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The Money Men Of Nigeria’s Banking Industry

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Key contributors to the growth of the Nigerian economy, they have redefined banking by leveraging technology and connecting people to market. From just £100 in his bank account, Pascal Dozie has built a business empire his son Uzoma is taking to the future.

It’s always a difficult proposition, handing over the reins of a business you have painstakingly built ground-up. But for Pascal Dozie, Nigeria’s self-made investment and finance guru, there could not be a better successor than his eldest son, Uzoma Dozie, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank. But Uzoma has learned from the best.

The rise of Pascal Dozie can outrival any rags-to-riches Dickensian tale. He gained a fortune through tenacity, hard work and wit, on a long and difficult road from Owerri in Imo State where he was born in 1939. His entrepreneurial journey began against the backdrop of a Nigeria marred by the bloody Biafran war waged between 1967 and 1970 that saw over 30,000 Igbo lives lost. Pascal, at the time, was finishing his degree at The London School of Economics where he shared a class and rubbed shoulders with The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who dropped out to form the English rock band.

The war back home meant he had to find alternative means of making a living. Learning to be independent since the loss of his father when he was only 15, Pascal’s major influence was his mother who owned a bakery.
As a young man, he found himself on the streets of Uganda cutting his teeth in the exchange business until the Idi Amin coup truncated his work.

“When Amin took over, we were no longer wanted, so we had to come back to Nigeria but there was no money to come back home with.”

Pascal and his wife were unemployed and as a result, the couple planned to relocate to the United States (US) in search of greener pastures. But they changed their plans in the last minute due to his mother’s ill-health and her wish to be closer to her first grandson, Uzoma.

Pascal had to quickly find another way to make ends meet. He decided to start a consulting firm, the African Development Consulting Group, where he worked for multinationals like Nestle and Pfizer.

“My first objective was survival and of course I had an ambition. You set up a company, you want that company to grow; you want it to be robust and profitable. Being in consulting was a tricky affair because you have a lot of receivables. It was a hustle job. A hustle to get payment and a hustle to do the job all the time.”

Then there was the issue of rudimentary communication systems to contend with.

“There were no phones. At one point in time, I had to meet someone in Sokoto, and I boarded a flight to go there. Lo and behold, in the queue boarding that plane was the man I was going to see, catching a flight to another destination. So he apologized because there was no way for him to tell me not to come. So he asked me if it was possible to wait for two days. We had no choice and we found a hotel and waited for the man to come back. If there was any delay, there was nothing we could do but keep waiting until he showed up,” says Pascal.

Pascal Dozie and Uzoma Dozie. Photo by: Kelechi Amadi-Obi

Slowly but surely, his business began to prosper, but Pascal had even bigger aspirations. During the days of his consulting business, he conducted a feasibility study of banks and unearthed a hidden opportunity. But that was the easy part. At the time, Nigerian law stipulated that to set up a bank, no one single person could have more than 5% shareholding in the bank and the firm’s shareholders must be representative of Nigerians from all over the country.

“Now the problem was how do you find them? That was a major challenge. Once they are found, you are now dealing with so many different people from different backgrounds, which means a lot of time; there were a lot of quarrels. We traveled around all of Nigeria to find people who will invest in the bank.”

Secondly, Pascal had noticed traders from the remote villages in the east of the country, where he grew up, faced the problem of carrying huge bundles of cash when they traveled to Lagos on business, making them prone to robberies. To make matters worse, there were a number of  shortcomings in the banking system. For example, to deposit money in a bank, one would have to wait long, sometimes queuing up for almost four hours before a single transaction.

“And to cash a cheque was also difficult. You could go to the bank and they will give you a number in the queue. You could then leave the bank, go to the shop and do so many errands that by the time you come back, your number would still not have been called. There was that gap in service,” says Pascal.

With a passion for economic development, he believed that without a strong financial sector, the Nigerian economy was not going to develop.

“You need a robust financial system to get the economy working, so I said ok, ‘why don’t we try looking at this and provide a solution’. I said ‘if we could get a bank to mitigate against all the things we are lacking, then we can create value for businesses and also contribute to the economic development of Nigeria’,” says Pascal, who was featured on the cover of FORBES AFRICA in October 2012.

Meanwhile, Uzoma, the eldest of his five sons, was contemplating which career he was going to pursue. The choices boiled down to engineering, medicine or law. He had witnessed the tough early days of his father’s entrepreneurial journey.

“I think my parents were hustling when I was born. We were five boys and I remember we lived at 27 Commercial Avenue, which was also my father’s office. It was a three-bedroom flat and I remember two of the rooms were offices and one was the bedroom for all of us. My dad was a consultant, so he didn’t have a fixed job then and I think my mother had a more stable job than him. Because they were hustling, life was very practical,” says Uzoma.

Where his father is assertive and confident, with each word measured and delivered as though he was giving a keynote address, Uzoma’s youthful exuberance is infectious. But there are similarities too. Pascal is a gentleman in every sense of the word, who loves Mozart and Bach, while Uzoma also has a calm down-to-earth demeanor.

Watching both father and son speak is like looking at two old friends catch up over drinks. Affectionately calling his father ‘PD’, there is an air of reverence and respect for the man who has orchestrated the Dozie legacy and built a multi-million dollar empire from a modest consulting firm, today spanning banking, private equity and telecommunications. Pascal commands his investment and finance empire through the family-owned investment company Kunoch, which pours money into everything, from power generation to gas processing, oil exploration, real estate and banking.

 

Pascal Dozie. Photo by: Kelechi Amadi-Obi

However, for Uzoma, banking was not his first calling. After some initial soul-searching, he opted to be a doctor and that journey led him to the United Kingdom (UK).

After studying Chemistry at the University of Reading, he pursued a masters in Chemical Research at University College London (UCL) before completing an MBA at Imperial College London.

A serendipitous recession in the UK meant Uzoma was unable to find a job, and decided to relocate to Nigeria to enrol into the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme set up by the government.

It involves Nigerian graduates in nation-building and the development of the country. Pascal, through his contacts, secured a role for Uzoma at Guaranty Trust Bank, which was the start of the latter’s love affair with banking.

“When I left university in the UK, I had a lot of credit from banks. I had a credit card, I had a debit card, I had a cheque guarantee card, I was using ATM and when I came back to Nigeria, it was like going back into time. None of those services existed. You had a chequebook, which may be, only one of the new generation banks offered, and one of the motivations or aspirations for me with Diamond Bank was trying to deliver in the Nigerian market those services which I was used to in the UK,” says Uzoma.

Both father and son fervently believe in the power of technology to drive efficiency in the financial sector. The first thing Pascal did to solve the issue of carrying cash over long distances was to set up the Diamond Integrated Banking System (DIBS).

This meant that you could carry a chequebook instead of cash and when you came into the bank, you received your cash. It may sound pretty easy and standard now but at the time in Nigeria’s history, it was revolutionary.

“Nigeria has come a long way. The area that we have not had much success is on our political front. There has been a lot of progress on the economic side; [but] individually, almost everybody is working in silos. But until we have that political will to get the economy to where it ought to be, we are just paying lip service.”

He sold the consulting business to raise the capital to start Diamond Bank. Soon, another opportunity presented itself to Pascal, this time in the telecoms industry. A South African company was looking to set up shop in Africa’s largest economy and Pascal saw in this an opportunity too good to pass up.

Uzoma Dozie. Photo by: Kelechi Amadi-Obi

“So many companies were interested in the MTN project. The Nigerians didn’t know much about what it was about. All they knew was that there was this new way of communicating, which was by mobile telephones, and nobody knew what that was all about. It was one of the first few transparent projects the government ever conducted. The government practically vetted all the shareholders of the company,” says Pascal.

The South Africans wanted to pump millions into a 60% stake in MTN Nigeria, with Nigerians owning 40%. Pascal managed to raise a 20% stake in the new company. But before the deal could close, he says his name was published in the newspapers for unethical trading.

“The MTN people came to me to say ‘we do not want anything to do with you again’. Some mischievous people accused me of playing both sides and the main fact that I was double dipping would have cost us the project. So they wrote a letter to me and I didn’t reply. So they didn’t want to see me, I was more or less like an outcast. So I was not even there the last day of the bidding,” says Pascal.

“It was later on that the chairman of MTN was going back to South Africa and he met that company I was supposed to be involved in and they asked about me and the man said he didn’t know who I was. Then they realized that somebody was trying to be mischievous and they came back to me and apologized,” says Pascal, and the rest as they say is history. Today, the company is one of the most successful in Nigeria and Pascal maintains his position as chairman.

The apple did not fall far from the tree. Uzoma religiously preserves the organizational culture, using new technology to democratize the dissemination of financial services to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Pascal had always put employees in the saddle, empowering them to take decisions. That philosophy has worked well for the organization. Furthermore, his decision to realign the structure of the organization and create accessibility for tech-savvy millennials has helped the bank maintain its position as one of the leading financial services institutions in the country.

Uzoma has had varied roles within the organization, starting as an assistant manager and head of the bank’s oil and gas group, where he expanded the oil and gas businesses. One of the things Uzoma also pioneered was leveraging the power of mobile apps to make transactions easier for customers. “We used mobile apps to stop people from coming to the branches and put everything you wanted to do in the bank, apart from withdrawing cash at the bank, on the mobile app. Now, it’s a platform where it’s beyond banking and one of the new things we are doing is to provide a relationship officer and democratize banking so that even the guy at the bottom of the pyramid will get premium banking services and we can only do that through technology,” says Uzoma.

Next, the bank began automating the customer transaction experience by enabling customers to do self-service. Robots were introduced to reduce the workload and allow humans to concentrate on the things they are good at such as creativity and innovation.

“We have eight million people who use their mobile phones to do banking and we have a partnership with MTN. I see Diamond Bank as a platform to help people connect to market. When you talk to people we helped open a bank account into the market place, the first thing they will tell you is that ‘I can now save to take my children to school, I can now save to improve my business’. Diamond Bank is a platform for transformation by connecting people and their market,” says Uzoma.

The way the company has managed to achieve this is by leveraging technology and redefining the business model, which goes beyond banking and coming up with a sharing and collaborating approach as well.

“If I want to lend to a customer, I need to know much more than his financial record, I need to know about his non-financial records so it gives me a better understanding. We use other platforms to connect and engage with our audience like Diamond TV and we also get feedback from what our people want and what the trends are,” adds Uzoma.

Under his leadership, the bank has become one of the most-successful middle-market banks. According to Uzoma, this was as a result of understanding customer cash flows which made it easier to lend to them.

“I don’t know when was the last time I went into a banking hall to do a transaction. Young people have a good opportunity in the tech sector. I would like to see Nigerians developing software and looking at it from our own perspective and being original. One of the things I found in our financial system is the banking system is not technologically advanced like some of the banks we have in Europe,” says Pascal.

“We can use technology to solve a lot of problems in agriculture and a lot of problems in banking. Even deploying technology in a social and economic area. For example, our population, VAT registration, national identity and so many applications. People are working in various silos, why can’t we get all these systems to be coordinated? If you go to Dubai and you enter a taxi and you lose something, you can retrieve it. Once you enter a taxi, it is entered in a central location and everything is harmonized.”

They are a team that work well together. Uzoma is a tech visionary who believes in the power of technology to provide opportunities to leapfrog as a people, and he is relentless in pursuing that goal.

For Nigeria to harness that power, however, there has to be effective leadership to create impact and transformation. According to Uzoma: “We have everything we require in Nigeria to really leverage technology, but we haven’t been able to do that. We need the leadership to put the policy, regulation and legislation in place to help us achieve this. One of the things I am passionate about is educating investors to invest in Nigerian businesses. People are going outside to get investors from venture capital from the US and in 10 years’ time, we are going to find that we have a few Nigerian companies that are very successful globally but they will be owned by foreign companies because Nigerian investors who had the capacity did not understand what they are letting go,” says Uzoma.

Pascal echoes his sentiments. “You will not find any company owned by Nigerians being managed by the third generation or fourth generation as such but you will find that among Indians in Nigeria, and the Lebanese in Nigeria. But ours [Nigerians] have been short-term because the first generation sets up the business, then the next generation tries to develop it and the third generation squanders it.” These days, that has been Pascal’s real focus. He believes in order for Nigeria to effectively compete globally, there has to be a focus on succession-planning. At 79, he is full of life and bursting with ideas. His goal is to create an awareness of building generational wealth through family offices. This dynamic father-son duo is here to stay and set a sterling example for African business.

From modest beginnings – just £100 in his bank account in Lagos when he started – Pascal has built an empire his son is determined to take to Africa’s glorious future

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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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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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