In this feature, we look at some individuals with interesting and varied careers who have the CA(SA) designation in common – but also their exciting, innovative way of thinking. They occupy positions in vastly different worlds, doing different things while capitalising on their unique talents, formal qualifications and interests. Their enthusiasm and insights are infectious – and most importantly, they are all proud of their CA(SA) designation.
Author: Lia Labuschagne
Garth Barnes, lecturer and singer
Garth Barnes (39) attended Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg – UJ) until his honours degree and was awarded an MComm International Accounting from UJ in 2018. He qualified as CA(SA) in 2009, and today is a senior lecturer at the UJ Department of Accountancy.
However, many people know him best as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player of the rock band CrashCarBurn formed in London in 2006. The single ‘Serenade’ from the group’s debut album This City Needs a Hero became an instant hit and they have remained popular ever since.
‘My accounting experience has definitely helped with managing the band. I picked up financing, cash flow, contracts, people management and other soft skills during my studies. Articles and subsequent employment have been critical in keeping our band alive. Do I use IFRS 9 in my day to day band dealings? Absolutely not. But I have no doubt that we would not be where we are if we had outsourced all the accounting and managerial functions of our band,’ says Garth.
Garth says he started quite late playing music. ‘I joined my first band just out of school. I was studying and following the standard path towards becoming a CA. A few years later I was somehow on a bus in America with my band touring the country. I was playing shows at night and studying my board exam material from a bunk on the bus during the drives between cities during the day! It was a bizarre existence … unbelievable fun, but not sustainable. Looking back, I am amazed (and grateful) that I persisted with my studies.’
Over time his priorities shifted. ‘Touring America gave me a glimpse of what it really means to be a full-time performer. It’s not a normal life; you are in a different city every night. By the end of that tour, I understood that I’m actually a pretty normal guy and want all the normal things in life like a house, car and family. I realised I didn’t need or even want to be world famous; as long as I was making music on some level, I would be happy.’
Today, ‘we manage every aspect of the band. The fact that we don’t rely on the band for our survival means that everyone is doing it purely for the love of music. Music videos, albums, tours etc all cost money and we are not signed to a record label: we are our own label and often refer to it as a self-sustaining hobby.’
Garth believes unconventional thinking requires an individual to be nimble, willing and able to switch perspectives. ‘As accountants, we can often be sticklers for rules. That’s fine and in most cases necessary, but if you don’t adapt to your environment and are not receptive to change, you will soon get left behind!’
A particular accounting interest that recently required unconventional thinking is integrated reporting. In 2019 Garth and a colleague were tasked with compiling the first-ever fully online course on integrated reporting (IR). ‘I needed to shift my perspective from “IFRS accountant” to “integrated reporter” to effectively prepare the course material.’
He knew that the IR course needed to be able to live independently as an online resource. ‘It’s a quite different way of teaching and required me to completely re-think delivery methods and preconceived ideas about professional education.’
Garth comments that the unemployment situation in South Africa is ‘nothing short of tragic. The global COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this disaster. Now more than ever we need creative ways to create jobs. Nothing can be off-limits. We need to foster a sense of entrepreneurship in our learners and make them understand that just because they earned a degree does not mean they will necessarily be handed a job.’
He adds that SAICA is currently already making excellent progress in this regard. ‘The work done on aligning CA 2025 guidelines with IR and sustainability objectives shows a strategic commitment to the long term!’
Dr Mitan Nana, medical doctor
Dr Mitan Nana (35) attended the University of the Witwatersrand and his impressive list of qualifications includes Bachelor of Commerce (2005), Master of Commerce (2011) and Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery (2017). He qualified as a CA(SA) in 2010.
He is currently involved in medical research via the University of Cape Town: ‘I am also preparing to sit for the United States Medical Licensing exams as I would like to gain some experience and specialise in internal medicine in the US.’
Mitan maintains that, despite a change in career, ‘qualifying as a CA(SA) has shaped who I am today. It allowed me to pursue various opportunities in the corporate space and work in multiple jurisdictions across the world, and equipped me with the skills, confidence and even resources to acquire a loss-making business and return it to profitability.’
During his interview for the graduate entry medical programme, ‘most of the interview was directed at my journey as a CA(SA) and how the Faculty of Health Sciences believed that I would bring diversity and freshness to medicine in light of my qualifications. The CA(SA) qualification will always be part of my DNA and will continue to shape how I view the world. Beyond the everyday practice of medicine, I would like to use the skills and knowledge gained to make broader changes to the manner in much healthcare is delivered.’
Mitan has a keen interest in public health too. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that ‘change is the only constant’ and illustrated that sometimes change can come at a bewildering pace: ‘If I had mentioned to you in early March that three million jobs would be lost between February and April (as reported in a recent study), you would have thought that I was a victim of magical thinking. Yet, it has happened!’
He adds: ‘When the smoke finally clears, rebuilding our country’s economy, rebuilding our lives and even just putting food on the table is going to call upon a nation of unconventional thinking. We need leaders who are visionaries, who inspire those that they lead and inculcate a culture of trust.’
He says that ‘unconventional thinking now dictates that we each ask ourselves, “What kind of leader can I be?” We should all attempt to adopt a leadership style based on common values. Value-based leadership should not just be relegated to the world of academia.’
Mitan believes SAICA should continue to celebrate the fact that current and future chartered accountants are a diverse bunch and instil a culture of professional learning and development that inspires individuals with unique talents to shine. ‘We all have unique talents and we can all be out-of-the-box thinkers. Fresh thinking emerges when people are inspired, feel safe and can take comfort that they will not be unnecessarily ridiculed for breaking away from the norm. I am not saying that provocative thoughts should not be challenged, but that a culture in which such thinking can occur must be nurtured.’
Inspirational advice for young professionals from Mitan: ‘Much of the joy in life increasingly seems to be coming from enjoying the journey more so than chasing down the endpoint. The Japanese word Ikigai refers to having direction or purpose in life, that which makes one’s life worthwhile and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions, giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.’
He therefore advises others to ‘keep asking and searching for your Ikigai’.
Andrew McKay, interior designer, product developer and consultant
Interior designer and finance consultant Andrew Mckay (36) studied at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and qualified as a CA(SA) in 2010. He divides his time between two worlds: ‘I currently have two businesses. While I still provide finance consulting to SMEs in my capacity as a chartered accountant, my passion is my Andrew Hector Interior and Product Design Business.’
He describes this business in more detail: ‘As the head of my own interior design company, I provide full turn-key solutions to both personal and corporate clients. These include space planning, renovations and decorating services. You would have seen some of my corporate work if you have visited SAICA’s new offices in Cape Town. I also launched my own range of fine porcelain tableware at Design Joburg in 2019. The first range features endangered and critically endangered fish species from sub-Saharan Africa and is available at Romo showrooms nationwide.’
Andrew says a CA(SA) designation ‘gives you instant credibility. Even on the design front and with product development, people in the industry want to partner with you. This is because although you are a “creative”, you also understand business – which at the end of the day will ensure the success of a project or product even more than the design.’
Thinking and acting out of the box ‘implies that you are a decision-maker that is willing to take a risk to do something different to what is expected and accept responsibility for the outcome − good or bad’.
He elaborates: ‘I suppose leaving a cushy corporate job to play around with scatter cushions might be considered a bit extreme by some, but it all forms part of a bigger long-term goal for me. We spend more hours on work in the week than anything else, so if you do not wake up excited for work anymore, it is time for a change, willing to accept that this could fail catastrophically or be the best decision you ever made. Starting an interior design company led me to people in the field who inspired me to move on to product. Now that it has been developed, it requires my chartered accountancy skills to run. It is a full circle.’
The local economy requires unconventional thinkers: ‘They see opportunity where others might not, but more importantly are willing to risk everything and gamble on the success of the opportunity. There are many failures and missed opportunities, but the success stories mean new industries and new jobs.’
Andrew believes SAICA has already started supporting this approach ‘through their focus on AI and the opportunities as well as threats that it offers to our finance-specific qualification as it is. By broadening our horizons to look at what changes we can expect to our profession in the future, we are able to prepare and adapt our skill sets to remain relevant.’
Nkateko Mathebula, co-founder, Beeline Academy
Nkateko Mathebula (30) studied at the University of Pretoria and registered as a CA(SA) in 2016. She is a co-founder of the Beeline Academy, a network of schools that provides smaller learner-teacher ratios, creating a safer and healthier learning and teaching environment and now runs the operational function of the business. This includes finance (the collection of school fees) and overseeing the maintenance of the school building and grounds as well as the administrative function, which includes communication with parents, regulatory submissions and ensuring that the standards of education are upheld.
She says that ‘the concept of out of the box thinking is one of my favourite clichés. It means I am willing to engage opportunities outside of the accounting field and has allowed me to venture into non-profit organisations, literacy undertakings, construction, education, the automotive industry, and others. Some I conquered and others conquered me. But I go on with resilience and am determined to win! The courage to step into those fields and operate not just in finance but as a developer, owner and marketing agent, among others, is underpinned by my out-of-the-box thinking.’
During the current pandemic, educational approaches are high on the agenda of local and international topics. Yet, starting a school now is certainly out of the box. Nkateko maintains it is ‘an interesting journey that calls on the structures and plans of home-schooling with the community of mainstream schooling. Many said now would not be the time. The reality is that not all parents are comfortable with mainstream schooling as yet, but they don’t want the burden of home-schooling their children. We provide a simple answer for this: small classrooms with a home-school curriculum.’
Unconventional approaches are important to address economic problems: ‘We need unconventional thinkers to apply themselves in contextualising and tackling problems in different communities, creating jobs in the process. We need bold confrontation of the status quo in major industries in South Africa. There are still unacceptable monopolies in some markets with intentional fixed barriers of entry. We need strategies that are community asset-based and community-driven as opposed to being needs-based and imposed on communities. All parties need to be able to see opportunities, even in unlikely circumstances,’ she argues.
Nkateko’s CA(SA) designation has allowed her to serve clients in different industries. ‘This exposure has connected me to crucial partnerships in terms of my personal and business development skills.’ She adds: ‘The ownership of projects, plans and strategies by members in an organisation is pivotal. When members understand their role in the organisation and the change they effect, they are more willing to contribute to its success.’
This is also true for SAICA: ‘A mix of differing opinions and experiences will ensure there is consistently an environment for growth in the way SAICA executes its strategies.’
Nkateko’s next move for the Beeline Academy would be to ‘create a winning winter/summer school curriculum for university students and teach them to think out of the box, giving them the ability to scrutinise the status quo and courage to speak out in word and action’. She also quotes Maya Angelou: ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’
Justin Glickman, art management specialist
One would not normally think of chartered accountants and the fine arts world at the same time, but Justin Glickman (36) successfully operates in that environment as owner-manager of Luckyman Art Management. He attended Wits university and qualified as a CA(SA) in 2009.
‘We provide a specialist art service to clients with large and valuable art collections. We are different from most other art service providers you’ll find out there: a chartered accountant-led team who understand both art and business. This means we’re able to take care of all the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes details that go into owning and managing a great art collection.’
Justin maintains that his CA(SA) designation taught him ‘critical thinking, creative thinking, working under pressure, working in a team, and of course a whole lot of spreadsheets! These have translated to all areas of my life in a most impactful way.’
He says the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ has become a cliché, since much of the depth it contains gets missed. ‘I prefer to phrase it as “reframing”. For me, this is a fundamental axiom for a successful life. You can choose to focus on what you have or you can choose to focus on what you don’t have. It is always a choice. And this is reframing!’
He cites the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on himself and his business as an example: ‘Lost clients. Confined to home. Home-schooling. Hectic! That’s what I could have chosen to focus on. But I chose to reframe the circumstances. I focused instead on right now. I’m 100% healthy, others are not. I’m still in business, others are not. I have happy and healthy kids, others do not. Coronavirus has bought me closer to my family and I’m getting to watch them grow up in real-time.’
Expanding on the reframing idea from an axiom to a patented product, he says: ‘I pivoted within my own industry and invented an amazing frame-protecting solution to give people control over the wellbeing of their art frames. For the past 10 years I’ve been lucky enough to work hands-on with some of the largest and most valuable art collections in South Africa, and I noticed the trend that even the best art handlers do not handle so well. Indeed, I’ve also been guilty of that! I felt the pain of how easily expensive art frames get broken, scratched, and damaged and the mission of having to repair or reframe. I also saw how others felt this pain. I felt compelled to complain no more and take action to provide a solution. The result is PROTECTA FRAME, which not only protect frames, but also the environment. I already have buy-in from major corporates and galleries, and I believe it is a globally scalable business.’
Importantly, Justin says to solve local economic problems, one also has to reframe: ‘But if it stops at just thinking, we are in trouble. Once the thinking has been done, we need to take action.’
He continues: ‘One of the phrases that stuck with me in the early days was “become a CA(SA) – it will open many doors”. While this of course is true, remember that the designation also has the risk of limiting you. Grab your CA(SA) with both hands but put it in your toolbox together with the many other tools and skills and talents you already have and the new ones you’ll learn one day. You will be unstoppable. South Africa needs you now more than ever!’
Fiona Watt and Murray Barnetson, siblings and innovative CAs(SA)
Chartered accountant siblings Fiona Watt (48) and Murray Barnetson (50) are the children of Tiny Barnetson (77) who qualified as CA(SA) in 1969 and founded the Prue Leith Culinary Institute. Tiny considers himself semi-retired but ‘I still play a fairly active role at Prue Leith’ while Fiona and Murray cover a wide field of work between them and exemplify what chartered accountant families achieve.
On working with family, Murray comments: ‘It is critical for everyone to have real mutual respect of the others and to put aside any concept of greed. We have been very lucky in that we have both. The success of Dad comes first, as he started the business. I worked directly with him on and off for about eight years and learnt more from him about internal business accounting than I did from articles or studying – and still apply those principles today. He also refused to make me a director for a long time and in retrospect, that was a good thing. Fiona and I now support him as non-executive directors in the country’s premier culinary institute, the Prue Leith Culinary Institute, which he built from the ground up with a little help from us!’
Fiona adds: ‘The biggest challenge with working across generations is understanding the power dynamics and who can challenge whom on what. We each have our own strengths to bring to the table. It is good to be able to have constructive discussions without anyone getting upset.’
Fiona Watt CA(SA), PCC (48) attended the universities of Cape Town (UCT) and KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and qualified as a CA(SA) 1998. While being a non-executive director at Prue Leith, she also runs her own integral coaching and facilitation practice, New Perspectives for Growth. As a professional coach, ‘I work with individuals and teams at a deep and challenging level to enhance their self-awareness in order for them to gain new perspectives and unlock growth’.
She comments: ‘My CA(SA) designation has been very useful in enabling me to work in both the US and the UK, and one of the large South African banks. It enhances my desirability as a coach and facilitator, especially within corporate environments, as I’m seen as someone who understands the business world. I’ve also been involved in the SAICA mentorship programme since its inception in 2017, initially as a mentor, and currently as an ambassador and pod mentor.’
Fiona works with senior leadership individuals at Prue Leith. ‘The premise behind my coaching is co-creating new ideas and strategies that the individual or the team have not tried before. For real change to happen, something inside needs to shift to make sustainable changes to behaviour.’
She says: ‘The world is changing so rapidly; we can’t keep doing what we did before. The top work-place skills of the future always include terms like innovation, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and a growth mindset. Without people who can be innovative, we will stagnate and be left behind.’
She adds: ‘I believe that the new skills framework moving away from CPD hours is a great start into a fresh thought space. As accountants, we require many skills beyond being able to read financials and balance books. Our profession is also at risk of automation, so focusing on what we can offer that machines can’t is going to be key. SAICA itself can lead the way in being innovative in how it works with its members and how it portrays the profession.’
Murray and partner Willem Haarhoff own the futuristic accounting firm DoughGetters Accounting. The fact that this is a different kind of accounting firm already shows in Murray’s title: Chief Customer Success and Happiness Officer. He studied at Unisa and qualified as a CA(SA) in 1998.
He says: ‘I spend a lot of my time researching new accounting and back-office technologies with the main aim of finding the quickest and easiest way for a company to capture, process, manage and report on all its back-office information. Recently, a slew of brilliant applications started flooding into the market that allow a business owner to automate just about anything. We look at them and work out how to plug them into each other and finally into the general ledger system or Xero. It gives SMEs automation opportunities that were previously only available in large and expensive systems such as SAP.’
Murray says South Africans are naturally among the world’s best unconventional thinkers, ‘purely because life here is so unpredictable. A lot of us are thinking like that every day, and that is what our business is built on. Out-of-the-box thinkers tend to be able to see the big picture and also thrive on change. They refuse to accept that “it can’t be done”. For instance, there are people out there who detest Excel and are driving the development of applications that allow accountants to report to their clients through online reporting tools that allow the client to see all their reports on their mobile phone in a real-time environment.’
In DoughGetters Accounting’s quest for a better way to do things, Murray often says: ‘If you have manually captured something once, it’s probably once too many,’ adding that ‘this often requires us to throw out the status quo and come up with a completely new way of doing things. The change management aspect is normally the biggest obstacle, as there is always a technical solution, but not always a psychological one.’
He continues: ‘I think it is critical to have significant out-of-the-box thinking for South Africa’s economy to get off its knees and thrive. Africans are generally very entrepreneurial, so we need to invent new ways of doing commerce that do not rely on the status quo. There are lots of incredible things happening but the red tape, particularly around paying one another, is throttling growth.’ He thinks that SAICA can play a significant role in getting the economy going again, perhaps teaming up with other large institutions and putting pressure on government to repeal draconian business and tax laws.
Murray advises young CA professionals: ‘Do not just become a CA but become the best CA. Until the laws described above are relaxed, all businesses need accountants who really know what is going on. Also, your CA is only one aspect of you: it gives you a leg up, but after that you need to take over. Focus on developing your network and nurturing it. Plan your career with the end goal in sight. Try not to take the first job that comes along after articles unless it ticks your boxes.’
Lastly, he advises accountants to ‘do advanced courses in Excel. It will save you thousands of hours.’
Lynette Berger and Mandie Wentzel, YourEmpoweredPotential
The YourEmpoweredPotential team is led by Lynette Berger and Mandie Wentzel, both CAs(SA) with a passion for the development of competent, ethical professionals.
Lynette Berger (42) attended North-West University for her MCom (SA and International Tax) and qualified in 2005 as a CA(SA), while Mandie Wentzel (39) started her undergrad journey at the University of Pretoria, completed her honours and CTA at the University of Johannesburg, and qualified as a CA(SA) in 2006. Combined they have over 20 years’ corporate experience and more than 15 years’ experience working with SAICA trainees.
Lynette and Mandie’s shared passion for leadership development inspired their collaboration as YourEmpoweredPotential with its vision to enable leaders to reach their full potential. Both are accredited Tall Trees leadership profile facilitators and have used this tool for change management interventions for teams and individuals. Lynette has also received international accreditation as a John Maxwell speaker, trainer and coach.
Applying the Tall Trees leadership tool, Lynette identified a need for leadership development and emotional intelligence (EI) to assist accounting and auditing professionals. The EI Activator report (EIA) was her brainchild and is based on the SAICA CA2025 research project about the role of future accountants. It would help to translate a journey of self-discovery where self-aware professionals have the ability to reveal and control their own emotions when interacting with team members at a much higher level of emotional intelligence. ‘Skills such as EI, critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility and people skills will become much more important.’
A unique feature of the EIA tool is that it levels the playing field by not favouring one temperament over another. This report predicts an emotional intelligence DNA for each individual based on the correlation between temperament and personality on the one hand, and the default thinking, emotional, social and behavioural patterns that underscore EI. It also provides a map and exercises to zoom in on the key areas for that individual’s progress. After receiving the report, the individual’s development journey with the EIA team starts.
Mandie’s specialised role within the team is the link between ethical conduct and emotional intelligence and equipping responsible leaders with the necessary tools for ethical decision-making. In her master’s dissertation she is developing an integrated ethics competence development continuum. She believes that ‘our profession can be transformed through responsible leadership, and I see myself as a match that can light a fire of conversation across our profession. This is in line with the new CA2025 competency framework that broadens the ethics focus to include citizenship and increased development of professional values.’
‘We have realised that in order to remain relevant as professionals we need to continuously reskill and cross-skill, and in our various roles as CAs(SA) this process has shaped us as leaders and equipped us to face the changed requirements of professional accountants in the future. We believe that emotional intelligence is at the heart of these changes required for a professional accountant to remain relevant,’ adds Lynette.
‘Our tools and EIA underline the requirement for CAs to be able to create innovatively, collaborate and connect with other CA and non-CA professionals in arriving at an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind unique tool, product or service which would serve not only oneself but also positively influence others. Ultimately, the blend of reskilling, upskilling and cross-skilling promises critical and innovative thought patterns, behaviours and interactions beyond the individual’s current circle and becoming a change agent. A collaboration with Tall Trees Training and Connected Life made this EIA tool possible.’
Lynette adds our economy is ‘in need of unconventional thinkers who can identify and see opportunities, apply critical and innovative thinking, and collaborate across all areas in and out of business, who are comfortable being uncomfortable with the everchanging world of technologies and who can contribute more meaningfully to society and the world at large’.
The two YourEmpoweredPotential leaders believe trying something new requires a choice of possibility over fear. It can be the difference between staying stuck in the past and moving into the future. Young professionals should ‘believe that you have something of value to contribute that will make the world a better place – you are unique … Have the courage and willpower to find and follow your dream!’
Charles Arnestad, CFO/risk officer working internationally
Charles Arnestad (49) studied at Witwatersrand University and qualified as a CA(SA) in 1996 after completing his training at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). He worked locally for eight months after qualifying before moving overseas. Today he is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Risk Officer at National Ambulance LLC, a company that delivers pre-hospital care to public and private companies within the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
‘After completing my training, I wanted to gain international experience. I moved to Bahrain with the idea of being there for 16 months. That was 23 years ago, and I currently have no plans to leave the Middle East.’
Unlike many other local CAs(SA), he did not go to London for global exposure after qualifying. ‘I was never interested in following the traditional path of my classmates, instead preferring a more exotic location. I attended a travel show at Kyalami around 1995 and saw marketing brochures on Dubai in the UAE and what it had to offer, including golf courses in the middle of the desert, exotic Bedouin camps with 4X4 dune driving, and fantastic skyscrapers that were beginning to emerge from the desert sands. It was at that very moment that I decided that the Middle East was a place that I wanted to establish my career and try to reduce my golf handicap.’
Charles says thinking differently in terms of career objectives ‘has allowed the establishment of a lifestyle that allows for year-round sunshine, tax-free income, wonderful travel opportunities, the chance to meet people from more than 200 countries and a savings potential second to none’. Among other hobbies, he runs his own travel blog while also trying to reduce his golf handicap.
His international experience started by working with Ernst & Young in Bahrain for four years before joining their office in San Francisco. After 15 months he decided to move back to the Middle East and accepted a job at the Riyad Bank in Saudi Arabia. Four years later he moved to Dubai to join the Dubai Group. Upon arriving in Dubai, he purchased a villa once property ownership by expatriates was permitted. He was then with Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank for two years, working at the Dubai International Financial Centre. ‘I joined National Ambulance in 2013, and since they are situated in Abu Dhabi, I sold my villa in Dubai at the height of the market in April 2014 following the award of Expo 2020 to Dubai.’
He says: ‘The CA(SA) designation is highly regarded and has been instrumental in opening doors throughout my career. South Africans are known for their high levels of education and their work ethic. There are many SAICA members in the United Arab Emirates, many of whom have established themselves as leading professionals in various industries.’
Charles believes unconventional thinkers are essential to progress any economy. ‘People who think differently lead a culture to new heights and progress technology. I look to someone like Elon Musk for inspiration. Without people who have the courage the think and act differently, the world would be unable to progress.’
He encourages young professionals to look outside the comfort zone of a traditional career path once qualified as a CA(SA). ‘Consider an international assignment with one of the large accounting/auditing practices. You may discover that your talents could be deployed in a country where your qualifications and experience are highly regarded. You will enjoy a life-enriching experience and may also be able to earn some tax-free dollars in the process.’