Taking her place at the top of the table
• Recently promoted partner enjoys the support of her law firm, her family and making a difference in business sustainability, writes Penny Haw
Flexibility, agility and the ability to quickly adapt to change are essential characteristics of businesses that want to flourish in an age increasingly shaped by technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics and quantum computing.
They’re also crucial attributes of chartered accountants (CAs) of tomorrow and the companies they work for, says Bongiwe Mbunge, who was recently promoted to partner at Mazars Cape Town. For the profession to demonstrate continued competence, it is, she says, increasingly important to achieve symmetry between nontechnical and technical skills, and for CAs to advance their business acumen to support decision making.
“As a company, we also appreciate the importance of balancing the services we offer so that they do not concentrate too heavily on auditing,” she says. “There’s a big call to develop effective services in the advisory space. Accordingly, CAs have to ask themselves how they, as professionals, can apply their expertise and help build business so they can be on the front foot. We need to look ahead, ask how relevant we are going to be in the next 10 and 20 years, and be prepared to adapt and change as required.”
In June 2017, Mbunge along with her colleague William Hughes and fellow partner at Mazars Cape Town Jean Wessels developed and rolled out a Business Sustainability Services division at the company. In keeping with the World Council of Economic Development definition — which says a sustainable business is one that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” — the new offering is designed for clients of all sizes. It aims to develop and support strategies that create economic value and contribute to healthy ecosystems and strong communities.
By focusing on the three Ps — profit looks at economic efficiency (innovation, prosperity and productivity), people takes into account social equity (poverty, community, health and wellness, and human rights) and planet focuses on environmental accountability (climate change, land use and biodiversity) — Mazars now offers a holistic solution to help clients build resilience, and survive turbulent times and change, says Mbunge.
The launch of the Business Sustainability Services division and, most notably, subsequent signing of clients were pivotal.
“I have found my passion and am always thinking about it, regardless of where I am. I am unlocking everything I am and have learnt and experienced, and that is translating into how engaged I am at work. What makes the field of sustainability even more exciting is the value it brings to clients.”
Mbunge chose accounting as a career after having shown a natural inclination for the field at Commercial High School in Cape Town. After graduating with an accounting diploma from Pretoria Technikon (now Tshwane University of Technology), she worked briefly for a nongovernmental organisation in the health sector until it closed due to a lack of funding. Shortly thereafter, in 2003, she joined Mazars.
“It was then that I realised I would need to study further to be satisfied in my career,” she says. “I saw how important it is to qualify as a CA. I realised it would not only advance my skills and understanding, but also give me the confidence I need to get ahead and interpret difficult situations in business.”
Thus began the process of first obtaining her accounting degree at the University of South Africa, then taking a year sabbatical from Mazars to complete her honours at the University of Fort Hare and thereafter, “climbing the final mountain” to complete her articles and qualify as a CA(SA). During this time, Mbunge got married and had two daughters. The first arrived prematurely and had to stay in hospital for the first three months of her life.
“I could not have continued without the remarkable support of my husband and Mazars. The company has supported me throughout, not only giving me the time to study, but also the flexibility I needed when my daughters were born. It helps that Mazars is progressive in terms of gender transformation. We have women in influential senior positions, including managing partner Michelle Olkers and Yolande Ferreira, head of audit in Cape Town. That is not only appropriate, but also motivating.”
When she’s not at work (where she is also very involved with training) Mbunge is busy with female empowerment initiatives, which is another subject that is close to her heart.
“It was big achievement to have made it as a partner and it made me think about several things. I’ve realised how important it is for SA and for black talent to pause before hopping horizontally in business. It’s tempting to take new jobs at new companies that come with increases, but perhaps we need to stick it out and get to the top of organisations where we can influence dialogue. That has been deliberate. It is one of the reasons I have not left Mazars. I see the need for up-and-coming black professionals to see others like them sitting at boardroom tables. That is the licence for the black child to say, ‘I can do it’.”
When she received feedback that her business case for partnership had been approved, she saved a copy of the case for her daughters, Khazimla (5) and Khwezilomso (2) along with the note, “I have pushed and made it to the top of the table. This is your licence to dream big.”
WE NEED TO LOOK AHEAD, ASK HOW RELEVANT WE ARE GOING TO BE IN 10 AND 20 YEARS