Thabo Tshepuwane: Sought after qualifications are no longer a guarantee of life-long success.
As a child, Thabo Tshepuwane was academically disposed, enjoyed doing homework and loved learning. The son of two medical doctors, he grew up with parents who honoured his natural strengths, which helped shape his sense of autonomy from a young age. While his younger brother whose personality is more creative, was more of a free spirit pursued a career in culinary arts, Thabo was drawn to finance because he knew that it would it suit his knack for structure ability for analysis and offer an opportunity to test his intellectual prowess through a rigorous career path.
So, in 2011 with a bursary from PwC, he went to University of Pretoria where he enrolled for his B.Com followed by honours in accounting. He started his articles in 2016 and describes the experience as “gruelling, with long days lead into long nights. You are really busy at work, but there are also demands from time, family obligations enter the mix."
He joined Tiger Brands in April 2019 as a financial accountant, but has management accountant responsibilities, which include financial reporting of results to stakeholders, financial director, executive committee, looks at things like profit estimates, forecasts, ad hoc reporting.
Attaining his CA qualification was a long-held ambition and when he posted a simple post on LinkedIn after he received his certificate in October, he was taken aback by an overwhelming response from people, many of whom he didn’t even know and says this outpouring helped him appreciate the depth of his achievement.
Even though he’s reached his goal of becoming a CA, Thabo's love for learning hasn’t abated. Instead, he’s now pouring it into staying ahead of the curve in a rapidly moving world. He has internalised the fast pace of change around him accelerated by technology. At only 27, he is keenly aware of the fact that he has a long career ahead of him, and understands that the world of work is in flux. “Things are changing so quickly you can’t standstill. I know that in order to have great opportunities and relevance I have to take steps to upskill myself now, I don’t have 10 years before I start doing that.” He explains. “Lifelong learning is a requisite for any young person and technology is at the centre of that. You have to look at technology as a tool, not something to be feared.”
Thabo appreciates the disruption that technology is causing and that repetitive tasks no longer need human brainpower, meaning that, “The future of the economy belongs to those who are creative.” He has immersed himself in different strategic disciplines including design, marketing, machine learning, data analytics and AI. He is interested in exploring the best ways to combine his deep understanding of accounting with its prudence and scepticism, to data science. “I enjoy working with figures, telling a story through numbers and drawing a relationship between them. Since accounting has already honed my analytical strengths, I want to take those to the next level. My natural temperament lends itself to the art of extracting understanding, seeing patterns and drawing insights that others may miss.”
Looking ahead, he says his years of academia, articles and his current position have taught him that planning is an essential component to success. “In this field, you can’t just go with the flow, or start your day unprepared and hope things work out. You have to be strategic and disciplined, otherwise you will find yourself quickly overwhelmed. Meticulous planning is a requisite when you’re in a high-performance environment.”
He is a driven professional but values the power of collaboration and teamwork. “I believe that where there is a common understanding between people and good relationships, they are more willing to go the extra mile. I believe in being clear about what the goal is and then giving people autonomy over their work but leaving the door open to assist where necessary.”
Advice for his younger self would be, “Not to worry too much, looking back at the amount of pressure I put himself under in the past. I would also remind myself to be more patient when pursuing my goals.”
He remembers an instance during his Honours programme when the stress to excel got him to the point of almost de-registering from the university. “Luckily I ran into a good friend who talked me out of going through with it and just carrying on. I also remember another time, when I had a rare few days of leave in my third year in articles. While busy relaxing, I was called on Wednesday morning and told that a listed company requires a valuation to be done. I was given a deadline of Friday morning and worked from sunrise to sunset to meet it. In the end, it was rewarding to submit the report and get good feedback on my efforts.” These tests in endurance have fortified his belief in himself and affirmed his abilities and whenever he feels challenged, he knows that he can succeed.
Outside of work, he spends time with friends and a few times a week puts aside time to watch or play sports. His circle of friends are high achieving ambitious individuals, who match his natural inclination to keep reaching higher and doing better. Having achieved so much already, it will be interesting to see how Thabo tackles the upcoming chapters of his life.