How this CA(SA) paved her own career path against all odds

  • Hi, I am Shivani Ramdhani a Chartered Accountant registered with SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants).
  • I grew up in a family where my siblings and I didn’t have all the comforts of life, but my family made us realize the value that education would bring to our life.
  • When it was time to decide what next career-wise...I knew I wanted to become a CA. 
  • All was well until I did not get a bursary and financing my studies was exceptionally difficult.
  • Despite the odds against my family and I, I qualified as a CA and built a successful career and life for myself.
  • Here is my story about how faith and perseverance can change your life.

Back Story and why CA

At the tender age of 5, I lost my dad and was raised by my mum as a single mother.

Though we had the love and support of my dad’s eldest brother as well as my grandparents who assisted in our upbringing, life was not easy.

The importance of education was instilled in me at a young age, and I knew education was a powerful tool for a better future. 

I was always passionate about Finance, economics, and the way things work in business. (I loved Accounting and my siblings could not quite understand how I connected with this topic!)

At the age of 13, I became more familiar with the CA profession from reading up about what it entails and from other friends at school who also wanted to pursue a career in Finance.

When it was time to make a career choice, I made the decision to embark on the career path of becoming a CA!

Embarking on the CA route and self-funding (no bursary)

Once I decided to pursue this path, I  applied to the University of Natal in Durban (now called the University of Kwazulu Natal).

Unfortunately, I was not able to secure a bursary and without a bursary, funding my studies would be a challenge.

We tried obtaining financial assistance from banking institutions however since you require guarantees and suretyships it was difficult.

I was emotionally distraught as I really wanted to study and pursue a career as a CA.

I was, however, exceptionally blessed to have my Dad’s eldest brother support and fund my studies. This provided me with a newly inspired sense of hope again.

I commenced with my studies in 2002. It is a 4-year programme including the Honours postgraduate degree.

Overall my journey was a tough terrain as I could not afford the things most of my friends at school and university had. In fact, affording university books to study was also a challenge.

Fast forward to 2005, I completed my Honours degree successfully and started with my articles at PwC in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.

I qualified as a CA(SA) successfully and this was a great milestone for me.

Career Ahead: Continuing in Auditing

After qualifying as a CA, I didn’t have clarity at first as it is such a vast field.

I continued with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Johannesburg to enhance my knowledge and experience in the auditing profession as well as leading people.

Working for a Big 4 CA firm provided me with the foundation I needed to propel my career in the right direction.

Here I learnt a great deal about people management, leadership, finance and best practice in the industry.

What next?

The transition from auditing to commercial finance

After a few years in Auditing, I soon gained clarity of where I wanted to be and the value I wanted to add as a CA.

I wanted more commercial experience in listed companies.

(PricewaterhouseCoopers shaped me as an individual and this really assisted me in getting ready for my next career move into the commercial field.)

I was approached by the AfroCentric Group (a JSE listed client of mine whilst at PricewaterhouseCoopers) for a role in external reporting and finance.

Being familiar with the environment and the industry made my transition that much better.

I was promoted to the Head of Group Finance and Group Investor Relations at AfroCentric and it was in this role that I had exposure to many facets of Finance.

I was able to add value and learn at the same time which is an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Progressing in my career

I pursued other listed companies to gain further experience in Finance and Reporting and to gain deeper insights into International operations as well as various industries.

I was always willing to raise my hand when it came to complex tasks even if I didn’t fully understand how to do it.

In this way, I was able to learn new skills and continuously enhance my professional development.

I believe in being involved in the details and understanding how to do the job myself first, before being able to manage others who had to deliver on the same.

I was always willing to go the extra mile in all my roles and this allowed me to progress to Head of Finance roles.

If others notice your commitment to excellence and your willingness to learn and add value, you will always be recognised for this. This is how I was able to progress in my career.

Questions I get asked most often.

"If you had to go back in time and give yourself some advice what would it be?"

At the age of 18, I felt pressure to have my life’s purpose figured out.

You think you have to graduate college, get a good job, and get married before you turn 22, because (for some reason) you think 22 is old. Only to realize that most people don’t figure things out until much later in life (if at all).

Take your time figuring it all out. You don’t want to rush such a grand decision as to your life’s purpose.

“Greatest lesson learned/ best advice ever received?”

“I am my best blueprint, and therefore I should not try to be someone else’s carbon copy”.

Although at times one can be tempted to conform, it is more purposeful to remain true to yourself.

Believe in yourself because what you think is that which is possible.

Think big, make the most of your opportunities and aim for excellence.

There are no shortcuts to sustained success and therefore hard work, underpinned by excellence and integrity, is a non-negotiable in my life.

I do believe that you become a product of the people that you associate with – both your friends and your colleagues.

“How about balancing work and family has that ever been a challenge?”

In Finance, it is rather difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

The expectation from Finance today has shifted towards becoming a commercial business partner and has moved away from the traditional number-crunching role.

Being a person who always does more than what is required, I tend to give more of my time and the balancing equation has been tough.

Nowadays, I have made this balance a priority as it is important to make time for yourself, your friends, and your family - as, without these people in your life, life would be rendered meaningless.

Wrapping Up...

Being a chartered accountant is not a destination, it is a journey of life-long learning, growth and developing others along the way.

I love learning new things.

For me, the call to duty has been to coach and mentor young people. It is about instilling hope in young people as well as future CA’s, for making young people dream differently and to realise that there is no one more special than another; we can all be what we dream to be.

My journey has been a tough terrain but I believe that I can give others the courage to know that if I can achieve it, you can also do the same, and even do better than I could have ever done myself!

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