Tania Theron: Making a life through giving back

Tania Theron is equally dedicated to uplifting the underprivileged and helping her clients to grow their money.

Head of wealth at award-winning, independent investment advisory and wealth management firm, GraySwan, CA Tania Theron, is passionate about helping her clients to grow their wealth, but she’s also committed to giving back.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” The team at GraySwan, which has offices both in Johannesburg and the Western Cape, strives to live by this Winston Churchill quote. That’s why when Tania and her husband Duncan Theron first started GraySwan, they decided to register the GraySwan Charitable Trust, which focuses on supporting the youth – those under the age of 18. In addition to accumulating funding from third party donors, GraySwan also allocates 10 percent of their profits to the trust.

“My husband and I have always had serving hearts, because we grew up in households where our parents set a very good example about being involved in the community and giving back to those in need,” says Tania. “We’re not driven by an obligation towards corporate social responsibility or gaining BEE points. Both as a business which provides financial advice, and as a charitable trust, we do the right things for the right reasons.”

One of the trust’s main projects is Walk with a Purpose, dedicated to providing shoes for children in need. Here school shoes and sneakers are donated and distributed to children’s homes and schools in need. This is run mainly through donations from the trust’s corporate partner, Intershu, and from privileged schools in the areas which they serve. To date the trust has distributed more than 40,000 shoes to 31 children’s homes. They also recently sponsored shoes for two netball teams, where many players previously wore their mothers’ sports shoes or played barefoot.

“Each pair of shoes comes with a message,” says Tania. “Those shoes were given to you so that you can walk with purpose and realise that you are special – you have unique gifts. They also promote the idea of paying it forward, making something worthwhile out of what you’ve been given.”

For Tania, being able to make a personal impact on those in need is also deeply meaningful. Having faced indecision when selecting her career, she knows how difficult choosing a study path can be. After matriculating she began a physiotherapy degree. Two weeks in, she realised she’d made the wrong decision.

“I had a strong conviction that this was not for me,” she recalls. “I decided to go to RAU (now the University of Johannesburg), where I saw a professor who took me through a few careers.” Having always enjoyed maths and accounting, Tania was intrigued when he told her about becoming a chartered accountant. Since choosing this path, she’s never looked back.

It was through her own career journey and her innate calling to empower the underprivileged, that she decided to help Bongani (not his real name). “I’ve always said, even if we can help one child, that’s enough,” says Tania. That opportunity arose nine years ago when her domestic worker connected her with her neighbours, an unemployed woman, her husband who worked on an equestrian farm, and their four children.
“The kids were really motivated and doing well at school, but the 18-year-old son needed help choosing a career path and applying to university,” recalls Tania. “Having matriculated in the top 10 of his class, he really wanted to go and study, and wanted to know if I could assist.”

Meeting with the family, Tania shared her own experience of choosing a career and detailed the benefits of becoming a chartered accountant. “I explained that it takes long hours and many years of studies but that it opens so many doors.” Motivated to follow this path too, Bongani began his accounting studies with the financial and emotional support of the Therons.

“For us it was also important that with the funding, he took responsibility for his career,” says Tania. “During university holidays, he had to come and work at GraySwan, and I started mentoring him during that time. He had to take three taxis to get to our offices and sitting there while everyone was on holiday was probably tough for him. During that time, I really learned a lot about his personality and what he wanted to do.”

During his studies, Bongani suffered numerous setbacks, including a negative experience with a career counsellor, and having his computer stolen. Yet, he stayed on track through his own determination and the Therons’ ongoing motivation to continue even when things got difficult.

“We did our best to ensure he ultimately got his degree,” says Tania. “I think we underestimate the importance of someone who’s just there providing backing and care. We were there for him just to give that final push to make it work. It was all him, but that motivation helped. When he got his degree, it was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Tania stresses the importance of seeing such assistance all the way through, not just ensuring people have the necessary education and skills, but also helping them get employment opportunities so they can make a living. “I assisted Bongani with some job applications, and he ultimately got into the Allan Gray Academy, which offers a three-year internship. I had an interview with Allan Gray’s HR and because I had walked such a long road with him, I could give him a good reference with confidence. Today, he’s been there for three years and is financially independent.”

Through his journey, Bongani has been able to build his mother a house – a dream he’s had since he first met Tania. “A few weeks ago, he sent me the photos of the house – the realisation of that dream. It wasn’t a quick fix; this was a nine-year process, but ultimately, we could assist someone to a point where they are financially independent. For me, that’s what giving back is all about – it’s about getting someone into a better position by giving them the tools to work with.”

“Place ladders so that people can rise,” Tania concludes. “And be there to hold the ladder steady until they have reached their goal.”