ACCA head Pat Semenya: In a time of crisis true leaders put others first

Pat Semenya, the South African country head of the ACCA, spends a chunk of her daily work considering her team members, ensuring their wellbeing both as humans first, and then in terms of their functional and organisational plans.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), is a global accountancy membership body, with more than 500,000 members and students in 179 countries. This year the association marked its 75th anniversary of thought leadership. 

Pat Semenya, who has been with the organisation for just over four years, finds that her role as country head doesn’t fit neatly into any boxes. 

“It isn’t easy to categorise my role. As the local leader of a global organisation, I’m focused on the industry as a whole while maintaining the organisation’s visibility among our stakeholders. Keeping an eye firmly on the horizon is also critical, as proven by the recent Covid-19 health and economic crisis,” she explains.  

In August of 2015, Semenya was appointed the Head of ACCA South Africa. In 2016, she was a finalist in the corporate category of Business Leader of the Year in the Institute of People Management Awards. She serves on two boards as a non-executive director. 

She relishes her role and believes the ACCA to be the world’s most forward-thinking professional accountancy body. 

“Accountancy is vital for economies to prosper, which is why we work all over the world to build the profession and ultimately make society fairer and more transparent.”

Covid-19: The future is now 
Addressing the impact of Covid-19 on the workplace, she believes that setting up work-from-home policies and the hard switch to remote and digital work will certainly have repercussions for many years to come. She anticipates an ‘explosion’ of remote working, but is uncertain whether business leaders are fully prepared for what is to come. 

Aside from the obvious implications (infrastructure, home office spaces and software applications), the mental load of working from home also takes a toll on team members. This is especially felt among young team members who crave the social interaction and continuous coaching they receive on the job. 

To counter this, the ACCA have compiled some resources to equip organisations deal with the Covid-19 implications. They provide an online hub with relevant information and insights for members and other stakeholders. 

This resource hub includes up-to-the-minute economic analysis, continuous professional development (CPD) resources for members and signposting to sources of business support from relevant government and other agencies, as well as advice on planning through a crisis. 

“While so much uncertainty and volatility exists, we need to remain calm so that we can better plan and prepare for a post COVID-19 world. Things may worsen before they improve, requiring leaders to focus and act swiftly to protect employee wellbeing. This is the only way to truly safeguard the organisations’ financial resilience during this crisis period. Also, like any crisis, there will undoubtedly be opportunities, including those that provide unique value through innovation,” she adds. 

Her home is her haven 
It’s in times of crisis and anxiety that family ties become increasingly meaningful. For Pat, her husband and two daughters give her strength and purpose. “I cherish spending time at home or travelling with my family, they are absolutely my best travel companions.” 

Pat has recently taken up gardening and enjoys working the soil with her daughters. Getting back to basics and growing her own vegetables gives her a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. Getting back to growing and using our mineral-rich South Africa soil to our advantage.

“I recently discovered the deep joys of gardening. It is both calming and uplifting at the same time. I always come out of the garden feeling good.”
Pat also puts time aside to read quality non-fiction each day. She recently completed Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. She finds his writing to be compelling and splendidly researched – an incredible tool to draw on when it comes to leading her team.  

Keeping steady despite tech disruption 
Maintaining a positive work-life balance in her leadership role is critical to Pat. This is more important these days as the progression of disruptive technologies is set to have a major global impact on our future workplace. 

“Organisations will have to rapidly evolve their business models. They will be forced to supply faster, better output with leaner teams. This calls for leaders to not only focus on investing in the technology, but to also go a step further to keep their best talent in order to retain competitive advantage.” 

Where technology is cutting edge, it also bleeds human resources. 

Retaining and incentivising top talent has never been more competitive. Organisations will be forced to offer attractive salaries and employee benefits to keep talent engaged. 

“Providing more value and benefits to our employees and be seen as a desirable company is of constant concern,” she adds. 

Always a teacher’s child at heart
Christened Patience, but preferring to be called Pat, she grew up in Sebokeng, south of Gauteng. Her parents were both teachers and she is one of three siblings.  She spent her junior, senior primary, and high school years at Lekashu-Modishi, Edu-college and Vaal Christian Schools respectively. 

Pat then furthered her studies at the University of Johannesburg (then Technikon Witwatersrand), where she majored in Internal Audit, Accounting and Information Systems. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the Regenesys Business School.

After completing her tertiary education, Pat was employed by KPMG as a trainee auditor; she progressed to finance roles and later cross-functional roles across several industries in the private and public sector. 

Global in vision, local in heart
ACCA teams across the globe are out there every day, connecting with businesses large and small, governments, educational establishments and opinion formers who tap into their insights and experience to identify and explore global trends and issues for business, economics, society and the profession as a whole. “Because of all this, we’re able to create the innovative, strategic-thinking accountants our fast-changing world needs,” Pat says. 

As an industry body, ACCA has more than 219,000 fully qualified members and 527,000 students worldwide and its members are renowned for their professional insights. 

“Advancing public interest is central to our research and is reflected in our core value of innovation. By asking critical questions and digesting the answers, we can understand where our profession is today and where it is going. What we uncover moulds global thought leadership, which shapes and lead the profession. From global economics to risk management, understanding the impact of a wide range of factors makes us all better placed to perform at our peak now, and in the future.”

It’s clear that ACCA South Africa is in the steady hands of a holistically rounded individual who recognises the value of a motivated team where respect is a daily practice. “While a greater part of my time is scheduled in advance, I like to keep things simple and allow for some spontaneous moments in the day,” says Pat. It is these spaces that bring joy into her daily routine.