Pioneering entrepreneur set to go global

Johannesburg – As a young black woman, starting her career as a chartered accountant, Sindi Mabaso-Koyana had to venture into “uncharted” territory, without role models to guide her. Now a successful business woman, having sat in leadership roles for a number of firms, she has set her sights on international opportunities.

Mabaso-Koyana is one of the founders of African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA). She also chairs AWCA Investment Holdings. In an interview with Fin24 at the AWCA conference held in Johannesburg this week, Mabaso-Koyana shared her learning experiences in her journey from qualifying as a chartered accountant to becoming an entrepreneur.

“Back in the day there were only a few women sitting on boards, sometimes you were the only one,” said Mabaso-Koyana. What helped her was to revert to the values she learnt when she was growing up, raised by a single parent in Umlazi, Durban. Values of independence, hard work and tenacity stood her in good stead as she entered the financial field, with few female professionals in the industry.

“I could have chosen to look at some of the prejudices and the biases and latch on to them. But I chose to rather focus on what I believed I was bringing,” said Mabaso-Koyana. Beginning school at a young age and matriculating at the age of 16 meant that her leadership journey started at an early stage too. 

By the age of 30, she had become the chief financial officer (CFO) of Transnet. Previous positions also include CFO of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and executive partner at EY. She is currently the executive chair of her investment company, Advanced Capital, which operates in mining and industrial services. She is also the independent non-executve director of MTN Zakhele.

At home, she was the first one to qualify and had to look after her family and mother. “Even in the corporate environment it became clear that I needed to put my head on the ground, do what needed to be done and just focus on the task at hand,” she said.

As a pioneer for other women entering her field, Mabaso-Koyana said “being ahead” meant she had to be aware that others were following and watching her. “Giving up and quitting was not an option.”

Mabaso-Koyana explained that she had to continue working hard, even though things were difficult. “Not just for myself and for my family, but for the community of younger women out there that I knew were looking up to me.”

Creating support for a younger generation

AWCA was created in 2002 for the purpose of creating awareness of the accounting profession among young women, and to share learning experiences and offer a support system, explained Mabaso-Koyana. “I know what it felt like to find myself in a sea of men, and sometimes white men who did not understand some of the cultural challenges I faced as a woman,” she said.

AWCA now focuses on instilling ethical leadership in young black women and nation building, she said. “We bring communities with us, instead of it being a selfish journey."

Accounting professionals at the AWCA conference on business, held on August 2 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Sandton. (Lameez Omarjee)

As a “risk-averse” person, Mabaso-Koyana said her switch from corporate to business was because the opportunities in the entrepreneurial space became attractive. “Being a mother to young children, I was looking for the flexibility - the entrepreneurial space meant I own my time,” she explained. It also presented an opportunity for her to “hone in” on a particular skillset, this being financial governance.

She quickly learnt that achieving a balance between risk management and entrepreneurial drive and spirit was important. As a leader, Mabasa-Koyana said she is investment focused, unlocking the best in people. “I am a strong people’s person.”

Going global

Mabaso-Koyana regards qualifying as a chartered accountant to be her “big break”. “Growing up in a township, I had no role model. I knew no one who was a chartered accountant before I chose to be one.” The qualification armed her with skills she could take all over the world, she said.

“I am charting the world right now. Sindi Mabaso-Koyana has to be an international brand, born and bred in South Africa, but doing things globally.”

She is working with organsiations which have a global reach, such as Adcorp Holdings. Being part of the FIFA audit committee in Zurich is also helping her build an international presence. 

* August is Women's Month and Fin24, in collaboration with the Sanlam Enterprise Supplier Development Programme, invites you to help us celebrate and showcase SA's extraordinary women in business.

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For Women's Month, Fin24 aims to feature as many women as possible by giving them a platform to share their stories, celebrate their successes and in turn encourage other South African women to follow their dreams – no matter how impossible or challenging they may seem.

* August is Women's Month and Fin24, in collaboration with the Sanlam Enterprise Supplier Development Programme, invites you to help us celebrate and showcase SA's extraordinary women in business.

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