Vianca Pretorius is a Partner within the Audit division at BDO Johannesburg. Her career took off in 2010 when she was appointed as a national training manager of a large Auditing Firm, and by 2013 she had been appointed to the partnership. Vianca holds two Masters degrees, one in International Financial Reporting Standards from the University of Pretoria and one in Taxation from the University of the North West.
2014 marked the year that Vianca was selected as one of the Top 35 under 35 Chartered Accountants in South Africa in a competition organized by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and later that year was one of five finalists for the Young Professional of the Year at the SA Professional Services Awards.
Vianca’s client base comprises mostly of major subsidiaries in public interest companies and a number of privately held businesses within the financial services, and retail industry. She spoke to SAprofessionals.com about her career thus far.
You have had several professional achievements please list them and indicate which one stands out for you and why?
I give credit to everybody in my life, who played a part in my professional achievements. My reference is to my current colleagues all the way back to my parents who supported me throughout my university career.
My parents did so much for me. My mother drove me to important, stressful exams and my father even made alterations to my room in Karlien Ladies Residence at Northwest University in Potchefstroom, so that I could comfortably study. Within BDO, I must thank my mentors and current partners who allowed me the opportunity to learn from them and intern to grow personally.
In 2013, I was the only one selected out of 180 managers nationally as the South African delegate to attend the firm’s International Advanced Manager Programme. This programme was preparation for partnership. This offering was only attended by 60 of the worldwide organisation’s future leaders. The programme was held in Chicago, Madrid and Bangkok, and enabled me to expand my global perspective and build a professional network within the firm.
My finalist status for the Top 35 under 35 award and SAPSA Young Professional award in 2014 were very memorable. With my professional achievements, I have grown my international network extensively by getting to know new colleagues from all over the world, and created friendships that will be everlasting, for this I feel very advantaged.
Have you had any particular challenges as a woman professional that you think differ from your male counterparts? How have you tackled them?
I remember very clearly the electrifying TEDTalk by Sheryl Sandberg in 2010, chief operating officer of Facebook, which was viewed more than 2 million times. This inspired me to read more about the topic of Women in in Leadership. In her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers and encouraged women to “sit at the table”, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. The book inspired me so much that it became a topic close to my heart. It became something that I spoke about in all Learning and Development sessions where I shared my thoughts and encouraged dialogue.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission”. That is the framework and mind-set that I carry with me in my daily work environment, and I believe with that mind-set allows me to tackle all challenges as a women professional successfully. I believe the value that women can add to the workplace will be captured even more when we start seeing many more of them in CEO positions. The different perspective that women can bring to the board room table is so important in our ever changing world.
What advice do you have for younger professionals who are looking forward to joining the profession?
I come from a small town, Stilfontein, in the North West which was not exactly on route for school visits by recruiting professional firms. I did a lot of my own research into potential careers and South African universities. It was only when I got to university that I really became interested in the CA (SA) route.
As a Chartered Accountant, you can start your life in a small mining village as I did, and then easily grow and be selected as Partner in a well-known international audit firm. The versatility of the profession means that the sky is the limit.
From now until the end of your life you are the only person who will accompany you every step of the way – on every client encounter, every trip and every experience. Your life is a work in progress and a do-it-for-yourself proposition. Work hard and work towards self-improvement and increasing your knowledge base, and promotion will happen in due course. Don’t rush a promotion. Fortunately, most people, most of the time, have the power to move from where they are to where they want be, and so do you. In the end, your career and life largely will be what you make it. And that is wonderful news.
In life, you need to take a bit of a calculated risk. You will miss out if you don’t take those opportunities. Grab the good ones and do your best.
What has been the highlight of your career?
My passion for learning and development, as well as growing people, was acknowledged by my firm. This allowed me to have a professional career that includes serving my own client portfolio, as well as heading up learning and development for part of my career.
I joined a large Auditing firm as a trainee accountant in 2006, after completing a one-year traineeship in the financial accounting division. During this year, I realised I would always be involved in learning and people development.
I made sure that I was involved in every single opportunity given to trainees to deliver learning and development sessions. After this experience, I searched for an institute in Johannesburg where I could get involved in delivering part time classes to CTA students, a Midrand-based institute offered me the opportunity. I devoted my after work hours and most Saturdays assisting CTA students.
Being involved in learning and development opened up my world and relationships. I thoroughly loved my time, as Head of National Learning and Development, traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa to deliver training courses. I developed ever lasting relationships with students in Botswana and Namibia and none of the days felt like work, I was living my dream.
After being an audit partner for seven years, my client portfolio has grown and although I have moved on in my career, the learning and development foundations that I laid out, will always be my highlight. The national and international relationship building and the fruitful feedback from employees after a training session is the most genuine feeling of gratitude that I have experienced in my career.
What principles and values do you think are important for any professional and why?
To act with integrity and respect are two of my key principles and values. Integrity is the foundation on which co-workers build relationships, trust, and effective interpersonal relationships. Without a trust-building relationship, strategic outcomes cannot be achieved. Respect, both a top-up and bottom-down approach, is key to create an effective professional environment. As a leader it is key for me to respect and listen to all ideas and inputs from colleagues, these colleagues are willing to bring knowledge to the table. A one-sided approach will quickly create a negative environment.
Explain what contribution you have made to your current company since joining it?
I developed the first-ever national model for our firm. With input from our international firm, and training leaders in different regions, we created a national Learning and Development Model which provided training to all service lines ranging from technical training to soft skills, including leadership courses. With my International experience gained on different leadership and coaching courses, we changed the Learning and Development model to an all-inclusive model to ensure that we cater for all learning and development needs and not just be technically focussed. The benefits of having an in-house learning and development model created synergies across the South African offices, which we then expanded into Sub-Saharan Africa.
Who stands out for you as a role model and why?
Being a foodie, and linking to the topic of women in Leadership, it will definitely be Ina Paarman, one of South Africa’s most renowned food writers and television personalities. Ina made her first product, a salad dressing, in her kitchen and started a cooking school with six pupils in a converted garage. This grew into a significant food company servicing a wide spread of different markets with a diverse product offering.
The lessons learned in life are in the journey and not the destination. The point is, it is important to have a dream and then work hard and have the courage to follow it. The Ina Paarman story is an inspiring story that started with humble beginnings. Coming from a small town, I can relate to the Ina Paarman Story, and the courage it took to follow my ambition.
Where do you want your career to be in 10 years’ time?
I see myself as a strategic leader in the firm where I am provided with the space to keep on making a difference. It is my goal to help alleviate the critical shortage of skilled accountants in South Africa. My main ambition for the future is to perform some research on the skills shortages in South Africa, and especially within the accounting sector that has reached a critical level, and to provide a solution or a model that will assist companies to implement mentoring programs for their students. Current research shows that without mentoring programmes, the student failure rate increases. I believe there is a huge opportunity to make a difference and I want to make sure that I take a leading role in this, representing my firm to make a difference in South Africa. Having excelled in my Master of Commerce in Accounting Science, I want to obtain my PhD, and the topic of skills shortages in South Africa is high on my list.
I believe a mentor relationship is a win-win situation for both parties, and for young professionals it is important to realise that companies are not only looking for age and experience, but that skill and passion are also important factors that are taken into consideration. Mentors can boost your career development by providing feedback and encouragement, but more importantly sharing lessons learned, and in turn you can spark new ideas that you believe can make a difference in the firm.
What is your management and leadership philosophy?
Adaptability and empowerment are key in my management and leadership philosophy. As a leader it is important to adapt one’s style in different scenarios and with different people. One cannot force a leadership style, it is good to sit back, listen and observe what the task force have to offer to enable empowerment of their ideas, and then only provide assistance where gaps are identified. Do not micro manage people who have the skill and ability, they will soon fade away and look for alternative opportunities.
As Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so that they can tell us what to do”.
What are you passionate about/keeps you awake at night/makes you tick?
My greatest satisfaction in life is not getting ahead of others, but getting ahead of myself. I am in a fortunate space and profession where I can work, engage and learn from upcoming young Chartered Accountants and be part of their career development. I am privileged this year to take over as leader for the Auditor Development Programme instituted by the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors, and oversee the development of all future Registered Candidate Auditors on behalf of our firm.
Do you believe BDO is a great company to work for? Give recent examples of what makes it different from other audit firms in South Africa.
I believe BDO provides the space for each individual in any capacity to be empowered and to make a difference. Feedback to employees after an assignment is key, and I believe this is the main contributor to increased performance on jobs. In the audit division each trainee is assigned a mentor partner and mentor manager or associate director who give each trainee the opportunity to have an open door policy and guidance from experienced professionals.
In a recent example, BDO really took the lead with all the events arranged for Women’s month – BDO encouraged women to stand out in their capacity as leaders. Internally, BDO spoilt all the female staff members with a high tea, with the purpose of creating dialogue and positive discussions about the leadership role we need to play in our country.
BDO’s People and Business Solutions team partnered with HR Future for the Women of the Future seminar, held on 14 August at the Bryanston Country Club. BDO was a sponsor of the morning session. The main topics included Leading for Engagement and The Meaningfulness Factor. It was an inspiring morning and we got to meet our countries future female leaders.