A head for numbers

2014-04-13 15:00

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It was Nonkululeko Gobodo, the first black woman to qualify as a chartered accountant in South Africa, who prompted Tsakani Ratsela to pursue studies in the field.

Ratsela is now a trailblazer herself. She was recently appointed the first female deputy Auditor-General in the institution’s 103-year history, although the world of finance and figures was not her first choice.

“I went to varsity to study a BCom because my father told me to,” she told City Press on her fourth day on the job. “I wanted to be a lawyer.”

But she developed a passion for her field of study while doing vacation work during her first year at the University of Cape Town. She was told that very few black people qualified as accountants.

“Someone told me that black people struggled to pass the board exams,” she said, referring to the qualifying examinations set by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica).

“But there was a black woman who passed and that was Nonkululeko Gobodo. I thought if she could do it, I could.”

Gobodo now chairs SizweNtsalubaGobodo, which she founded as Gobodo Inc in the small Eastern Cape town of Umtata more than 18 years ago.

Its 2011 merger with SizweNtsaluba VSP established an audit firm so large it is giving the big four – EY (formerly Ernst & Young), PwC, Deloitte and KPMG – a good run for their money.

After getting her BCom, Ratsela joined PwC as a trainee accountant, starting a 17-year career that has seen her take on roles in business finance, an investment firm and a couple of public entities.

It was while working at one state body that Ratsela came across her biggest challenge.

“Morale was at an all-time low … People were not interested in their jobs. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

At the same time, she was juggling family life and her role at the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of SA (Abasa), where she was national president for three years.

Ratsela’s new job – which the 38-year-old took over from Kimi Makwetu, who was appointed successor to former head honcho Terence Nombembe – comes with its own challenges, chief among them attracting top talent from the small pool of people who qualify as chartered accountants.

According to a 2011 Moneyweb piece by Ewald Müller, a former Saica executive, over 80% of chartered accountants in South Africa do not practise as auditors.

“About 8?000, or approximately 30%, work in financial services – a major banking group alone employs about 1?500,” said Müller.

“The rest use their skills to pursue careers as business consultants, tax advisers, entrepreneurs and financial managers.”

Ratsela hopes her office’s “focused” recruitment drive, which includes a bursary programme and a brand-building initiative, will go some way towards turning this around.

Transformation is also top of her agenda. She is one of Abasa’s representatives to the team behind the CA charter, instrumental in developing the empowerment sector code for the chartered accounting profession. She also serves as chairperson of the CA Charter Council.

Many provincial office heads, she said, were black women, testimony that the institution has taken on the responsibility of transforming over the past few years. The Auditor-General’s management structure shows that of the nine provincial heads, four are women.

“I don’t think this office is far behind the leaders in transformation,” said Ratsela. “The profession is trying to transform in a powerful way. They [women] are starting to be on par.”

Tips for success

.?Do not have a “copy and paste” CV for every position. Create a new one for a specific position. Make it respond to the particular requirements, otherwise when potential employers read it, they will ask “how does it respond to the advertisement” and put it at the bottom of the pile.

.?Passion. Do something that matters to you. Challenges will come, but when you have passion, you can get through that.

.?Application. You’ve got to work hard and apply yourself. There’s no substitute for application.

.?Have a positive attitude.

.?There’s value in doing things for other people. It’s important to put in time for others and not just focus on yourself.

What does an Auditor-general do?

. Produces audit reports each year on all government departments, ­public entities, municipalities and public institutions.

. Analyses audit outcomes in general reports that cover both the Public Finance Management Act and Municipal Finance Management Act, legislation which governs the use of public funds.

. Produces reports on discretionary audits, performance ­audits and other special audits.

Source: Auditor-General South Africa website

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