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The Financial Armament at Armscor

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Johannesburg, Monday, 6 June 2016 – Gratitude Ramphaka CA(SA), is as elegant and gracious as a talk show host, yet as tenacious and driven as the finance professional she has become.  Her excellent matric results meant she could have taken her pick from multiple careers. ‘Deciding to become a CA(SA) was a process of elimination,’ she says. Many years later, she concludes that becoming a CA(SA) was the best choice she could have made.

Gratitude Rampheka thrives on a challenge. While working for the state is not the number one choice among many young CAs(SA), Gratitude appears to be thriving. ‘You have to utilise your strengths to your advantage,’ she says. As senior manager – finance in the research and development department at Armscor, Gratitude is delighted to announce Armscor’s achievement: an unqualified audit opinion for three years consecutively. ‘Two of them had a clean audit,’ she says, her pride tangible.

‘This organisation is very structured. It has well thought out policies and procedures that assist in the management of risk and the use of committees to make certain decisions. If you look at higher levels of decision-making, we involve our people representing science, engineering, quality, finance to security.’

The collaborative effort between both the business or acquisition side and support services has been a very successful model for Armscor. ‘That collaboration is really the strength of this organisation,’ says Gratitude. ‘There are organisations where people make decisions in little silos and it doesn’t work, because they are left wanting. This environment neutralises those risks in a big way.’

Change management is an important aspect. ‘You need to drive change carefully. Figure out how to do it effectively. It’s a challenge,’ acknowledges Gratitude. ‘Leadership is a well thought out process.

It’s not barging into people’s space and taking over.  It’s about encouraging everyone to be themselves and to bring their whole selves to work – many people only bring one aspect. But the more they are totally engaged with the organisation the more you get to see so many of their strengths. That is what we need.’

Prior to joining Armscor two years ago, Gratitude spent five years at the Office of the Auditor-General (AGSA). This meant interacting with all spheres of government and handling diverse issues. She concedes that this was an excellent training ground.

Gratitude was initially employed at the AGSA as a reporting manager before her promotion to senior manager performance audit. Her portfolio included compiling public performance audit reports for legislatures and parliament. ‘Reporting on outcomes analysis, and on the efficiency and effectiveness of government,’ she explains. It required tenacious follow through and many late nights as Gratitude had to negotiate funding for each performance audit with national and provincial departments and municipalities.

‘The AGSA was the type of environment that allowed you to be at the deep end of things – to really have a say and a voice that people would listen to,’ reflects Gratitude. She treated the trust bestowed upon her with the respect it merited. ‘The AGSA is an institution that is backed by the constitution so everywhere one went, you were heard from a point of view of authority,’ she explains.

‘The AGSA has a lot of influence protecting the democracy of South Africa. This really allowed me to develop, because even though I knew I had the constitutional backing of the office, I had to ensure I used that platform correctly. I was able to grow in a very short space of time, and was given a lot of exposure. They allowed me to interact at the highest levels – it was a very empowering environment.’

Stepping up to the plate 

Gratitude has learned significant lessons in the public sector space. ‘When I was a reporting manager, the emphasis was on analysing audit outcomes in both local government, provincial and national government. One was really exposed to how government was doing in relation to the issuing of financial statements and in terms of analysing current trends. That was the main thing.’

‘But also, when I grew into performance auditing, which looks at the efficiency, economy and cost effectiveness of government, I was able to contribute; by analysing specific projects and programmes and providing factual findings on their performance. So it was a case of taking a deeper look at government; beyond looking at their annual financial statements.’

Working at Armscor was a natural progression. ‘I was comfortable in the public service environment and I knew I had a lot more to offer. When the Armscor opportunity arose I took it with both hands, because I knew I could contribute. My decision to be in the public service has really as much about being able to contribute as it has been about the opportunity to build a career.’ This is a sentiment which will hopefully be shared by an increasing number of CAs(SA) in the future as they see the benefits of working for more than a competitive salary.

‘The main thing about working in the public sector is that you must adapt to working there. It is different.’ says Gratitude. She has the benefit of hindsight. She completed her training at KPMG and stayed on for several months thereafter. The private sector beckoned: with an internal audit stint of two years at Zurich Financial Services followed by an interesting role as an accountant at TBWA Hunt Lascaris.

Bright Minds  

‘At Armscor I am inspired by what I have been able to contribute and by working with a knowledgeable, highly qualified team. Research and Development is full of PHD’s. We need to exert that knowledge in an effective manner. I advise them how to commercialise and where we can, to enter into Private Public Partnerships.

‘These people need to operate in a financial environment although they are experts in the fields in which we want them to produce. We assist them to obtain better value for money, to make wise financial decisions in respect of their work and to contract to the benefit of the organisation in terms of what they are dealing with.

‘We need to sustain our facilities. There is a general recognition that the coffers of government are shrinking, so it is not enough to wait for handouts. Armscor has developed competitive advantage in certain technologies and work hard to maximise a return on what we produce.

‘Besides research and development, we have Defence, Science and Technology Institutes. Then we have our laboratories, ergonomics and chemical engineering and an innovation division which handles intellectual property acquisition. From a finance perspective all of these areas need to be looked at. As a CA(SA) Gertrude gets a top clearance so she has to undergo polygraph tests in addition to the usual security protocol.  Rather than feeling hindered, working in an environment with clearly defined ethics inspires her.

When the going gets tough

Being a woman in a predominantly male domain has not presented any challenges. ‘In my role the challenges are linked to the seniority of the position, not my gender.’ Not everyone has the same capacity for handling pressure. Managing it is part and parcel of being a CA(SA).

Gratitude has these words of advice for trainee accountants: “I would say hang on. I find that a lot of people quit too early. When they don’t understand something they think they won’t understand it forever.  I find that with more exposure, interactions and learning you eventually always get it and you are able to grow.

Work aside, Gratitude enjoys raising her twin daughters and focuses on activities that contribute towards personal development. She has no qualms about mentioning that her sights are set on becoming a member of an executive team one day. We have no doubt that she will make it sooner rather than later.

ABOUT SAICA

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), South Africa’s pre-eminent accountancy body, is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading accounting institutes. The Institute provides a wide range of support services to more than 40 000 members who are chartered accountants [CAs(SA)], and hold positions as CEOs, MDs, board directors, business owners, chief financial officers, auditors and leaders in every sphere of commerce and industry, and who play a significant role in the nation’s highly dynamic business sector and economic development

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Email: yuveng@saica.co.za
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