Priming the future
NEW 24/ 11 MARCH 2018 - 06.00 / LESETJA MALOPE
Nonkululeko Gobodo is not a person who needs introduction in corporate South Africa. Having raked in many awards over the years, she now runs her own leadership development company in Parktown, Johannesburg, and she appears to be enjoying the time out of the limelight.
The Mthatha-born boardroom veteran has come a long way from becoming the first black female chartered accountant in the country in 1987, charting a way for thousands of others.
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City Press met the owner of the name Gobodo in auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG) and she narrated her journey to becoming a pioneer in an industry she has since left.
Born in a middle class family of five siblings as a middle child to parents who were involved in business, Gobodo started school at the local Mzimvubu Primary and later All Saints Lower Primary schools, before matriculating at Ndamase Senior Seconary School.
As a teen, she was not clear about her own career direction. Her parents encouraged her to study medicine and she went on a holiday field trip with her mother, a nurse.
“At the end of that holiday I was clear I don’t want to be a doctor.”
After matriculating, while pondering her next step, she became involved in her father’s panel beating business for a year. Eventually, she decided to enrol for a BCom degree at the now defunct University of Transkei. That was where she got her first job, as a junior lecturer for two years.
“I realised very early on that, as a young black woman, I had to stand my ground.”
After her stint as lecturer, she completed her articles at KPMG.
Her journey to qualifying was not a lonely one as there were many black women candidates. However, they either did not qualify or qualified after her. Wiseman Nkuhlu, the current chairperson of KPMG, who was the first black man to become a chartered accountant, was from her home town.
After completing her articles at KPMG in Mthatha, she was offered a job there and later an opportunity to be the company’s first black female partner. She says she rejected the offer without regret.
“If I had taken the opportunity, I would have never known that, as a black person, I can do it on my own.”
She joined the Transkei Development Corporation, but confesses she did so only because she needed a job.
After being its chief financial officer for less than three years, and amid the rough political changes in the Transkei, spearheaded by Bantu Holomisa, she left to open her own shop in 1992 at 31 years of age, NN Gobodo and Company. She and a personal assistant were initially the only staff.
She grew the firm to 30 employees and brought in another partner. Four years later, in 1996, it was time for expansion and she became part of an association of accountants who mooted the idea of merging black firms in order to take on bigger jobs.
“I converted NN Gobodo into Gobodo Incorporated. It had the same staff. I brought in nine other partners and had offices in four provinces and 200 staff,” she says of the major transaction.
Gobodo says black people in corporate South Africa still have to continuously prove themselves.
“As a black female, it’s an additional burden because when you are white, you get away with a lot.
But when you are black and, even worse, a black female, you have to prove yourself to earn anybody’s respect – even today,” she says.
In 2011, after wideranging negotiations between five black accounting firms, her company merged with SizweNtsaluba to form SNG, a historic move she says took place against all odds.
Having crossed the Rubicon and successfully overseen the transition, she bowed out, leaving Victor Sekese to steer the ship alone. He had been her co-pilot as CEO throughout.
Taking the decision to leave SNG as the last founding member, Gobodo says she needed time to emotionally recover.
“I needed to let go. I had done my job and the next generation needed to take over. I was really happy about the achievements, but emotionally it was really difficult. I took three months to deal with it, wondering what they are going to do with my legacy,” she says of the closure of this chapter of her career.
Although she is not at all involved with SNG, some of the happenings at her former firm have attracted her attention. The recent announcement of SNG’s merger with Grant Thornton will see it become a global player, a dream realised, she says.
The move has presented an opportunity to venture into one of her passions, leadership development. This is what she is doing at Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, which specialises in fine-tuning and making leaders more effective.
“The work is very fulfilling and I love it,” she says.
In addition to running the company, the proud mother of three is currently serving on the boards of cement maker PPC and Clicks.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER