Mudau credits his accounting teacher, the late Mr Sabatha, as the person who first introduced his class to the chartered accountancy [CA (SA)] profession in the eighth grade. Coincidentally, in the same high school class sat his close friend Justice Muhanelwa, who also qualified as a CA (SA), and is now his business partner at the Harvest Chartered Accountants Inc.
As a young boy from a disadvantaged background, his options seemed limited until that day. That was the start of many late nights spent working towards the dream of becoming a chartered accountant.
He started his first year at Wits University at the age of 16. Although it was a difficult time financially for his family, he was fortunate to receive a study bursary from KPMG in the third year of his studies. After qualifying as a CA (SA), Martin moved to the Corporate Finance division of KPMG as a manager where he worked for 18 months before moving to the University of South Africa (UNISA) to take up the position of senior lecturer in auditing. The position offered flexible hours with a fixed income and being recently married with a little one on the way, he felt this would be the perfect environment to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions with the financial stability the job provided.
One of Mudau’s breakthrough moments was being appointed in joint partnership with KPMG to provide project advisory services to the City of Tshwane on its Bus Rapid Transit business plan.
This was during his tenure at UNISA and he had just established Malamba Enterprise Development Services which was later rebranded to Harvest Chartered Accountants Inc. It was their first project, which gave them a significant advantage towards achieving financial growth and stability.
Since then, the company has grown to achieve sustainability and create employment across five branches in Limpopo, North West and Gauteng. Harvest Chartered Accountants currently employs 42 permanent and 24 contract employees. The Harvest Group in total employs over 80 staff members.
Mudau serves on two USAASA (Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa) board committees. He is one of the new trustees and donors that resuscitated a school in the informal settlement of Ramaphosa, which had been shut down after allegations of fraud.
He sat down with TAP Editor, KC Rottok and had the following conversation.
Was the process of qualifying as a chartered accountant smooth sailing?
Not at all. I only passed the first part of the CA (SA) examinations on the third attempt. It was a very humbling experience as I worked very hard to pass my exams. The first time I attempted the exam, I was over-confident. I found the paper very easy. When the results came out I was devastated. I later realized that my problem was poor exam technique and when I worked on this aspect by practicing exam questions I eventually prevailed. The day I learned I had finally passed, I kicked the air so hard that my shoe flew into a fluorescent bulb that came crashing down on my head. I sustained a minor cut on the head but I didn’t care, it was a tremendous moment, one I will never forget.
What other challenges have you experienced along the way?
My first year of working at UNISA was not very productive. I didn’t put the free time I had to good use and as a result, when my first opportunity to do business came about, my company was not ready. I was forced to respond to the opportunity through the organization of someone I know. This turned out to be a big mistake as they unilaterally decided to withhold some of payments received from the job. Despite many efforts, I only managed to recover very little of the funds that were withheld. The lesson learnt there is that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. If I was better prepared for the business opportunity, I would not have ended up in that predicament.
How did Malamba Enterprise Development Services transition to Harvest Chartered Accountants Inc.?
In 2012 Malamba had about seven employees and I was not fully involved with the business as I had partnered with three individuals in pursuing a coal mining prospect. We undertook a feasibility study after receiving some funds from an investor but unfortunately the study revealed that the mining the asset was not bankable. That was when I decided to fully focus on my accounting business. The first thing I did was to rebrand Malamba to Harvest. The name was ‘brandable’ and it also reflected our vision as it indicates a time of reaping rewards. This turned out to be one the best business decisions I have made to date. We have invested significantly into growing the brand such that we have a separate entity that owns the intellectual property rights to the brand.
What services does the Harvest Group provide?
The Harvest group is made of a number of companies that offer a variety of services, we have managed to diversify our services and products by partnering up with industry experts.
The group is composed of the following entities:
- Harvest Chartered Accountants Inc. which provides Accounting, Audit, Tax, BEE verifications and Advisory services (www.harvestca.co.za)
- Harvest Risk Solutions, providing Insurance, Medical aid and Investments (www.harvestrisk.co.za)
- Harvest Marketing and Media. This company provides Branding and marketing services (www.harvestmedia.co.za)
- Harvest Institute of Commerce which provides online and long distance ICB and CIMA studies.
- Harvest Office Technologies which provides IT services and sales of IT and office automation products (www.harvestofficetech.co.za)
What business lessons have you gathered?
Building a sustainable business is achieved from the day that you start planning your business. This could be achieved through structuring your operations to ensure that your business is not suffocated by overheads and maintaining the balance between low overheads and incurring necessary costs that are crucial to the growth of the business. Outsourcing of services may bring down an entity’s operating costs. However, a balance must be maintained between outsourcing and building internal capacity.
Depending on the nature of business and industry, one of the expenses a business cannot afford to compromise on is marketing and sales. Many businesses will respond directly, and one would see a direct and positive correlation between sales expenditure and revenue.
To maintain a low overhead structure, a business can also make use of online business platforms. It is advisable to incorporate an online platform as this allows the entity to grow and access nation and worldwide markets. A credible and fully functional website that competes with well-established businesses that have a wider footprint in brick and mortar can be built at minimal cost.
An additional advantage of an online platform for your business is that it will continue to work for you around the clock where conventional human resources are limited by operating hours. An online platform can also accelerate the growth of your brand, which is a key towards creating long-term sustainability.
Continuous business survival also highly depends on the ability to retain clients. This could be achieved by maintaining a high standard of services and seeking continuous feedback from clients.
You were one of the finalists in the Top 35 under 35 chartered accountants in South Africa, how did this come about?
My wife Adele who heads our group HR and operations actually nominated me for the award. I was quite humbled to make the shortlist and even though we didn’t make the top 3, it was good exposure for our brand within the profession.
Where do you see Harvest in the next five years?
I still have my eye on the resources space. I believe we can improve on the lessons learnt from the failed coal project and re-enter the mining sector. On the back of this, we should be able to list the group by the year 2020.