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‘A Terrible Time To List A Bank’

You could accuse Michiel le Roux of doing things simply but never easily. He saw money in serving the people at the far end of the banking counter but had the misfortune to launch in the eye of a banking storm.

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On this Thursday afternoon, in Stellenbosch, a small university town, east of Cape Town, the sky is blue and the air crisp. In the gentle light, dressed in khaki pants and a checkered blue shirt, he doesn’t look much like a multimillionaire but Michiel le Roux has done for banking what Bill Gates did for software and Muhammad Ali for boxing. He has created a bank that in 15 years has forced its way into the top five in South Africa. He wears his $530-million net worth lightly, but behind the smile and humility, is a hint of power with a firm handshake that means business.

“We said let’s build a bank and we were not going to experiment on a small scale, we always stayed very close to our clients and we knew what we wanted to bring to the industry,” says Le Roux.

About a decade ago, few deposited their salaries into Capitec, most had never heard of it. Today, Capitec has over 7.3 million active clients, 720 branches, 11,440 employees and holds R13.7 billion ($1 billion) in shareholders’ funds. For Capitec, simplicity is everything.

“When I was young, everyone was a Sir in the corporate industry and I hated it. There is a woman here who used to serve tea when we started and she couldn’t get herself to call me Michiel so she called me Mr Michiel,” he laughs.

“Here, there is no distinction between people. Nobody flies business class. How you fly, where you stay, the rental car you drive is the same whether you are the CEO or the junior in the company. Everyone gets the same treatment.”

There is a business reason for this.

“After the army, I worked at a company I thought was a very smart company but there was too much hierarchy. I found it very awkward and terrible. [Imagine] you have meetings out of town and you wait for your flight with your colleagues and you chat while you wait; then in the plane you sit in front and they all pass you to go sit at the back. I find it very stupid. The natural thing is to continue talking,” he says.

At Capitec, they take simple seriously. No suits, the CEO’s office is the same size as everyone else’s, the CEO shares a personal assistant, no personalized parking spots, even the guard at the gate calls him Michiel, while the receptionist jokes freely about his sense of style — or lack thereof.

This simplicity and business acumen has made Le Roux a rich man; the 38th richest in Africa to be exact, according to FORBES. In just 15 years, this fortune has grown rapidly. It has nearly doubled from around $290 million in 2011.

Capitec had big friends early on, on the other side of Stellenbosch. One of the earliest and biggest was PSG Group, an investment holding company, owned by former FORBES AFRICA cover, Jannie Mouton, who is worth $970 million. One day PSG called Le Roux to listen to what they had to say; he believes this was an attempt to lure him into its micro-lending business.

“I said I am not interested, this is not the type of business I want to be involved in because it’s a terrible business; they charge exorbitant interest rates. Those were the old pin and card days. When you wanted a cash loan, they would take your card and your pin number and they would withdraw whatever you owed and then give the card back to you. It sounded, and still sounds, terrible,” says Le Roux.

PSG convinced him to visit their branches and he was fascinated by how the micro-lending company treated its clients. According to Le Roux, in banking, the lower income consumers in South Africa were poorly treated, but not by PSG.

“A bank always determines the value of the client based on their net worth which to this stage in my mind doesn’t make sense because a guy with high net worth might be very frugal with the use of his credit card whereas a guy with a much lower net worth might be exorbitant with his credit card use. The guy that is exorbitant should be much higher in the rankings but banks don’t look at it that way.”

“If you are a factory worker and earn very little, they were not that interested in you and that to me was a failure on banks not accommodating the lower income people,” he says.

In this, Le Roux saw a gap. He was bored at work and he decided to build a bank that would right these wrongs. He joined forces with PSG Group.

Before the bank was called Capitec, it was called Daxacom.

“We had about three branches that we put up and put on the logos and when we looked at it, it didn’t work. We had many other names but I am ashamed to say them,” he chuckles.

Le Roux says it took a long time to find the right name because they didn’t want a name that reflected they specialized in servicing lower income groups.

“We didn’t want to call it people’s bank for example, if anything, we wanted something that sounds modern and as if it could have been an electronic bank only, although we are also a physical bank.”

Capitec won. The next problems were timing, licensing and money.

According to Le Roux, there was a small banks crisis just before they opened. Timing was not of the essence.

“In the late 90s, South Africa granted a number of new banking licenses and as far as I know, that was the last time they granted new banking licences. Most of those banks folded quickly. A bank called The Business Bank, which was about three to four years old, folded and PSG took them over and we sort of bought the license through taking over a failed bank. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if we could ever have got a license,” he says.

As Capitec was about to launch, Saambou Bank, one of South Africa’s significant players in the industry, went bankrupt. It was a very public collapse that did the image of banking no good at all. Lines of people appeared on TV news desperate to get their money out.

“The Reserve Bank closed them on a Saturday to minimize the impact on the markets and we listed Capitec Bank Holdings Ltd on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Monday, 18 February, 2002, the week later. That was a terrible time to list a bank and it also meant it was a terrible time to get finance whatsoever. I know I sound like an old man saying you learn from your mistakes but it’s true. Starting a business in good times is always very dangerous because you will think business is easy when the wind is blowing from behind and the sailing is smooth. When you start with wind blowing from ahead, then you know business is tough and you grow,” says Le Roux.

To survive when others failed wasn’t easy.

“It’s a hard slog to create the infrastructure, to network, to decide what you want to do. We take pride in the fact that at that stage, when we were also starting, Old Mutual had a retail banking license and they wanted to start a retail bank. They were looking for systems when we were looking for systems and the rumour mill had that they paid out R800 million ($60 million) for their system and that was when the rand was about R4 to the dollar but they never opened that bank because they couldn’t make it work.”

Capitec kept it cheap and simple.

“Other banks use systems that are designed for them which means that they have to maintain that; when the coders that wrote that leave, you are left with a gap. We made right calls because we had a good management team and we had a good management team because we hired the right people when we started. We don’t spend where there is no need,” he says.

Persistence and good planning helped them survive.

“We have been creating new branches but we try to be creative in the way we do that, we don’t over invest in a branch, we don’t build a branch, we don’t have specialized buildings and we don’t own a single branch, we lease all of them so we have the ability to cut back in future if things change.”

Although they want everything to be digital, they want to keep branches open for their clients.

“Our clients like the one-on-one interaction. In January, 6.7 million people came into the branches. It means, on average, our clients visit a branch at least once a month. Most importantly everything should be done on mobile. We suspect that is the future of banking but we are not quite sure what it’s going to be,” says Le Roux.

While other banks turn a blind eye to South Africa’s “unbanked” or “unbankable”, Capitec has made these customers their market. Over time, Capitec slowly transformed its micro-lending clients, who mainly relied on it for loans, into transactional banking clients who deposit their salaries and manage their transactions through their Capitec accounts.

International banking advisory group Lafferty has ranked Capitec Bank as the best bank in the world in its inaugural 2016 Bank Quality Rankings. According to the report’s findings, Capitec came out on top, with the only five-star rating out of the 100 banking groups listed. In South Africa, Barclays comes second with four stars, while Nedbank, Standard Bank and First Rand have three stars. Lafferty uses a combination of financial and non-financial disclosures in the latest annual reports to determine the quality of the organizations and their respective business models.

“South Africa’s Capitec was the only bank to achieve five stars. The bank has a level of focus, geographically and strategically, which boosted its scores across all of the metrics in the ratings process,” says the report.

Capitec is giving South Africa’s banking industry a run for its money. Michael Lafferty, Chairman at Lafferty Group, says it’s because its founders understand their customers’ needs and they developed an innovative strategy and business model aimed at addressing those needs better than the established players. He says the best quality banks in the world are found in South Africa.

“Capitec is doing well because of its focus on the consumer… We only found two or three banks in Europe that were near to the top quality rating we saw and only one in the United States. There is something remarkable about South African banks,” says Lafferty.

That focus on the consumer is also visible in Capitec’s decision to open on Sundays. In 2011, according to reports, Capitec’s marketing and corporate affairs executive, Carl Fischer, said the idea has always been to operate like a retailer as a lot of people went to malls over the weekends.

Many people sing the praises of Capitec. But, says Le Roux, you can ignore your competition in other industries, but not in banking.

“If you bank with Standard Bank and I convince your friend to open an account with Capitec and you want to pay money to your friend, your bank must be prepared to pay money to Capitec. If you use a Capitec card and you are in a restaurant and they have a Nedbank machine they must cooperate. We all have to be in agreement and work together.”

Banking is a tough industry. Capitec’s closest rival, African Bank, collapsed in August 2014 as bad debt soared and the lender failed to increase provisions.

“When African Bank went bankrupt, it was terrifying. We thought African Bank were over optimistic with their credit assessments but we thought they were a big strong company. When they closed their doors it practically felt like a funeral. If they can sink, anyone can sink,” says Le Roux.

Capitec however was much more conservative. They set aside cash to cover bad debts and stuck to strict budgets.

The globally-awarded retail bank increased its active client numbers by 1.03 million, to a total of 7.3 million for the year to 29 February, 2016. This bolstered headline earnings to R3.2 billion ($234 million) for the financial year ended February 2016, up 26% on the previous year. Net transaction fee income increased by 16% to R3 billion ($220 million), the value of credit advanced increased by 25% year on year to R24.2 billion ($1.7 billion) for the 2015/16 financial year.

Capitec Bank CEO, Gerrie Fourie, on its website, says the brand acceptance continues to grow substantially in the market and there has been a 26% growth in total retail deposits to R37.8 billion ($2.7 billion).

“We are excited about the continued growth in client numbers and in particular the higher income clients who are finding our offer the best value in the market, which is an important consideration for consumers in the current economic climate,” says Fourie.

As rivals hobbled through two banking crises, Capitec sailed through. The advantage, says Le Roux, is that they thought big from the beginning.

For Le Roux, confidence in yourself and the belief that you can achieve something is the starting point and not money. He says many young potential entrepreneurs see the lack of money as an excuse.

“Money is a valid problem but the bigger problem is management and getting the right people to do the job. We started, knowing it was going to be a difficult journey. At one stage during the founding phases, we reduced the rates we charged for loans by about 40 percent. That meant we had to do 40 percent more loans to break even. To do 40 percent more loans, you need 40 percent more capital and it took about four months before we came to that point where we had 40 percent. In the first month, we made a loss, and in the second, we ran out of money. We had to put our own cash into the company but we knew that if the boat doesn’t turn next month, we won’t have any more cash,” he says.

They also had Riaan Stassen; Capitec’s pioneering CEO from 2004 to 2013. Stassen has been friends with Le Roux for years and served as the Managing Director of Boland PKS from 1997 to 2000, a division of BoE Bank Limited.

“Riaan is a very smart guy. I believe he built Capitec Bank. If I may claim some role, I would claim that I had a dream of creating a bank and Riaan made that a reality. He actually made a different reality. My vision was that we should be a bank for low income people, for instance, to my shame, I must admit that at that stage I said we should have books. Riaan laughed and said ‘you are crazy; we are in the electronic age’. He said ‘we are going to build an electronic bank for the new age and not for low income people but for everyone’ and that’s what we have done.”

As a travel enthusiast, Le Roux wanted to take Capitec across Africa, but, he says the longer they are in business, the more the dream recedes. Emerging market countries such as Brazil, Chile, Turkey or Poland are preferred.

“We don’t think Africa is a natural habitat for Capitec Bank, we are based on a digital financial environment, our client base are more salaried people and if we go into [for example] Zambia only 10 percent of the population earn a decent salary  and most of the people are [in the informal sector]. Even Nigeria is a tough country, it’s not like they have a massive urban digital employed population. We could do business there but we will have to redesign our products,” says Le Roux.

As we leave, the fiery red ball is dipping towards the mountain. This sun may be setting but it seems Capitec is just rising.

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Cover Story

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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Cover Story

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.

READ MORE : WATCH | The Making Of The New Wealth Creators Cover

 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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30 under 30

Forbes Africa #30Under30 list: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport

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THE FORBES AFRICA 30 UNDER 30 LIST IS THE most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we bring you 120 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 and for the first time, four categories featuring 30 in each: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

From elevator manufacturing, solar energy design, to under-30s conquering the Alps and selling out the Apollo Theatre,  this year’s list demonstrates how enterprising and extraordinary the African youth is.

This list celebrates these pioneers who are building brands, creating jobs, and innovating, leading, transforming and contributing to new industries, in turn, changing the continent. 

“The future belongs to Africa and the future belongs to its youth,” says Jason Pau, Chief of Staff for International to billionaire Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba. He says the journey for young entrepreneurs, especially in Africa, is not always easy. Many startups fall by the wayside due to a lack of resources. In South Africa, it is estimated that the small enterprise failure rate is at almost 80% within the first three years.

Chances at success are very slim, yet Africans continue to see opportunity where many do not. The select few celebrated in this list represent those individuals who continue to persevere against the odds. It also serves as a reminder that it is possible.

“People don’t really give enough time or spend enough time in providing the right environment for entrepreneurs to grow,” Pau tells FORBES AFRICA.

So if entrepreneurship is the answer, ensuring that an environment is conducive for business sustainability is imperative.

Together with our audit partner for this list, SNG Grant Thornton, the senior editorial team worked night and day scrutinizing each candidate. For entrepreneurs, we delved into how profitable their businesses were and if they showed signs of potential growth and sustainability.

However, not only does the list look at the financial impact of each candidate, but also their reputation, resilience and ability to be role models to other young Africans.

For FORBES AFRICA, this meant endless background checks, fact-checks, emails, phone calls and research, sifting through over 1,000 nominations that poured in over the last few months. Lastly, the one factor that also played a role in the determination of the candidates was their online presence. Followers are a valuable new currency, and today’s achievers have found a way to leverage off them. This year, when FORBES named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, it observed that her business was built mainly because of her social media and fan following. Many on our list have also been able to build on this in their own way. The creatives and sport stars lead in this regard.

This year, Sport is the newest category, opening up the list to the game-changers who are also Africa’s next generation of leaders. They have won awards, broken records, made social investments and pushed the boundaries by challenging the status quo on policies in sports. However, some of the challenges they still face include lack of resources, a gender pay gap, and an immense pool of untapped talent not yet given a chance to be in the limelight.

But no matter where they are from, these 120 list-makers share one common goal, and that is to build a better Africa.

Being an under-30 myself, I am proud to have curated the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2019. At the time of going to press, all facts on the following pages were verified to be correct.

The list is in no particular order:


This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.

#30Under30: Business Category 2019
#30Under30: Creatives Category 2019
#30Under30: Technology Category 2019
#30Under30: Sport Category 2019
  • Words: Karen Mwendera    
  • Edited by: Unathi Shologu
  •  Assistant: Garreth Mtuwa  
  • Creative direction by: Lucy Nkosi  
  • Lead photography by: Motlabana Monnakgotla
  • Co-photography by: Gypseenia Lion   

Judges of the 30 Under 30 class of 2019

The category experts whose role it was to survey all finalists of the 2019 30 Under 30 list, rank them and provide commentary on each candidate:

  • Business: Anthea Gardner, Founder and Managing Partner at Cartesian Capital
  • Technology: Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at University of Johannesburg; he also deputises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Creatives: Yasmin Furmie, creative and business partner of fashion brand SiSi The Collection, South Africa
  • Sport: Nick Said, the Africa sports correspondent for Thomson Reuters
  • Audit partner: SNG Grant Thornton

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