How to become the world's most inspiring accountant: a chat to Coenie Middel


"We have always believed passionately in the role accountants play in creating a better world by helping to make businesses more successful, creating jobs and generating wealth," says Coenraad 'Coenie' Middel, whose firm Middel & Partners has been named as one of the most inspiring accountancy practices in the world and has been included in the recently published ‘The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants’ by author Steve Pipe.

SAICA's Project Director: Communication, Yuven Gounden, spoke to Coenie and Steve about what it takes to be an inspiring accountant, how to go beyond tax, auditing and accounting and the approach young finance professionals should take.

By Yuven Gounden

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Middel & Partners is one of only four firms in South Africa to feature in the book, which is an extraordinary achievement. At the announcement ceremony, chartered accountant Steve Pipe, who was the book’s author and led the research team, said: “Over a hundred thousand accountancy practices from across the world were eligible, but after a rigorous 18-month research process only 57 of them from 10 countries made the cut.”

Pipe added: “It is also a richly deserved accolade, because they really are making a profound difference to their clients, community and the wider world. They have helped numerous clients with growth strategies, helped failing businesses with turnaround strategies, and equipped companies to deal with uncertainty and create value for all stakeholders.”

“Along with the other firms in the book, Middel & Partners are helping to raise the bar for accountants across the world: inspiring an entire profession, and showing it how to make more of a difference by serving clients better than ever before. And one thing is really clear… the world would be a much better place if more accountants were like them.”

Middel & Partners’ Chairman Coenraad (Coenie) Middel says: “We are humbled and proud to be named as one of the world’s most inspiring accountants. We have always believed passionately in the role accountants play in creating a better world by helping to make businesses more successful, creating jobs and generating wealth. So it is wonderful to see our commitment to those things being recognised on a global stage.” He also has his sights set on Africa, because he believes that developing the continent will provide vast potential for growth and opportunity and he encourages youngsters to share this vision.

He explains his core services as follows: “I provide strategic advisory and deal making services, and craft business models for clients and my own businesses to deliver value to all stakeholders by linking strategy with resources, finance and capabilities. My key focal area is making innovation a key strategy for short-term and long-term success, and establishing frameworks for radical and incremental innovation. By creating a lifecycle approach to running the business, and developing a strategy for success at every stage - from business plan to launch, to growth, and to maturity. Furthermore, it is key to develop more effective strategies by aligning company purpose, positioning, and programmes and demonstrating how to adjust your strategy as market conditions change. I relish in recognising, and capitalising on, emerging opportunities.”

Beyond auditing, tax and accounting

Where did the Middel success story begin and is there a secret to their success? His parents were business people, and when the young Coenie, who claims to have had ‘too many interests’, had to choose a career path, he chose the CA(SA) route.

Coenie attended Carletonville High School and completed his undergraduate studies at the then University of Potchefstroom (now North-West University). He then did his Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) at UNISA and also completed courses at Harvard Business School in the USA from 2008 to 2010.

Although one may have assumed that his lust for entrepreneurship led him to this choice, the reason is quite complex. He had five options in mind, namely accounting, engineering, law, pharmacy and optometry. Whilst the latter choices were attractive, he realised that those might have become somewhat restrictive. “However, if I chose the CA(SA) route, I could still enjoy elements of these areas. That is true for me today, considering that I currently work in some of these sectors today.”

As Coenie tackled the studies toward the prestigious, yet arduous, CA(SA) journey, he found that the training provided him with analytical skills and the requisite number crunching skills. However, there was still something missing. “Apart from wanting to be an entrepreneur, I was also interested in the arts. For me, creativity is key, and I believe that the creative side is what provides the inspiration for the creative and innovative business solutions that provide me with the edge in the world of business.”

Immediately after completing his traineeship with Deloitte in 1992 he started Middel & Partners as a sole practitioner, but also soon started building several media, entertainment and technology that , stimulated his creative and innovation ideas. “Today Middel & Partners has eight branches and eight partners, and we employ approximately 160 staff members, delivering specialised services across Africa. Our clients range from the single entrepreneur to large multinationals. Since I started my business, we have managed to retain and grow most of our clients, and this is indicative to me that we are doing something right,” explains Coenie.

Since starting his practice, he has amassed vast experience working with parastatals and entities in the media, entertainment, infrastructure, mining, property development and healthcare sectors. He consults with international and locally listed companies, large private companies and government departments.

“Who do you call to get some inspiration and a clear roadmap for the future? We would like to think that we breathe life into our clients’ businesses. How do we achieve this within your organisation? We go far beyond just auditing, tax and accounting. Yes, we make sure that we protect our clients’ interests and make sure all is well, but we also look towards the future and guide clients accordingly. It involves the ability to look at the business holistically, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, identifying opportunities and threats, and reigning in resources to allow the business to meet its desired goals. We get to know our clients by spending time with them, working closely together and building mutual respect. How else can you advise someone on important matters? We choose our staff well and train them to be an inspiring team that goes the extra mile.”

This CA(SA) extraordinaire also produces television and live shows, and creates virtual reality, augmented reality and mobile apps and games through his media and technology companies. He is the chairman of companies Tixsa, Left, Oxyg3n Media, The Mindf*ctory and Dondoo Studios. Indeed, Coenie is steeped in the world of the arts through his media businesses. His companies develop and promote artists locally and internationally, and also produce albums, music videos, television shows, films, stage plays and musicals. His companies’ current projects include ‘Married at first sight’ (a controversial international reality television show), a food and adventure show shot in South Africa with Australian Masterchef winner Brent Owens, and ‘Size Matters’ (investigating why things are the size they are). They are also producing mobile apps for the mining, healthcare and other industries: his virtual reality mining simulation is a world first.

Advice to young professionals

Coenie Middel believes that continuous education is essential in staying abreast of innovation. “I love reading factual books such as biographies. I also summarise these books and absorb them as part of my psyche, so that the lessons inherent in this literature informs my own growth and development. I also believe firmly in pushing the boundaries. Therefore, I choose to participate in extreme sports. I find the thrill of bungee jumping, cycling, diving and skiing exhilarating. I have completed three of the Top Five World Tour of Motorcycles and I intend completing them all by 2017,” reflects Coenie.

His wife has a qualification in music and now works alongside him in his thriving business. They have three children – triplets (two girls and a boy), who are in Grade 12 this year. Two are keen on following the accounting route, while one girl is keen on pursuing a career in the healthcare industry. Coenie loves traveling the world with his family, and this continually helps to improve his knowledge about people, their needs, desires and what makes them tick. He also attends innovation expos, art, music and entertainment content markets, mining and design indabas, and festivals like Africa Burn.

In today’s fast-paced world, where business processes are accelerating exponentially, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter the innovative spirit and an understanding of the importance of creativity and the arts at the root of an exceptional enterprise such as at Middel & Partners.

His advice to youngsters bent on pursuing the CA(SA) route?

“You need to have a clear perspective on your job and on life. Balance is key. Knowledge is power, relationships are critical and innovation is essential. Make sure you are passionate about people and their businesses. Focus on helping people grow their businesses. CAs(SA) are brilliant individuals and they should use their intelligence judiciously. Do not focus on the past, but look into the future.”

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