SURESH KANA – SA PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR

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What are your thoughts on being voted by a panel of your peers to be The South African Professional of the year 2014 at the South African Professional Services Awards (SAPSA)?

The news was both humbling and surprising. This kind of recognition is unexpected, much like the two honorary doctorates that have been conferred upon me by the University of Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. I wake up every morning striving to do my best as a professional and it is a great honour when that is recognised.  Being that I was out of the country at the time attending to an international engagement, a PwC representative attended the function on my behalf.

What is your impression of the initiative to recognise the best professionals and best professional services firms in South Africa?

Having been a human capital leader at PwC, it’s always been clear that encouragement, support and recognition are critical to influencing productive human behaviour. The feedback from our PwC representative was that the event was successful and the news of the award has since been disseminated to our 9,000 employees across the continent. The good thing about SAPSA is that the recognition cuts across several professions and enables us to interact and recognise good work across the board.

How do you and the firm ensure that ethical behaviour is maintained?

Integrity and ethics are the cornerstones of our business and we have made an effort to make this the fabric of what we do, rather than paying lip service to the concept. We have ongoing training on ethics and when an ethical dilemma arises in the firm, once resolved we often use it as an example during training sessions – obviously without mentioning the names of the parties involved. We have a ratio of one ethics officer for every 15 members of staff and one of our partners, Nezira Ayob, heads the division, with 30% of her portfolio dedicated to ethics. Furthermore, we have quarterly ethics board meetings with two representatives from the firm and two external members.

On a personal note, I sat on the board of Transparency International – an agency dedicated to countering corruption globally – and as the former human capital leader at PwC, initiated the creation of a global code of conduct in 1999. It was a difficult thing to do given that the firm is worldwide and there are different cultural norms. It’s now viewed as best practice and implemented throughout our global firm.

In the audit business, the two most common ethical contraventions are “ghost-ticking” (documenting audit procedures as completed when they have in fact not been done) and misstatement of travel claims. We tackle such matters harshly and it is not uncommon for us to dismiss employees found to be in contravention of our code of conduct. Furthermore, we have a whistle-blowers hot-line and I am informed of any calls within 24 hours so that swift action is taken thereafter.

Briefly describe what you and your firm have done to contribute to the South African community in the recent past?’

We established a corporate responsibility (CR) programme in May 2001 which was not very common back then.  The office is headed by Megan Naidoo and our initiatives focus on education and upliftment. One of these is the Business Skills for Southern Africa foundation, which manages the Faranani Rural Women project, which imparts skills to rural women.

PwC was involved in taking about 50 children from underprivileged schools across the country through the CIDA City Campus programme. The programme was later taken over by the University of Johannesburg and some of these learners have since become chartered accountants through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Thuthuka programme.

We consistently do our best to uplift the community through our many CR projects. Even the small initiatives make a significant impact, such as our zoo days, where our Pretoria office staff take under-privileged children to the zoo for the day. Participants in our programme often define PwC as “People Who Care”.

What would you say is your management and leadership style?

My style is collaborative, as I don’t believe in hierarchies. Although management control is needed, we also need accountability at every level. 80% of the people I manage have two or more university degrees and therefore it is important to engage with them. A recent PwC Global People Survey found that we have an 84% engagement rate with our staff – I’m very pleased with this. A culture of openness is important and quite frequently I wander into our staff canteen and have lunch with whoever is there – it’s how I keep in touch with our people and their opinions.  Focus groups are also good for dealing with specific issues. In 2012, we set up an innovation challenge, where we offered R50, 000 to the person with the winning idea.

Having worked internationally, the importance of being culturally sensitive is always a consideration. This is essential given the work that we do in other parts of Africa.

How is your firm achieving excellence in customer service?

PwC has dedicated resources to research and produce thought leadership, to the extent that we are the ‘go to’ professionals for a number of industries. Top of the list is our CEO Survey, which helps us and the market understand what CEOs are saying about their respective industries, the economy and business in general. A good example of our business leadership credentials is the fact that when African Bank experienced financial difficulties last year, PwC was selected as the preferred entity to see it through the business rescue. We also conduct family business surveys to better understand how we can support small and medium-sized enterprises. In 1988, we established a foundation aimed at imparting business skills to micro-entities in Southern Africa.

How has your firm fared from a business perspective and what growth targets have been achieved?

We find ourselves in an exceptional profession where, as the saying goes, no news is good news! Our brand health and reputation are a good measure of how well we are doing. From a business perspective locally, we recently won the audits of Sasol and Vodacom – massive companies with significant fees. In 2009, we set out to double the size of the firm’s revenue and by 2014 we had achieved that as a result of organic and inorganic growth. In terms of human capital, we have also increased our staff complement from some 5000 to 9000 on an Africa-wide basis and grown our partner base from 250 to 400.

We are currently on a drive to move many our offices on the continent to new premises, to create better working environments for our people and position ourselves as the market leader in the communities in which we operate. In Johannesburg, we are in the process of establishing a 26-storey building at Waterfall City, while our Cape Town office will move to the V&A Waterfront in 2016. Also in 2016, PwC Durban will be moving to a new flagship office in the Umhlanga Ridge business precinct on the Northern coast of KZN. Our Kenya office has already moved to an imposing new building in the prestigious Westlands area of Nairobi and in Nigeria “PwC Tower” is under construction on Victoria Island.

What is your contribution to technical excellence?

I was the National Technical partner of PwC from 1986 to 1998 and during that time co-authored – with Professor Geoff Everingham – “Corporate Reporting”, a leading textbook in financial reporting. The book is now in its ninth edition. At PwC we believe that quality is non-negotiable, and we come out tops in all our internal and external quality reviews.

What is your personal approach and participation in mentorship? How is your firm participating in the upliftment of young professionals?

My passion is youth development; this led to the formation of PwC’s Business School, which comprises eleven centres of excellence. The Chairman of the Business School is governance champion Mervyn King. We invest some 500,000 hours in learning and development annually and also have a bursary fund of R100 million. We believe in the old adage of teaching people to fish rather than handing the fish to them. PwC’s Business Schools have since been established in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and another one is set to open in Ghana at a ceremony to be attended by the State President.

At a local firm level, 22% of chartered accountants in South Africa train through PwC.

On a personal level, I participate in an initiative that requires me to meet with young children on weekends and give them leadership lessons and mentoring on life and careers. I mentor and train them over a number of months and thereafter take them to Base Camp Everest in the Himalayas.

How has your firm contributed to transformation?

As the first person of colour to be employed as a professional trainee at PwC South Africa in 1976, transformation has always been a passion of mine, particularly bringing more previously disadvantaged people into the firm and the profession. It is part of the reason that I have stayed with the firm for four decades despite several offers over that time to move. The average age of our employees is about 27 and the benefits of working with and mentoring young people are immense.

Of our recent annual intake of over 300 trainees, 52% of them are of colour and we have achieved a AAA rating from Empowerdex. We are a level 2 contributor according to the BBBEE ratings. PwC’s Talent Management Council analyses our staff by race and gender and gauges transformation in the firm. Over the past seven years, the firm has developed over 1 300 black chartered accountants.

On a light note, please narrate an account of your worst working day?

I’m a people person and enjoy getting out of the office and interacting with others. Of course there are always work pressures as well, the occasional difficult client and times of concern, but these are outweighed by the pleasure I get from my work.

What roles do you play outside of work and how do you contribute to your profession?

I hold a number of external roles, including Chairman of the Rhodes Scholarship Committee for several Southern African countries, trustee of the Constitutional Court Trust, Chairman of SAICA, and a member of the King Committee on Corporate Governance in South Africa. Further roles related to the profession include membership of the Financial Reporting Standards Council, a statutory body in South Africa setting accounting standards, as well as acting trustee on the board governing SAICA’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund, aimed at transforming the profession through supporting black students.

Previous roles include being a member of the International Auditing and Accounting Standards Board (IAASB) where I served for nine years and deputy chair of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) which was a ministerial appointment. I was also appointed by the Minister of Finance as a member of the Boards of Appeal for the Stock Exchange Control Act, Pension Funds Act and the Unit Trust Control Act.

What are your future plans and what leisure activities interest you?

I’m an avid high altitude trekker and mountaineer. Having recently turned 60, I’m set to retire in June this year, with Hein Boegman set to take the reigns as PwC Africa Territory Senior Partner.  Future roles include being a non-executive director o

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