One of the first beneficiaries of SAICA Thuthuka Education Upliftment Fund is making her mark in the chartered accountancy profession as well as corporate South Africa and is lifting others as she rises. Buhle Hanise, currently CFO at Chinese automotive company BAIC South Africa and deputy president of African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA), reflects on her journey to becoming a
CA(SA). She also shares insights about her contribution in turning around companies as an independent non-executive director of numerous organisations.
The 37-year-old Buhle Hanise hails from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and says she has a vivid recollection of the moment that set her path onto a career as a CA(SA) professional.
It was a visit by Sindi Zilwa to Zimele Junior Secondary school where Hanise was a Standard 5 (Grade 7) learner that ignited her passion for the profession. Zilwa had come to give an inspirational talk about her journey to becoming the second black woman to qualify as a CA(SA) in South Africa. ‘I knew from that moment that I wanted to become a CA!’ says Hanise. ‘At the time my parents wanted me to become a doctor, but my dad always told me it was my decision as he knew I was good at accounting.’
Hanise says she decided to pursue the CA profession and was awarded a study loan by the former Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (TEFSA) to complete her BCom Accounting degree at the University of Transkei. Thereafter she completed her postgraduate studies in Port Elizabeth and her honours at the former National School of Accounting in Cape Town (now integrated into the University of KwaZulu-Natal).
Having reached honours level, she was again in need of a bursary. This is when she was introduced to the Thuthuka programme by Lwando Bantom, SAICA’s Project Director for Transformation and Growth. ‘My bursary application had been late, and I was lucky enough to get support from Lwando who helped with securing a bursary which catered for everything I needed. It was such a blessing, and it was enough for me to survive,’ says Hanise.
The honours programme was so intense that she even lost a few special friends in the process, says Hanise, laughing. She worked hard and sacrificed a lot, including family visits, to achieve her goals. ‘I’ve always been a hard worker. This helped with staying motivated and focused. I knew that I had to fulfil this dream of wanting to become a CA(SA) and Thuthuka has been a supporter of my journey and it made me into the person I have become today,’ added Hanise.
She completed her articles at KPMG. In 2009, she finally achieved her wish of coming to the City of Gold and qualifying as a CA(SA).
Thereafter she completed a short stint at Nedbank as a credit manager before joining Standard Bank as a senior credit manager and then the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) as a senior account manager where she spent seven years of her career.
Hanise says she thoroughly enjoyed her seven years at the IDC. ‘By joining the IDC I was not just a banker. I was doing way more and impacting people’s lives. I was turning around businesses – making sure that people get employed and retain their jobs. This included managing and formulating plausible solutions for distressed clients and maximising recovery for the IDC. Solutions included financial restructurings, formulating turnaround strategies, negotiating settlements, managing and monitoring clients in business rescue,’ according to the enthusiastic professional.
Hanise is a life-long student. After qualifying as a CA(SA) she completed numerous business courses such as a Development Finance Programme via the University of Stellenbosch, an Advanced Course in Business Rescue Practice at the Law Society of South Africa and an Advanced Certificate in Insolvency Law and Practice at the University of Johannesburg.
‘Doing commercial law in my undergraduate programme was not enough for me. I always believed that if I could understand what liquidations and insolvencies are all about, then I would be able to help a company that’s struggling so that it doesn’t get to a point of liquidation. I can’t just concentrate on saving companies. I must be able to advise them from a legal perspective and how insolvency works,’ adds Hanise.
She also completed a programme in Emerging Markets and Country Risk Analysis at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration in New York, USA, and a Women in Leading Africa Board Leadership programme at Duke Corporate Education.
Asked about advice she’d give to first-time board members who are on the verge of serving as non-executive directors, Hanise says: ‘If you don’t have capacity and time, then don’t do it. You must be able to make a meaningful contribution. Complete board and corporate governance courses. Make sure you are in a space to add real value.’
Transformation and sustainable development goals
As the Deputy President of AWCA, Hanise says that although the profession has seen an increase in transformation, there is still a lot of work to do in ensuring that the numbers continue to grow exponentially.
‘We need to see a major change in getting black people to join the profession and be allowed to be a part of the change that is required. In the last two years, we’ve seen the pass rate of black candidates go down from around 80% to 40%. It can’t be that our kids and grandchildren will have to struggle with the same things that we struggled with. We need to capacitate audit firms and accounting officers with the right training to enable students to get into the profession,’ she says.
The profession also needs to embrace the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) even more. Being a developmental financier at heart, Hanise says the priority should not only be about getting more black people to qualify as CAs(SA). ‘We also need to see more incubation and sustainable developmental programmes. It should also be at the core of training offices. When you have that it not only impacts economic growth but also helps with a lot of things like gender equality, transformation and more.’
She adds: ‘We might not be able to cover all SDGs as the profession, but we have to do something. Companies are there for profit and paying dividends to shareholders, but it should be more than just that. I am very intentional on the boards I serve. For example, I always ask about their developmental strategies and what they are doing for their communities and society at large. If people don’t change their value systems after this pandemic, then I don’t know. If the pandemic hasn’t changed your value system as an individual or organisation, you will never change. The pandemic is an opportunity to bring back the true spirit of ubuntu.’
Advice to trainee accountants?
On giving advice to prospective CAs(SA), Hanise says: ‘Shine a light onto yourself so that you are recognised. When I was doing my articles, I made sure that I found something I was good at and people (my superiors) knew what I was good at. For example, when doing an audit you have to plan, go to the client before the year-end of the company, then plan and go for the audit.’
‘I was very good at preparing and analysing how to prepare the planning documents for audit periods. I did this for one of my managers – Laurinda – who was like my sponsor. When I saw how happy she was with my work I stayed close to her, because she was happy with my work and always acknowledged it. I knew I had to identify someone who would support me throughout my journey,’ says Hanise.
She adds that she found it helped to have some kind of a sponsor – someone who can vouch for you that you are a specialist in certain skills. ‘It’s not easy when you’re doing those articles, because there are a lot of you. How do you now become that go-to person? How do you make yourself to be known? If a partner is sitting in that room and they need to appoint someone at the end of your training, you need to set yourself apart from the rest. Being a hard worker and a specialist in one or two areas will set you apart. Identify someone who can be your sponsor. Use their influence and networks to get ahead. If no one knows you (manager or senior counselling partner) then you won’t get ahead. Find that person who can help groom you to become a better CA. Work hard and put in the hours!’
Lifting as she rises
Hanise says she doesn’t want to just impact one person. She recalls the impact that one of her professors made in her life and other graduates’ lives. ‘I remember Professor Themba Zakuza when I was at the University of Transkei. He did not only impact one person but so many people. Therefore, if I could make that impact – where I am not just impacting one soul, but a lot of individuals who would eventually get into the profession and become leaders of industries – I would have done my part. I don’t need a thank you. It’s something I am doing because someone has done it for me too and I want to pass the baton as well.’
She says even in her current role as CFO of BAIC SA, she knew that this was going to be about filling the void that General Motors left when the company left the country. ‘I knew why I was joining. Because I knew I am taking this role to support a project that is going to impact so many lives. I want to leave a legacy knowing that I have impacted so many people’s lives in some way or the other so that they can live a purposeful life. In my role at BAIC and AWCA, I would like to develop as I am leading.’
What does the future hold?
Hanise says she envisages to open her own boutique financial institution. ‘We’ve seen a number of private equity fund companies, but I’d like to establish something different. If that doesn’t materialise sooner, then I wouldn’t mind taking up the role of CEO of a JSE-listed company.’
She encourages other women leaders and CAs(SA) to run far away from wanting to be superwomen. ‘You need to give yourself breaks.
Your mental wellness is important. Live a very authentic and purposeful life. I don’t adhere to this so-called balancing thing. You must have a vision and go for it. The minute you’re not authentic with yourself then you’re not living an authentic life. Make sure you are you, and not living someone else’s life. You can earn all the money in the world, but it will never be enough if you’re dying inside,’ Hanise concludes.
With extraordinary success stories like Buhle Hanise’s, Thuthuka can be very proud to see that its founding mission of developing strong black CAs(SA) 18 years ago is on the right track – just imagine the calibre of CAs(SA) coming through the profession in the next decade.
The future of the CA(SA) profession does indeed look bright!