What thoughts run through your head when you were appointed the Southern Africa CEO of PWC effective 1 July 2015 at the young age of 39?
I give credit to everybody in my life who has directly or indirectly played some role in shaping me into the person that I am today. And that goes right back from my parents and grandparents particularly my maternal grandmother to whom I was quite close growing up. She was a strict mentor. Within the firm, all the partners and managers I have worked with have played a role in my progression. I feel fortunate to be afforded this great opportunity. Even if I was not appointed to this position, I would still feel quite priviledged to be a partner at this firm. It is daunting to have this much responsibility at my age. The first thought that goes through your mind is how to interact and put through perspectives to partners who are older and more experienced and gain their respect. But having been in the role for the past eight months, I must say it has been a remarkable experience and I have experienced nothing but support from the partners. It is quite heartwarming; sometimes it actually makes me emotional.
What would you like to have achieved by the time your first term ends in 2019?
One perception in South Africa is that PwC is a white firm. As you know the politics of race in South Africa particularly are quite deep and intense, and this perception of PwC being a white firm has a bearing on how we perform in the market. I will be working to change that perception and take our transformation strategies to the next level. Currently approximately 28% of our partners in South Africa are from previously disadvantaged groups namely African, Coloured or Indian (ACI). I would like to see that number upped to at least 35% by the time my term comes to an end. Ultimately we would like to see a PwC in South Africa that is representing all demographics of our society, meaning the ACI component should represent 80% of the firm. I would like to leave a legacy where the previously disadvantaged are inspired and motivated to be a part of the significant growth story we are writing here.
What do you consider your management and leadership style?
My leadership style is, first and foremost consultative. I believe strongly in the power of engaging with people. I do not subscribe to an autocratic style of leadership. I think what makes me successful with that style is my people and relationship-building skills. I am blessed with ability of warming up to people fairly quickly and establishing good relationships in a short period of time. And I think that this style of leadership is one that is probably more conducive to a partnership type of environment. As I have said, I have 280 other CEO’s that I have to call on for support. So in making a decision or leading people in a different direction it always helps to consult with your fellow partners to avoid the danger of believing your own hype. I am also a believer of the whole concept of servant leadership, where people see me as one of the team members through my actions, and in the manner in which I interact with them.
What keeps you awake at night?
In addition to the transformation objectives, I would say operationally we are currently in a tough economy. Our clients are taking significant pain in the market and we see that come through in our own financial results. There is significant fee pressure from clients which is causing us to do some deep introspection in terms of how we do things and challenge ourselves to be more efficient. Although the profitability of our business and our margins have been under pressure for the last couple of years, I still believe that there are good opportunities in this market. South Africa is a part of the global village which is experiencing some tough times but we are working at growing this business to leave a better firm than we found for the next generation.
How has PwC fared in terms of meeting its growth objectives?
The business experiencing the most pressure is advisory which makes up 30% of our business. I feel we may need to be competitive in this space given the possibility of legislation that may require audit firm rotation. Currently audit or assurance work comprises 60% of our business. We are the dominant player in this space. If you look at JSE-listed companies, we have the largest market share in terms of the number of JSE-listed companies to whom we are external auditors. As a result we would have more to lose should firm rotation become mandatory.
Our continued business growth is anchored on the need to maintain the best possible relationships with our existing clients such that if we are required to rotate off as auditors, we still have relationships that allow us to provide advisory services to the same clients.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
I have an open door policy and try to be as interactive as possible with our people. People get surprised to know that they are welcome to call my PA directly and make appointments. That cuts across the board to even first year audit clerks. So I play an informal mentoring role by being approachable and accessible. I also have many discussions and offer guidance to ensure that our people are kept informed of our goals and objectives. I feel that mentoring is a very important responsibility which enables me to give back and help other people just as I was mentored along the way.
What do you consider the high points of your career?
In the years before I was appointed CEO, I was given the opportunity to lead the utilities and mining group. As that is a very significant part of our assurance business I was very honoured to be given that role. As CEO, I cannot yet point to a single occurrence or event that I would consider my high point as I have only been in the role for some eight months. I think every day interactions and the opportunity to engage with people in the organisation that I wouldn’t otherwise engage with are a continuous high. And with people being our greatest asset, it will always be that every success that comes about will be linked to how I see my role in the development of others.
What low points have you experienced in your working career?
Again if you allow me to reference it to people, whenever we lose people in the form of resignations, I consider that to some extent a low for the firm, even though I always say that we are always proud of our people who we send out into commerce and industry. As a firm, we do a great job of training and developing people that are highly skilled and found to be attractive by the market. When they leave us, we see them as our ambassadors as they often refer work back to us in future. Because we work so hard in building a family environment, a resignation feels as though we are losing a family member.
From a market perspective, whenever we lose work or lose a client that is also considered a low but that is the reality of life, you lose some and you win some.
What accolades has PwC received recently?
In the last ten months or so, we have been awarded three awards in the space of diversity and empowerment, two from Standard Bank and one from the Oliver Empowerment Awards. This shows our commitment in this area coupled with the fact that we are the headline sponsor of the Gender Mainstreaming Awards. We have also signed up for the United Nations initiative called He For She which has the goal of driving gender equality. Our global chairman based in the US, Dennis Nally, has actually personally signed up and the involvement cuts right across our organisation.
PwC has been named the strongest business to business brand by Brand Finance, and one of the world’s ten most powerful brands in their annual index. The Brand Finance index is an annual assessment of the brand value of over 500 of the world’s best known businesses. PwC achieved the highest score (AAA+) for the sixth year in a row assessing the brand as ‘exceptionally strong and well managed’.
How do you ensure that ethics and integrity are observed within the firm?
That is a very good question. Years ago, we did some introspection as a global firm that centred around what differentiates us and defines us as PwC. From that process came a purpose statement that is quite simple: our purpose is to build trust in our society and to solve problems. Ethics and integrity goes to the very heart of what we stand for. It defines who we are because if we get that wrong then our brand is worthless. People like to tell me that at PwC we are doing too much training because we spend a heck of a lot of our time reinforcing the issue of ethics. My simple response is, in a changing world, we need to ensure that we are on top of our game when it comes to matters of integrity.
How does the firm give back to the community?
Our corporate social responsibility is run by one of our partners, Megan Naidoo, as a national initiative. There is the normal process of cash donations to worthy causes and charities but more importantly is the work we do in equipping females from underpriviledged backgrounds with skills to run their own businesses. It is something that I think allows us to demonstrate our commitment to seeing a better South Africa through improving the standards of living of our people. In addition to that, there are a whole host of initiatives in our firm involving donation of clothing and toys to children’s homes and an active schools programme to educate children about the accounting profession which is also linked to our bursary programme.
What makes you sure the company is providing good customer service?
The normal standard that we use with all our clients is that we run a client satisfactory survey at the end of each engagement. But I personally believe that if a client is not happy they will tell you or simply walk away. We have put our bodies on the line by having a brand promise that holds us to a high standard. If we keep that brand promise then we will be able to keep all our clients happy. When I look at the clients that we have lost, the vast majority would have left for reasons other than quality of service. Quality is something that in non-negotiable in terms of how we go to market.
What activities do you undertake outside the firm?
I love spending time with my wife Tebogo and our three kids. Even though I am a terrible golfer, I occasionally venture onto a golf course every now and then. I also dabble in a bit of cycling as well.