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Why Entrepreneurs Fail

At a young age, Atedo Peterside recognized Nigeria’s potential. He is a veteran of the country’s banking sector and is playing a role in the privatization of power.

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He is the maverick entrepreneur in the hat – who has worn many hats: the precocious kid; the investment mover and shaker, the banking wizard. Whenever you see Atedo Peterside in his flowing robes in the heat of a Lagos afternoon – you know a big deal is cooking.

Right now, wherever Peterside lays his hat, that’s his home. His diary shuttles him between Lagos and Abuja; he is on the board of six listed companies; he is chairman of the National Council on Privatisation’s technical committee and runs his own foundation on good governance. On top of this, Peterside is behind many of the biggest investment deals in Nigeria.

We talk at his Victoria Island penthouse, full of art and family portraits. This is Peterside’s quiet haven, away from work and his other passion, polo – a sport he has played for more than two decades with a current +1 handicap. He has a string of fine polo ponies.

Peterside is in the news these days for reasons other than maverick business and polo, but he is quick to clear up that he is no political aspirant – merely a devotee of the greater good; a philosophy born of years of sweat and risk in the dynamic Nigerian banking sector.

At 33 years old, a little older than he would have liked, Peterside became the youngest bank CEO in Nigeria, when he founded the Investment Banking and Trust Company (IBTC Bank) in Lagos.

“Because I was young, people were quite nervous about a bank being run by a ‘kid’, businesses wouldn’t take you seriously. So, I invited some other shareholders who would join the board to create the understanding that it was a mature decision,” says Peterside.

He ran IBTC Chartered Bank for 18 years. Now he is Non-executive Chairman for Stanbic-IBTC, following a merger with South Africa’s Standard Bank Group Nigeria operation – Stanbic Bank Nigeria.

It was the fruit of a merger, in 2007, Nigeria’s first ever tender offer. A foreign direct investment of $525 million took place and Stanbic IBTC was born.

“The most difficult problems I faced as CEO were self-imposed – when I started IBTC, I made a personal decision not to cut corners. I made a resolve to never get involved in any form of corrupt transactions and practices. I had a strong personal commitment to integrity and good ethics. We were going to be above board. I never wanted anyone to say ‘This guy built a bank but they are a bunch of crooks’. While it was very difficult for many to operate this way, for me it was quite easy as I was bent on creating a quality and reputable institution that will stand through time.”

In 2005, following a directive by the Central Bank of Nigeria on conversion to universal banking – a system that allows a bank to engage in all aspects of banking under a single license, Peterside’s IBTC was the only pure investment bank left at the time. There was an eventual compliance and a ripple effect – out of this came IBTC Chartered Bank.

“Acquiring two small retail banks took us out of pure investment banking into universal banking which was never my strength as I was an investment banker through and through.

“But even before we got to that point, I knew that it was time to move all the way to a different type of institution. In effect, if we were going to have a universal bank, I thought we could team up with an international bank. I was happy with IBTC as a well-connected domestic investment bank and we could have kept that model going for many years but there were new requirements that came with the change that affected the tight control unit that had existed previously – I thought, I might as well go all the way and started exploring the direction of a merger with an international bank. Stanbic was the obvious choice. They also had the need to expand their footprint in Nigeria.

“Simultaneously, I divested substantially and reduced my percentage shareholding and also sold some shares to Standard Bank – that too, was deliberate. I was not comfortable leaving too large a chunk of my personal net worth in one institution as I was already seeing signs of vulnerability. I didn’t want anything to get in the way and preferred to have my net worth spread over regulated businesses. Also, events of 2005 showed me that in a heavily regulated system like banking, the regulator can destroy your business overnight with the wrong decision and sometimes you are only as safe and secure as your regulator allows you.”

This is all part of a career, born of foresight in his days at the London School of Economics, where he earned a master’s degree and steeled himself for the world.

“At that time, I was one of the people who were bent on returning to Nigeria – I never contemplated staying a few more months after my education. I was back in Nigeria within two weeks of receiving my master’s degree. In reality, I got a sense, even at my age of 21, that Nigeria would go places very soon and I thought by staying in London to search for a job I’d be missing out on the great things that would happen back home,” he says.

“Oil had just been found in large quantities and I thought my country was going through a very important phase. The civil war had ended in 1970; I was to return home in 1977. So, I thought that was Nigeria’s now moment and I didn’t want to miss it. I wouldn’t say I was phenomenally patriotic, I just felt Nigeria was a place where the sky was the limit. I identified with every single thing that was happening and I felt I could move mountains here – I could have an impact.”

On his return, Peterside was clear; he wanted to be an entrepreneur and chose the field of finance because he felt he could do well. First, there was compulsory time to be worked for the government in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Peterside didn’t want to waste time and requested to be posted to an investment bank.

“I was told the investment banks were not registered with the NYSC scheme and my next best bet was a commercial bank. After spending about six months there, I met the CEO of NAL Merchant Bank, who registered with the NYSC scheme, so I could join their team after I expressed my initial interest. I finished my NYSC at NAL Merchant Bank and stayed on after my service. I worked with this bank for 10 straight years – after which I left to start my own bank,” he says.

“I was heavily exposed while at NAL Merchant Bank. I had a lot to do. I did not complain because I was learning. People wondered why I had been given so many responsibilities but I believe it was a mutually beneficial situation for the CEO as well. He had a lot of confidence in me and he threw a lot at me.”

Like a man on a mission, Peterside studied the system, identified loopholes and carved out a niche. The genesis of his own bank proved a problem. The qualification to be a bank CEO, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, was at least 10 years’ experience.

“I was bent on becoming a bank entrepreneur in Nigeria, because I felt that the existing investment banks at that time were not very good. So, I was in a hurry to set my own bank up and take them on,” he says.

After 10 years of work, in 1989, license in hand, Peterside gathered young professionals and older heads to found the top investment banking institution in Nigeria.

“I was also lucky in another area – the minimum capital requirement to start an investment bank at the time was quite low. It was therefore within my capacity as I was able to muster some savings, own about 20 percent of the bank and invite others to own the rest of it. I saw a window and I didn’t know how long it would remain open for – I had to grab the opportunity while it existed. Also, when I began, the requirement was a minimum of 10 years’ experience. Several years later, the requirement became 20 years’ experience. Today, it has become 15 years. So, there was an element of good fortune in my case,” says Peterside.

Through it all, a sprinkle of luck and a mean hand played by Peterside won through. This was pure Peterside, a calculating player, who split his life into three segments.

“The first 25 years for me, was to get educated, the next 25 was to be productive, gain financial independence and be well invested. The next stage is to start investing my energy into giving back to society, see how to improve the country – I have that time now.”

It is a belief born in childhood, he says. Peterside grew up, one of three children, in Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He recalls a strong parental influence.

“I think I almost grew up with the message that: Yes, you must do well and be successful but that also came with a contract that says if you achieve all of this, promise to devote some of your time to the greater good of society. So, I’ve always taken this to be a duty.”

One of Peterside’s big duties, right now, is overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s parlous power generation. The country has a mere few thousand megawatts to share between more than 160 million people. He is the chairman of the technical committee of the Nigerian Council on Privatisation. With the privatization of the Nigerian power sector being one of the biggest issues on the continent, Peterside and his team have their work cut out.

“One thing we must remember is that Nigeria’s power sector was neglected for decades in terms of the priority given to it by government. We were at rock bottom. A number of us believed that the way forward was to launch a power sector reform program that was driven at the heart by privatization. We did all that and actually went out to advertise transparently, got prospective asset owners to compete transparently and it is fair to say that the entire transaction was hitch-free,” he says.

“If we had made a decision to sell the entire power sector to one individual, I’m very sure there would have been no takers. The activity is just too complex, not to mention the staggering financial requirement.”

Many Nigerians expect the lights to switch on overnight. Peterside warns that is not going to happen and there are also issues around the reform of gas supply. Most of the country’s power generation relies on gas, which suffers from unreliable supply.

“People also have a right to be angry, however, and they have a right to demand accountability but it will not happen overnight. We should expect to start seeing improvements within six to 12 months and, for as long as these improvements continue, then we are getting somewhere,” he says.

Peterside says he is now semi-retired and has closed the CEO chapter in favor of striking out on a new path. Seven years ago, he founded the ANAP foundation.  The foundation name, also his nickname, is based on the initials for Atedo Nari Atowari Peterside. It is a non-profit organization fostering good governance.

“I’m convinced that my purpose is to be able to influence those in political office in the right direction and I think that’s a full time job on its own. I believe this is something I can do effectively too,” he says.

“I have no interest in holding political office itself – I don’t think that was ever my purpose. I’m more gifted with being able to influence their decisions in moving the country forward. My focus is on projects that will bring good to the greater society and not individuals – we are trying to impact lives.”

Apart from banking, Peterside has invested in aviation and property.

He is inspired by people like Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist and prophet of the free market, Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore and Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.

With a good polo pony collection, ranch and boat,  Peterside enjoys himself and time with a close knit family. On the future of Nigerian financial institutions, Peterside is optimistic.

“We must remember that the Nigerian banking sector was dominated by Nigerian institutions. It was important to allow Nigerians to form banks if one wanted the sector to develop. Stopping people from trying was going to be counter-productive and Nigeria was right for allowing some of us to give it a try,” says Peterside.

“When there is a lot of stumbling and falling however, it is also right to take them out – there should be no room for sentiment. It is dangerous to allow failing institutions to remain in business in finance and banking. Ultimately, we are well on our way to having a mature banking industry and the only way we can get there is by making and learning from our mistakes.”

Peterside believes all entrepreneurs should surround themselves with good people. Good staff, good board members and good business partners.

“I always remind people that everyone does not have a divine right to get to the top. By definition, only a handful will get there. When you forget that you are likely to fail through a combination of arrogance, lack of humility and/or poor homework,” he says on why some entrepreneurs fail.

As Nigerian banks move forward in the 21st century, they should tip their hats to the maverick who is rarely seen without his.

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.


In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

READ MORE | The Big Bank Theory: South Africa’s Banks Of The Future

 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

READ MORE | The Monk Of Business: Ylias Akbaraly Talks About Secret To Success And Plans To Take Africa With Him

But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

READ MORE | Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died

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The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.

It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.

READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.

That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.

One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.

-Jill De Villiers

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Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

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Thandi Ndlovu and Nonkululeko Gobodo, moulded by South Africa’s apartheid past, tore their way into male-dominated sectors , leading them boldly through a quarter century of democracy. Failure was never an option.


On a sunny winter’s afternoon in a quiet suburb of Randburg in greater Johannesburg, a second white Mercedes-Benz pulls up in the driveway of a photographic studio, and finds a shady spot to park.

Already seated next to a pool glinting blue in the sunlight, an elegant woman dressed in black and white sips green tea and talks about her early life growing up in the former Bantustan of Transkei in South Africa.

Absorbed in recounting her story, she looks up as a tall, slender woman, also in a chic black and white ensemble, walks towards her. The two women beam in recognition. They are here to be photographed by FORBES AFRICA and to share their unique stories as businesswomen in two traditionally white male-dominated sectors – auditing and construction.  

This year, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy. As the country started shaking off the shackles of oppression in the 1990s, both these women embarked on their paths to greatness. Both had been moulded by the harsh final years of apartheid, gaining the strength and conviction to fight for what they believed in.

In the process, they built successful businesses, changed perceptions and became role models.

And as with all stories of achievement, their journeys came with times of adversity.

Nonkululeko Gobodo. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Nonkululeko Gobodo: The visionary in auditing

 As a young girl, Nonkululeko Gobodo had very low self-esteem. She was shy and quiet and as the middle child in a family of five children, she felt overshadowed by her very outgoing older siblings. Her mother made it clear that she thought Gobodo wasn’t “going to amount to anything”.

Yet, there were factors in her upbringing, at home and in her community, which shaped her and prepared her for a future as a captain of industry.

Her mother was very hard on her. “I’m someone who needs affirmation and she did the opposite of what I needed. Fortunately, my father was doing that, he was doing the affirmative things.”

As an educator, her father was excited when she achieved “goodish” results at school, even slaughtering a sheep in celebration.

“When my parents were running shops, I used to be the one who would help in running the shops during the holidays. And I was quite young to be given the responsibility. My mother was literally taking a holiday, and I would run the shop perfectly, no shortage or anything like that. So, in spite of the fact that she was too hard on me, she must have thought she was nurturing this talent and making me strong.”  

Growing up in the then independent Transkei (now the Eastern Cape province of South Africa), Gobodo was largely sheltered from the impact of apartheid in other parts of the country.

“I lived in this world where you were sort of cushioned from what was happening in South Africa. So you were socialized to be a fighter, to be strong. My parents used to say that we should never allow anybody to tell us there were things we cannot do,” she elucidates.

It was an everyday thing to see black people running a variety of formal businesses like hotels, garages and wholesalers.

“I suppose I was very fortunate in that I was raised by these parents who were in business, who were working very hard during those times and with very strong personalities, both of them. Within the Xhosa tribe itself, although there is patriarchy and all that, Xhosa women are very strong and they are sort of equal partners with their husbands.”

Still very young, Gobodo fell pregnant. Her parents insisted on marriage. The marriage would end several years later, after the birth of three children, when she was 34 years old.

While taking a gap year working at her father’s panel-beating shop in Mthatha (then Umtata), during her first pregnancy, Gobodo discovered her calling. While her parents thought she would be well-suited to a career in medicine, she found joy in accountancy.

The gap year also revealed her innate strength to stand up for what she believed in. For the first time, she encountered racism. White managers remained in place when her father bought the business from the Transkei Development Corporation (TDC).

“They were really so upset by these black people who had taken over this business, and they were just bullying everyone. So I was able to stand up to them and then I realized I’m actually smart, I’m actually not this thing that my mother was saying, that I’m not just smart, but I’m strong, I’m tough, I can stand up to these men during apartheid years and it was not because my father owned the shop, but it was this thing of suddenly discovering who you are for the first time and just waking up to who you are and suddenly knowing what you wanted to do. Oh wow, accountancy, I didn’t know about that,” she smiles.

She was also inspired by the fact that black auditors did the books for her father’s business. They were WL Nkuhlu & Co, owned by Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu. Her father supported her decision to study BCom and she enrolled at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University).

Gobodo became a star performer at university and her confidence grew. After qualifying, the university offered her a junior lectureship. While there was no racism in the academic environment, it was here that she had her first taste of gender discrimination. A male colleague instructed her to do filing. She thought this was ridiculous considering her position, and she refused. He treated her as an equal from then on. 

“I made a decision to fight the system differently,” she says. “I was sure there was no system that would determine who I am and how far I can go. I used to say this mantra to myself: ‘Your opinions of me do not define me. You don’t even know who I am’. So I never allowed those things to get to me.”

Early on, she already had a vision to have her own practice, so she was not distracted by her peers complaining while doing their articles. She was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to get the best training she could get. “Those guys never became chartered accountants, so it was a wise thing not to join them,” she smiles.

In 1987, she made history when she became South Africa’s first black female chartered accountant.

Working at KPMG, she grew to rapidly build her own portfolio of challenging assignments.

“It was my driving force right through life to prove to myself and others that there was nothing I couldn’t do. And for me, being black really gave me purpose. I can imagine that if I was living in a world that was readymade for me, life would have been very boring,” she says.

She was offered a partnership eight months after her articles. She would be the first black partner, and the first woman. It was very tempting. But she remembered her vision to start her own practice and taking the partnership would be “the easy way out”. 

So she moved on to the TDC, where at the age of 29, she was promoted from internal audit manager to Chief Financial Officer within three months. Again in 1992, she decided to break “the golden chains” of the TDC to pursue her destiny. But first, she restructured her department and empowered five managers; thoroughly enjoying the work of developing leaders, and setting the tone for the business she runs now – Nkululeko Leadership Consulting.

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 At the time, her father questioned her decision to leave such a lucrative position to take the risk of starting a business. “Everybody was so scared for me and was discouraging me. I realized these people were expressing their own fears. I have no such fears. And it’s not saying I’m not fearful of the step I am taking, but I’m going into this business to succeed.”

The best way to do that was to step into the void without a safety net. So, no part-time lecturing job to distract her from her vision. “If I had listened to them, how would I have known that I could take my business this far?”

She describes herself as a natural entrepreneur. Yet, the responsibility of leading a business is not a joke.

“It sobers you up,” she says. “You realize you have to make this work, otherwise you’re going to fail a whole lot of people. But when you have the courage to pursue your dream, things sort of work out. Things fall into place.”

Eighteen months into the practice, she took on a partner and felt an “agitation for growth”. It came with a “massive job” from the Transkei Auditor General, and things changed overnight. With only four people in their office, they now needed 30 to complete the assignment and they hired second and third year students who attended night lectures at the university.

“At that time, as a black and a woman, you had to define your own image of yourself, and have the right attitude to fight for your place in the sun. And I can’t take for granted the way I was socialized and raised by my parents. My father was such a fighter. And he shared all his stories at the dinner table. He used to say in Xhosa: ‘who can stand in front of a bus?’, so you just have those pictures of yourself as a bus. Who can stand in front of me and my ambitions in life,” she laughs.

This self-confidence, belief in herself, direction, purpose and her clear vision steered her ever further.

“Unfortunately, I had a fallout with my partner Sindi Zilwa [co-founder of Nkonki Inc, a registered firm of auditors, consultants and advisors], and that was a hard one, a very difficult one. I used to say it was more difficult than my divorce, because that happened almost at the same time. First, the divorce started and a few months later, I divorced with my partner,” she says.

“It was a lonely time. It is amazing that out of hardship, we find an opportunity to grow and move to the next level.”

She went on a five -week program with Merrill Lynch in New York in 1994. On her return, she saw herself being cut out of negotiations to establish a medium-sized black accounting firm. While these plans were scuppered now, her vision still survived and no one could take that away from her.

She approached young professionals who were managers at the big accounting firms in Johannesburg to join her. “But you can imagine, they were young, they were fearful. It took about eight months to persuade and convince them.” 

Gobodo understood their fears as she herself had to overcome her doubts about moving from a small community in the Transkei to the big city. But the visit to New York had helped her overcome her fear. If she could make it there, she could make it anywhere.

Gobodo Incorporated was established in 1996. It was the third medium-sized black accounting firm.

The others were Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba and KMMT Brey.

She believes that providence has always sent “angels” to her at the right time in her life. Peter Moyo, a partner at Ernst & Young at the time, gave his time and invaluable experience leading to the establishment of Gobodo Incorporated. Chris Stephens, who was the former head of consulting for KPMG, facilitated bringing a fully-fledged forensics unit to the firm. They took up a whole floor at their new Parktown, Johannesburg offices instead of the planned half-floor.

From a small practice in Mthatha, Gobodo Inc. grew to a medium-sized company with 10 partners, 200 staff and three offices – in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was an exciting time.

Gobodo firmly believes that visions are not static. Once a summit is conquered, there will always be another one waiting for you.

The next summit beckoned her 15 years later. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of apartheid, was firmly established and accounting firms were compliant, and Gobodo Inc. started losing out on opportunities as previous joint-audits done in partnership with the big accounting firms fell away.

She started talks with Victor Sekese of Sizwe Ntsaluba to merge the two medium-sized firms.

Again, people questioned the wisdom of the move. What if the market was not ready for a large black accounting firm?

There was somewhat of a culture clash when the “somewhat older, disciplined, bottom-line” Gobodo Inc. and the “younger, more creative” Sizwe Ntsaluba teams came together.  A new culture combining the best of both emerged. Ironically, while no people were lost during the merger, some were uncomfortable with the culture change and left. 

In the beginning, “a lot of sacrifices had to be made to make this thing work. Like the name. My partners were saying Nonkululeko’s name should be in front because she’s the only remaining founder,” explains Gobodo.

Sizwe Ntsaluba wanted their name up front, and it was a deal-breaker. She decided the vision was bigger than her and she wouldn’t allow anything to jeopardize it. The company name was agreed on: SizweNtsalubaGobodo. The business grew to 55 partners and over 1,000 staff. 

“I think we underestimated how hard it would be,” she says. “Mergers are difficult in themselves, around 70% of mergers fail. People were laughing at us saying ‘ah, black people, they’re going to fight amongst each other and fail’, so we were determined not to fail. Failure was not an option.”

When they did their first sole tender, “you could smell the fear in the passages. There was so much fear”. Then the call came from the chair of the audit committee of Transnet to say the board had decided to appoint SizweNtsalubaGobodo as the sole auditors.

Gobodo had led the way to the establishment of the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa. Her vision had been realized.

“It was just so fulfilling, really so fulfilling,” says the grandmother-of-three. “So it was time to move this thing forward.”

 She was the Executive Chairperson and Sekese was the CEO. She commissioned partners to find the best governance structure for the firm. Their recommendation was for one leader to lead the firm forward, and a non-executive chair.

“That was going to be boring for me. If I was not going to be part of driving this vision forward, it was time for me to leave,” Gobodo says. “There comes a time that the founders must leave and hand over to the next generation.”

Although she had achieved her dream, it was not easy to let go. The separation took three months.

“I learned a lot about letting go at that time. We have to let go layer by layer. I had to accept that they would do what they had to with the legacy. And here they are now, having merged with Grant Thornton. The dream was to be a true international firm, and now with SNG Grant Thornton, it is still basically a black firm going into the continent. The dream does not die. This is still a black firm taking over an international brand.”

Gobodo now heads Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, a boutique, black-owned and managed leadership consulting firm. Here, she can live her passion for developing leaders. She also sits on the boards of PPC and Clicks. The future awaits her with more promise.

READ MORE : Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

Side bar: ‘The World Is Not Kind To Strong Women Leaders’

What were the greatest challenges she faced during her career?

“Making a success of your life in the South Africa of the past. As a black person, you always started from a place of being dismissed, as a woman, you always started from a place of being dismissed. So you had to be true to yourself and find yourself for you to be able to succeed. And that was hard. I don’t want to make it as if it was easy.

“The second thing was being a strong woman leader. The world is not kind to strong women leaders. And for me, being a strong woman leader was the hardest thing because both men and women don’t accept a strong woman leader. So you have this big vision, you are driven, you have to move things forward and if you’re a strong man, you’re accepted.

“But if you’re a strong woman, you are not. So you had to grow up and mature and try to find that balance of still moving people forward to achieve your vision, because I realized early that I would not get to the finish line without them. I could not leave them behind. So I always had to find that balance and sometimes, I didn’t do it well.

“Because there was this urgency of moving forward and you have to drag people with you. And they didn’t take kindly to that. Do I regret it? No, not really. I don’t think I would have achieved what I had. I had been given these gifts as a strong woman for a reason. I just feel sorry for strong women leaders, because it is still not easy for them today.”

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