It would be difficult to find a more unconventional CA(SA) than Tshwarelo Legae (28) from Johannesburg, known to many as the hip-hop artist Droatest. Not one to follow the traditional path, Tshwarelo is hard at work at forging his own. He can be described as an entrepreneurial musician, using accounting to achieve his dreams.
‘Find your path in life and stick to your vision. Whatever it is, you gotta be fully committed,’ explains Tshwarelo, who grew up in a small village called Biesiesvlei in North West province. ‘It’s so small, it’s not even on the map!’ he laughs.
Not only is he a chartered accountant, but he also founded an independent South African artist management and record company, Top Floor Records, and is an entrepreneur and a part-time consultant for Bidvest Waltons.
Growing up, Tshwarelo wanted to be a doctor or an IT specialist and therefore chose to do mathematics and science at school rather than accounting. ‘In 10th grade, I started getting involved in music and developed a passion for it. I even started recording songs in my township.’ In matric, he realised he didn’t want to be either a doctor or an IT specialist and was forced to look at new avenues for his future. ‘I only learnt about being a chartered accountant in my final year of school after going to a winter school camp sponsored by SAICA. It sounded like something I might like. For some strange reason, I found it fascinating …’
Tshwarelo decided then and there he wanted to become a chartered accountant and enrolled at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. ‘Being in Johannesburg for the first time in my life at 18 was almost like restarting my life – the first steps towards the life I dreamed of! I made some friends who studied accounting at school. It was crazy – in my first year, I was getting good grades (even though I’ve never done accounting before) and my mates who studied it at school were struggling! I think it has to do with the ability to think and just apply your mind in problem-solving. I think, for me, it was always about understanding and not necessarily just cramming.’
Being a dreamer with an analytical mind, Tshwarelo’s passion for music never waned. ‘I knew I wanted to do both, but I wasn’t sure how. I was still writing songs, but I wasn’t trying to take it to a professional level. It was more like a hobby.’
He started his career in 2015 at Grant Thornton after completing his honours and CTA diploma in 2014 and stayed there for three years. ‘I felt it was important for me to choose a small or medium-sized audit firm because I still had my entrepreneurial instincts and I felt a medium-sized firm would create more opportunities to learn by exposing me to a lot more business environments and ways of doing business,’ Tshwarelo explains. He moved to Bidvest Waltons early in 2018.
These days, Tshwarelo has found a way to make life work for him by creating a lifestyle and a career that suits his passions. ‘I’m a full-time musician now.’ In 2020 he started recording his debut album as Droatest, titled I’m Grateful. He also started promoting himself and decided to become a full-time musician and a full-time entrepreneur. After three years at Bidvest Waltons, Tshwarelo realised, even though he was doing very well, his life wasn’t fulfilling enough. ‘I still felt like I could do more, that I would become successful myself while also empowering other people.’
In 2018 Tswarelo co-founded a liquor store in his community which have been growing steadily over the past three years. ‘Last year I realised I have the opportunity to grow and scale up the business into a national chain, just focusing on certain outlying geographical locations, based on the success of the first store. I have also just successfully launched my first mini-market, Top Floor Foods. The business model is a takeaway / fast food and convenience store. We are also focusing our product range to specifically cater for the community in which we operate. It’s still a small store at this stage and we’ll keep on taking it to the top from here. I say “we” because I have a small team around me helping me to realise this vision – no man is an island. Secondly, my passion for music drove me to start my own record label, Top Floor Records, in 2020 as well. I quickly realised the only way it will work is for me to be totally focused on it. I feel I’m headed towards building a record label into a successful, nationwide label.’
Even as a youngster, Tshwarelo had a burning desire for success. ‘I deliberately chose my role models according to my aspirations.’ His role models are currently out-of-the-box thinkers who have started at the bottom and built incredibly successful empires, like South African Brian Joffe as well as the American rapper Jay-Z and entrepreneur Richard Branson who both have their own record labels. It was almost as if starting his own record label came naturally to him. ‘I just knew what to do – it was as if it was embedded in me. And what I didn’t know, I read up on. I also read books of other people in the same business.’ Although he read a lot of international books about music labels, The South African Music Business by Jonathan G Shaw opened his eyes with regard to the local scene. His vision is to build a Top Floor brand, an empire, like his role models.
Luckily Bidvest Waltons’ CFO and CEO were so impressed with Tshwarelo’s skills, attitude and work ethic that they offered him a part-time consultant role. ‘It’s a great opportunity for me because it allows me to have flexibility while still having a solid income.’
The words of one of his songs, ‘Self-Made’, explain Tshwarelo’s outlook on life: ‘I’m the master of my fate, I’m the captain of my soul, I’m the leader of my crew.’
‘I live life with purpose, and I try by all means to stick to my strengths and passions, which is why I decided to apply my CA skills to my love for music and entrepreneurship. There is no doubt my accounting skills are the backbone for setting up my businesses. My success as an entrepreneur is rooted in my qualification as a CA. Being a CA is just such an incredible skill to have. Your analytical ability, how you approach problems … I think if I were not a CA, I would not have been able to be in this fortunate situation. I just feel my goals and my purpose are currently more important to me than anything else.’
He feels technology is enabling people to have the flexibility to do whatever they want. ‘If you feel you could do more, you should. More than ever, anything is possible now. Stay true to what you believe in. Trust yourself and stick to your passions and your strengths.’
Raised in poverty, without a lot of role models, Tshwarelo believes his circumstances pushed him to think differently, even though most of the people from his area did not take education seriously. ‘I am the firstborn of unqualified parents. Growing up, it was up to me to motivate myself. Seeing my parents struggle, trying to make ends meet, I realised I needed to push myself. Making it out of poverty was always my biggest driver. I’ve always been ambitious.
I’ve always wanted to be successful. I realised maybe education was the reason the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.’ After qualifying as a CA, he realised he had a desire to help not only his family but also his community at large. ‘I saw entrepreneurship as the solution – I can build businesses and create jobs, but at the same time also maybe inspire.’ He knows all the mistakes he may have made along the way have moulded him into the person he is today and therefore has no regrets. ‘I wouldn’t change anything, because this path has made me “me”.’
Tshwarelo lives according to the principles of Bushido:
- Rectitude – One’s power to decide upon a course of reasonable conduct, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.
- Courage – Doing what is right.
- Benevolence – Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity are traits of benevolence − the highest attribute of the human soul.
- Politeness – The expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste.
- In its highest form, politeness approaches love.
- Honesty and sincerity – Luxury is the greatest menace to manhood.
- Honour – True patience means bearing the unbearable.
- Loyalty – True men remain loyal to those to whom they are indebted.
- Character and self-control What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.
Forging your unique path
Tshwarelo has a few tips for young CAs about forging your own paths:
- I think first and foremost it is important for any aspiring CA to know why they want to become a CA(SA).
- CA(SA) is a great qualification to have as it can open so many doors, especially in business, but I think it is even more important if you can find a way to apply it to your passions and strengths.
- The world is rapidly changing, and I think it is mainly due to technology. Technology is making certain old jobs redundant while opening exciting new job opportunities at the same time, hence I strongly believe it is important for young CAs(SA) to think out of the box and forge their own unique paths.
- It is now easier than ever before to try new things as technology has brought so much transparency and thus significantly reduced the fear of the unknown.
- I deeply believe that every individual is in this world for a specific reason, and I think it is important for everyone to know or find their reasons for existence. I think if you’re a CA you’re in a great position to go about this in a strategic and logical way as CAs are great thinkers and analytical. You can then leverage off your CA skills while fulfilling your life purpose. You shouldn’t limit yourself to the traditional CA path. The fact that one can attain a CA qualification should also be a hint about one’s potential and a motivation to push even further into the unknown. I think that’s the only way that one can truly add value and bring something new to the world or create something new.