeping knowledge fresh and current of best practices, regulations and standards. For example, early in 2022, I participated in the TheBoardroom Africa’s Open Doors board effectiveness programme, the first globally accredited board training offered specifically to women leaders from across Africa.
Koko believes we have a moral obligation to pay forward the investment that has been made in our own professional development. She echoes the famous quote by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’