W CONSULTING has a presence in South Africa, Mauritius and the United Kingdom, but regularly does business in approximately 10-15 countries.
Executive Director Tapiwa Njikizana at WConsulting spoke to the SAprofessionals.com about his personal and entrepreneurial journey thus far.
Tell us about your early life and your role Today!
I was born into a middle-income family of professionals. School years were school years; lots of learning and a lot more playing. If there wasn’t any sport at school I doubt I would have bothered attending! My parents and elder siblings did a good job of convincing me that the ethos of “work hard, play hard” would ultimately provide the best outcome and I am now grateful for that advice.
Upon completing A’ Levels, I was offered a contract with Coopers & Lybrand and embarked on an articles contract at the tender age of nineteen. At the same time, I enrolled with UNISA and commenced a B.Compt degree.
Over the past 22 years I have worked in Zimbabwe, Botswana, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and most recently here in South Africa. I have been fortunate to work for multiple big audit firms before leaving to develop and pursue my current passion at WConsulting where I am a director and shareholder of the business.
What was your training like?
My articles training at Coopers & Lybrand was probably the most accelerated period of professional and personal growth I have ever experienced. I had amazing managers, role models, and mentors long before the fancy terms to describe such people were ever popularised. I will forever be grateful to these people because the value they added to me was permanent.
Apart from the prestigious CV-busting audits of multinationals, I found that some of the deepest moments of learning occurred on the smaller assignments when one worked intimately with senior managers and partners.
By age 24 with all my professional exams completed and articles signed off, I became a freshly minted chartered accountant. A couple of years after completing my studies I had, on a whim, accepted an offer with Ernst & Young in Botswana and now I could finally exhale after completing the sprint to qualification. After a year-long stint in Botswana I packed my bags and left for a 2-year working holiday to the United Kingdom, somewhat in the footsteps of my elder brother who had just returned home after completing a long secondment with KPMG in London, except for me it would be less work and a lot more fun.
What does the role of being Executive Director at WConsulting mean to you?
Being a Director of a professional services firm is all about leadership rather than classic management although both aspects are present. Our team is made up of subject matter experts who are steeped in their disciplines and very seasoned in delivering their expertise to our clients. My job is to keep these naturally goal driven professionals focused on our shared strategic objectives. That’s the number one responsibility associated with my role, it’s both challenging and rewarding.
What are you currently working on and what can we expect from you going forward?
We have just consummated a merger between our Audit Risk & Efficiency (ARE) team and a competitor firm which we have admired from a distance for many years, Protect-A-Partner International (PAPI). The dual objectives of the expanded ARE team is to make our clients more profitable in the long-run whilst ensuring quality and reducing practice and engagement risk. The team is working on some exciting new innovations in this space which should see our clients being able to optimise their engagement delivery abilities, and other innovations at the firm level which will assist firms to better comply with burdensome regulatory requirements with much more efficiency.
Finally, a part of our business which is little known but is probably one of our key differentiators is the Integrated Software business. This is the part of our business where our app developers, graphic designers and other IT specialists help deliver new technology-enabled solutions to our clients. An example of this is our IFRS E-learning application Fundamentals © which is one of the leading IFRS based apps globally. Currently the division has over half a dozen different products which it has developed and is supporting for a global client base. We have a few exciting projects in the pipeline but due to the highly competitive nature of this part of the business all I can say is “keep watching this space”.
Our Corporate Finance & Valuations business has integrated well with our established IFRS Advisory business which house our JSE Accredited IFRS Advisors. These two teams are working with local and international clients delivering on key projects related to new accounting standards particularly IFRS 9 (Financial Instruments), and IFRS 15 (Revenue), and IFRS 16 (Leases). We are already receiving enquiries regarding IFRS 17 (Insurance Contracts) but it is early days yet for that, interest will start to increase into 2018 and 2019.
What initiative(s) (if implemented) would leave the greatest impact for you and for Africa as a whole?
We have been advocates of the role of technology in delivering professional learning almost from the very first day we came into existence. Whilst we have had great success already with some of our E-Learning products, we have generally been ahead of where our key partners and prospective clients have been ready to go, but such is the nature of innovation.
If we can convince some of the key stakeholders on the African continent about the potential of E-Learning, especially on a continent with weak physical infrastructure generally, it is our belief that we can start to reach more young people and professionals to develop the last frontier on the continent which is the development of human capital. The impact will be immense and irreversible so we will continue to fight the fight.
What would you say are the most critical resources for your successful leadership? How would people describe you as a leader?
If leadership is about influencing others towards the achievement of a shared goal, then the critical resources are; team cohesion, collaboration, and focus. Influence is soft power, it is power that is earned and one way to earn it is by being the example you want others to follow. It follows therefore that self-awareness is the first task of any prospective leader, know what it is that you are selling to those you wish to follow you. Understanding your own strengths, weaknesses, and biases are minimum requirements of self-awareness.
Another critical resource would be that of empathy; being able, in that moment, to commit to seeing an issue completely from the perspective of another. Empathy is rare skill and it requires patience and a suspension of one’s own ego to become open to a seeing the same object or circumstance from a completely different perspective. In any team environment, there are bound to be real or perceived differences of opinion so being able to genuinely appreciate those differences is necessary for the insight required to thread the needle and develop a solution which will maintain the cohesion of the team.
I happen to believe that because leadership is about influence, the way I relate to each person in the organisation is affected by the unique aspects which make up the personal relationship between myself and that person. Some people seek reassurance from leaders, others inspiration, and yet others seek to be empowered by a leader, my job is to work out what is required and deliver that. My natural style is to be collaborative so that is my default setting until I’ve had an opportunity to recalibrate for a specific relationship and its needs.
What is the legacy that you would want to leave by the time you retire?
Whilst I cannot, at this time, relate to the idea of retirement, I believe that whenever it is that my innings are up, the lasting effect I wished to have imparted is that of enthusiasm. If most people that have worked with me can say “that guy was helluva enthusiastic about what he was doing” and it gave them a burst of renewed energy to pursue whatever their own passion was, that would be a huge compliment.
How do you strike the balance of career, business and interpersonal skills?
The balance is never the same there is a season for everything. The key for me is to remain engaged and aware and the signals to rebalance will often be clear and should not be ignored. When I feel like my work is becoming tedious I take time out to reconsider my purpose and I am not afraid to change course if that is the required action.
The key for me is to set aside time just to listen and hear what the signals are telling me and then to commit to making the required changes, sometimes it’s hard to do it but the choices are clear.
How has the organisation done in terms of business growth objectives?
We have enjoyed high double-digit growth every year since we started this business, we’re turning 10 this year so I guess that is not that difficult to do but we have seen some competitors come and go during that period so we are grateful for the success we have had. We also decided to make it clear that our long-term objective from a growth perspective is bottom line growth and to avoid being seduced by top line growth, as a result we are keenly attuned to the difference between what we consider “good” and “bad” revenues. Consequently, we are not afraid to walk away from what we term “toxic opportunities”, despite the short-term revenue loss.
Where can people follow you online?
I have a LinkedIn profile which I keep up with regularly.