Nancy Chakabuda is enjoying a secondment in the US early in her career and has since never let go of her dream of adding a more immersive and longer-term international experience to her career portfolio, knowing the immeasurable benefits of gaining a global perspective and enhancing soft skills and communication while understanding different cultures better, and of course gaining well-rounded technical skills. After being the Africa Middle East Controls Leader at Cummins Africa Middle East for just over two years, Nancy is now Internal Controls Director, International, at Cummins Inc. We chat to her about her new role and her life in the United States.
Did the opportunity come because of career planning?
Yes, knowing where I want to be and communicating my career aspirations to senior leaders, my mentors and my manager. Of course, this came with working hard to prove myself as being ready for the next step in my career − actively working on self-development while showing my technical proficiencies as a CA(SA). Most importantly, my leadership skills made the company more willing to give me opportunities. Because of the wide scope of my new global role, I had to prove myself beyond technical skills, as one who can interact with and lead in different cultures and contexts, which was enabled through the work I did in my previous regional role.
How will you advise other young CAs(SA) regarding career planning?
Career planning is one of my first ‘to do’s’ with people I mentor. My advice for young CAs(SA) is that knowledge is power: know your strengths and weaknesses (where you need to develop) and know the skills you need for your short-, medium- and long-term career goals.
This allows you to make more informed decisions when considering opportunities − what skills you have mastered versus what new skills you can gain. Connected to this, always consider skills to be gained and not titles when considering an opportunity. Knowing the skills gaps you have also allows you to continuously search for growth, whether in the form of a new role or further studies. Career planning fosters a growth mindset.
What are some considerations one should have before moving to another country? Which were key to you?
Moving to another country is a major life-changing event. One needs to ensure that one thoroughly researches the culture and norms of the area they are moving to – this knowledge makes you more aware of your communication style, makes you intentionally open-minded and accepting of others’ cultures, and helps an easier integration into the new society.
Not only does one have to be mentally prepared, but one must also be financially prepared for the change − understand the general pay conditions and cost of living in advance. In some instances you will have to be okay with letting go of some ‘luxuries’ you are used to in your home country.
What has helped you to adjust in the USA?
Building the routine that I am used to in the new country, like finding a church, a local gym, local malls, and grocery stores. These have been key to building normalcy for me. Work has thankfully added to the sense of familiarity and routine, as I had worked with many colleagues based in the US while employed in the South African office.
What do you enjoy most about your job and being a CA(SA)?
As a CA(SA), I enjoy applying my technical skills to process and control improvements, problem-solving and risk management. The CA(SA) qualification has equipped me not only with an understanding of risk management in finance but also a broader understanding of risk management in business, so I am able to add value across many facets of the organisation.
From a job perspective, I thoroughly enjoy the cross-cultural interactions − leading teams from vastly different regions has enhanced my awareness and management of cultural differences, enhanced by a global perspective. My global leadership role has been the most challenging but rewarding in terms of personal and professional growth.
What is your advice to trainees when choosing industries?
A CA(SA) can flourish in any industry. My advice to trainees is to be vocal about their industry interests when they start out so that their client experience during their training contract can be aligned to it as much as possible. It makes it easier to find a role in that industry post-articles should they wish to branch out of audit. On the other hand, I would advise trainees to stay open-minded to training experience in different industries, as the varied experience not only adds value to their portfolio but opens up their minds to entering other industries they may not have thought of before.
You are a Top 35-under-35 alumna. Share your experience with us?
The Top 35 experience was exciting throughout. Meeting the judges and friendly faces at SAICA made my nerves disappear − I felt right at home. And meeting and interacting with the Top 35 finalists was so rewarding − listening to everyone’s journeys made me feel even more honoured to be selected as a finalist. The initiatives and gifts from the sponsors were well thought out and despite us being in lockdown at that time, they made a way of staying highly connected with us throughout. It was an amazing time where we all were truly celebrated and recognised for our achievements as young CAs(SA).
What did winning the Lead category mean to you?
As a leadership enthusiast and mentor, wining the Lead category was an emotional event for me. I am where I am because of the strong leaders that have nurtured my personal and professional development – this drives the ‘why’ behind my endeavours for authentic and purpose-driven leadership and lifting as I rise. So it was great to be recognised for something that fulfils a core purpose of mine. It also confirmed that women can be just as effective and successful as men in leadership roles and boosted my confidence to push on in my leadership journey. I felt incredibly proud representing many young women in Africa who are shattering glass ceilings through their resilience, courage and leadership.
How will you encourage others to enter the competition?
I would encourage others to enter the competition as it builds for them, a lifelong network of friends and young CAs making waves in Africa and globally. It is an opportune way to take a moment and celebrate your own journey and successes. Seeing what other young CAs are doing also motivates one to strive for an even greater impact in their organisations and communities at large.
Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. As young leaders, we have the courage to speak up and be consistent in making the right decisions in our workplaces and our daily lives, even if they are considered unpopular. I have come across many ethical dilemmas in my personal and professional life, and as I choose to do the right thing in every instance, being consistent with my values I gained more respect from others and confidence in myself. Many people are afraid to ‘go against the crowd’ when it is the right decision. If more young CAs(SA) can display fearlessness and realise that it is okay to be unpopular for the right reasons, we can contribute to creating a powerful ethical movement.