A real Mbokodo: The story of Nonkululeko Gobodo
By Nosihle Shelembe
She made news when she became the first black female Chartered Accountant in South Africa in 1987. Since then, Nonkululeko Gobodo has become a highly appraised trailblazer and a renowned leader of her generation.
As a woman in business, Gobodo has always challenged herself to achieve what many believed was impossible.
As part of celebrating South Africa’s women, SAnews sat down with Gobodo whose fearless spirit has seen her entering a space many are scared to enter by establishing her own auditing and advisory firm.
Recently, she led a successful merger of two medium-sized black accounting firms, a move that effectively changed the landscape of the accounting profession in South Africa.
Gobodo was first exposed to accountancy when she took a ‘gap year’ and was working as a bookkeeper at her father’s panel beating shop.
She is now at the helm of Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, which she established with her partners in 2016.
Growing up in the Eastern Cape’s Mthatha township, Gobodo had parents who always encouraged her to strive to be the best and told her that nothing was impossible.
It was those affirmations that inspired her to work hard when she was training to be a Charted Accountant.
After she completed her honours degree, she did her articles at renowned accounting firm, KPMG, for three years where she was offered a partnership.
“I was not waiting for people to open opportunities for me. I would go to the white guys, who had the best portfolios and ask to help them and I would end up taking over their portfolio.
“It was a question of once you get in, are you going to make sure that you get the best opportunities or are you going to allow the system to dictate how far you progress and develop within the organisation,” she says.
Although Gobodo was honoured by the opportunity offered to her by KPMG, she declined the offer, opting for other opportunities outside the firm.
As there was no longer a path for her to progress within KPMG, she joined the Transkei Development Cooperation where she was employed as an Internal Audit Manager.
Proving to be a gifted individual within three months into her new job, she was promoted to the position of a Chief Financial Officer.
In 1992, she resigned from that position and pursued her dream of establishing her own practice.
Her decision to start her own business was met with apprehension from those that were close to her, and she was often discouraged from starting her own business.
It was even suggested that she lecture part-time so that she could have something to fall back on just in case her business failed. But, an optimistic Gobodo was willing to take the risk and so she started her own practice.
“I saw my business grow and I had two partners and two offices and 30 staff which was a huge achievement but after 1994 I realised that there were even more opportunities for us, so we had to seize the moment as black accountants and fight for our space,” Gobodo says.
Wanting to grow her small business, she then persuaded her colleagues who were managers in the big four accounting firms in Johannesburg to join her in establishing a medium size black firm.
At first, her colleagues were fearful to leave their comfortable jobs because back then being a manager in a big accounting firm was a huge achievement.
It took some persuading and Gobodo Incorporated was born. Her practice grew to a medium size black firm with 10 partners and 200 staff as well as four offices.
At that time, government had begun putting in place policies to encourage economic transformation and this opened doors for Gobodo Incorporated to do business with the State.
“Those opportunities were closed to us as black accounting firms and that was the impetus for our growth and from having an opportunity to be auditors at Transnet, we were able to expand our business,” Gobodo says.
As a medium size firm, Gobodo Incorporated was not given all the opportunities to do big projects on their own and were often paired with a big accounting firm.
The constant doubt that her company had capacity to do big projects bothered Gobodo. She knew that it was time to grow and so she approached SizweNtsaluba, another medium size black firm and suggested that the two merge.
The task of merging two medium size firms was challenging but they were determined to succeed.
“People thought that we would fail… [but] this business of mine now grew to 55 partners, over a 1000 staff, an African footprint because we grew this business just beyond South Africa and the continent,” Gobodo said.
Once the merger was a success, it was time that one leader led SizweNtsalubaGobodo. Up until that that time, the two CEOs from the legacy firms were leading the organisation.
Gobodo volunteered to leave because she had achieved beyond anything she thought was possible.
“How would I have known that my small practice in the Eastern Cape would one day grow to be the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa with an African footprint?
“We were pioneers as black accountants and we did open opportunities for others. When I walk in a room full of other black women accountants I always feel happy,” she says
Gobodo now leads Nkululeko Leadership Consulting.
“I didn’t stop dreaming. I have always been passionate about leadership because I see how important it is. That is why I decided to pursue a different path altogether. .
“Our passion is to transform leadership teams and leadership organisations, to fulfil their purpose. Our passion is to see effective leadership; our passion is to see effective organisation and so our frameworks are designed around that.”
From her humble beginnings, Gobodo has proven that life does comes with challenges. But, it is up to you to decide what you do with the challenges because according to her: “if women in business are afraid to face challenges then they must be prepared to settle for small accomplishments.” –SAnews.gov.za