Buhle Hanise: The smart extrovert driven by purpose and making an impact

BAIC CFO Buhle Hanise’s story of success drives her to pull up other aspiring female CAs.

Buhle Hanise was born in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. When she was in Grade 7, Sindiswa 'Sindi' Zilwa, South Africa’s second black female CA, came to Buhle’s school to tell students about being a CA. Seeing a remarkable, high achieving woman from her very own home town made a lasting impression in Buhle’s mind, triggering an interest that would forever change the trajectory of her life.

After Sindi’s visit, Buhle started researching chartered accountancy, and found other black pioneers in the profession, such as Wiseman Nkuhlu and Nonkululeko Gobodo. “I was very good at accounting and maths, so following in their footsteps made sense,” she says.

Achieving her dream wasn’t an easy journey though, as funding became a problem once she had passed her BCom Accounting at the University of Transkei.
“But throughout my journey, support came from unexpected corners,” says Buhle. While at the University of Transkei, I was fortunate to catch the eye of Professor Themba Zakuza, who was on the lookout for talent, and he helped me to get funding.”

When looking for a way to pursue her CTA/honours, she met Lwando Bantom, SAICA’s project director for transformation and growth. “He saw my potential and went about seeing that I got the support and help I needed to further my studies and career,” she says.

Lwando introduced her to the Thuthuka programme and she ended up in Cape Town studying as a beneficiary of the Upliftment Fund. After obtaining her honours degree she was drawn to the prospect of bigger and better possibilities in Johannesburg and landed the opportunity to do her articles at KPMG.

Qualifying turned out to be very tough for her and she failed her first board exam. In the midst of that challenge, she encountered African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA), an organisation that supports aspirant CAs. “Having the support of this organisation was life-changing and really helped me in successfully qualifying as a CA in 2009,” says Buhle.

Giving back
Being a catalyst for change is part of Buhle’s DNA. “There was no way, with my background, that I wasn’t going to give back and help other aspiring black female CAs and see that they get opportunities I didn’t have,” she says. “Initially, I didn’t have any idea of how I wanted to give back, but I have been with AWCA for over 10 years and it’s been an amazing vehicle for making a positive impact in the profession.”

Through the years, she went from being a normal member, to moving up the ranks and she joined the board in 2014. She’s now deputy president of AWCA and is passionate about living up to the organisation’s motto, “Develop as we lead.”

The organisation nurtures and trains black women who are completing their articles as well as newly qualified black women CAs. It identifies and develops young girls who aspire to be CAs, and also nurtures and trains black women who are completing their articles. “We have also evolved and are pouring energy into grooming black women CAs, as more are now entering leadership positions,” says Buhle.

“I think one of my callings is to support and make sure that I empower other women,” she adds, “because I got a lot of support from other women to ensure that I got to where I am today.”

She says it's important to remember that many people struggle to achieve their goals. “There are just so many social and economic dynamics at play in South Africa that enable or hinder one’s success. I believe that there’s a system that goes into being successful: even if you’re book smart, you need an ecosystem to get you there.”

She says now is a particularly difficult time for young people: “During the Covid-19 crisis, we have found that home life isn’t conducive for studying for a lot of the young women we support, and they need more dynamic support. Mental wellness is a massive issue, and some learners are falling behind. It’s a very important time for us to step up and help the upcoming generation.”

The power of intentionality
Buhle is passionate about uplifting others, but just as committed to her own success. After her time with KPMG, she went on to Nedbank and Standard Bank. She found her longer-term home at IDC where she flourished for seven years.

At the IDC, one of the areas she overlooked was the distressed portfolio. “The work was engaging because the IDC is not just a bank, but a developmental financier. The priority was to turn businesses around: our role in helping build the economy and save jobs was top of mind.”

In 2020, she became the CFO of BAIC SA, a multi-billion rand joint venture agreement between the IDC and China’s Beijing Automotive Group Co. Ltd (BAIC), which aimed to establish a new car manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth.

“I have always been very intentional about my career and believed that every step should build on the previous one. I knew this was a project that would benefit from my experience at IDC.”

Now her current mission is to support the company to reach 100% production. “When I joined the company, we were at 70 percent and now we are at over 90 percent plant completion. The plan was to have completed last year, but the pandemic got in the way of all those plans.”

Keeping an eye on the bigger picture
Buhle joined BAIC just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and says she had to hit the ground running, but was very fortunate that she had experience from the IDC as well as the IDC project team for support.

Working with a team in China has also been a cultural adjustment, and she says one of the things she has learnt is that culture is more than language – it’s also about environment.

“Our Chinese counterparts are hard workers with extremely high standards. Technologically, they are more advanced than we are in South Africa and innovation is part and parcel of who they are; they find ways to innovate. I adapted quickly and saw how they operated. I had to find my voice in terms of being able to give input, because I understand the local market and can tell them what will and won’t work.” Her preoccupation, she adds, is figuring out how to stay creative, flexible and agile enough to work around challenges and still achieve their goals.

She’s mindful of the fact that the IDC has gone abroad to find an investment in SA. “For me, it's important to rise up to this opportunity and not let all the people relying on me down. I know I’m going to have highs and lows, but I will persevere.”

She says once manufacturing is running at full capacity, the company can look at expanding or even resuscitating component manufacturers and others in the supply chain whose businesses were decimated by the bad economic conditions of the pandemic. “Hopefully, we can play a role in clawing some jobs back and help people get back to contributing to the economy.”

Personality in play in leadership
Naturally extroverted, Buhle has a magnetic personality which has been an asset in her career. Her ability to connect easily with others while being very self-aware and goal oriented, have been powerful elements in her growth.

She says that as a leader, being technically solid is important as is the ability to be strategic, but says being an ethical leader is a value she’s uncompromising about. “Now more than ever, South Africa needs ethical leaders. Being ethical shouldn’t be a style, but just be the way we work. Our profession has been maligned because of bad apples. People must be able to rely on me knowing that I have integrity and honesty.”

Beyond work
Outside of work, Buhle enjoys spending time with her husband and young daughter. As a family they like going out to enjoy a nice meal at a child-friendly restaurant. They love travelling together (their favourite local destination is Cape Town) and Buhle says she has a big task as soon as it's possible to do: to take her daughter to Disney World in the US, as the pandemic delayed their plans to do so in 2020.