How This Mom and Chartered Accountant in South Africa Built a Successful Career in a Smaller City
- Hey, all! I am Welma Du Preez. A 35-year-old Chartered Accountant, mom with 2 adorable children and an entrepreneur.
- I am the Managing Director and 50% Co-owner of a 40-year-old Accounting and Auditing Firm in South Africa - Burger & Buurman Inc. I did my articles in this company, and later became a shareholder and a Partner in the same firm. Amazing, isn’t it?
- Currently, I manage the growth of the business and am working on incorporating digital systems, so that everyone in the company can work remotely while still delivering the best services that help us scale high.
- We are hustling. Each day is different, filled with challenges. And we are ready to take on to anything that comes our way.
- Here’s my journey to inspire other professionals, especially women.
I was born and raised in a small city in South Africa. I lost my dad when I was just 7 years of age. My very ambitious and entrepreneurial mom raised me and my 3 sisters. We were a full-house of women. Go girl power!
I was an average student, when one day, aged 15, I resolved consciously to become one of the top 10 academic students of my grade. I put all my efforts in that direction, and you know what? Within 3 months, I was one of the top 4 students.
Important lesson here - “When you want something, you must decide that you are worthy of having it, and combined with fair effort, anything you want to achieve is within your reach.”
My mum was and continues to be a huge inspiration to me. She was so organized and somehow, seemed to be in control of everything around her. Such a supportive and positive person. And most of all, she never gave up. She kept trying. Growing up, I watched her. And tried to imbibe this entrepreneurial, go-getter attitude.
Pursuing Chartered Accountancy: My Journey
I did not want to become a Chartered Accountant. In fact, I always told people that I will become anything, but I would never be an Accountant. I just didn’t want to, no particular reason.
I was unsure of what I wanted to study after school. So, I started working with my mother as an estate agent. But, instead of selling property, I ended up doing a lot of interest calculations and spreadsheet work (you know all those number-work and documentation).
Soon, I started working as an admin for a recruitment company. But, I got really bored with that. Instead, I enjoyed doing the payroll and other calculations. Thereafter, I worked in a few more roles, where again, you guessed it right, I was doing bank reconciliations and profit/loss calculations.
“What you resist, persists!”
It then dawned on me, finally. I was running away from numbers, but the numbers had chosen me. CA had chosen me. I started studying part-time for an accounting degree. And there was no turning back ever since. I was dedicated. I was committed. Thanks, mom, for instilling this in me.
Due to my hard work, dedication and support system, my CA journey was smooth. But, it certainly wasn’t easy at all.
I was really ambitious. And I was committed like crazy. Passing my CA exams in the shortest possible time was my only priority. As a result, I wasn’t able to devote that much time to personal pursuits.
I even neglected the relationship I had with myself. I became so unaware of my own thoughts that it felt as if I was operating on autopilot. It is just recently that I have hit the pause button and reflected on the time gone by and became conscious about my life, especially my thoughts.
So, here’s my advice:
“Be driven and ambitious, but at the same time, don’t forget to pay attention to the people and life around you. This will help you to make conscious, well-evaluated decisions while you work towards your dream.”
Becoming A Co-owner At A Firm Where I Did my CA Articles
So, the firm where I completed my articles saw the passion and potential in me and offered me a big opportunity to become a Co-Owner and Director!
This was HUGE for me as the company has been operating since the 1960s - so all the systems (even though they were manual at the time) and the client base was well-established. We were profitable.
Also, I had fallen in love with the company; the staff, clients and everything about it - it didn’t make any sense to leave this amazing firm. Plus, the opportunity was big. So, I took responsibility.
The existing partners made it possible for me to pay for my shares on very reasonable terms. Compare this to the stress and exhausting investment into starting a firm from scratch - Hah! Talking about it made me tired.
So, I became the co-owner and the Director of the company where I did my articles.
Learning And Becoming A Leader
For the first couple of years, I was focused on learning as much as possible from my business partner. He mentored me and taught me everything about the business. Even though I was a partner in the firm, at that time, he was practically running everything in the company with very little input from my side.
I didn’t know much. So, I had to watch and learn.
Being a leader does not come with a job title. To be able to lead someone, or guide someone, you need to learn and practice those things.
“If you want to be a leader, the good news is that you can do it. Everyone has the potential, but it isn’t accomplished overnight. It requires perseverance. And you absolutely cannot ignore that becoming a leader is a process. Leadership doesn’t develop in a day. It takes a lifetime.” - John C. Maxwell
It is a lifetime learning experience. So, even though I am a Partner at a successful firm, I admit that I have just started my journey as a leader. There’s much to learn and much to experience.
Forging My Own Path - Transforming A Traditional Accounting Firm Into A Modern Company
Times were changing. Things were changing. We had to transform too.
And I soon realized that we needed some guidance throughout the process of transforming from a traditional accounting firm to a modern, digitally-aware company. So, we appointed a dedicated full-time business coach. That was a great decision. We have progressed incredibly with his inputs.
Our clients and staff had been accustomed to doing things in a certain way for the last 30-40 years. But, here was a 30-something-woman, who had just started - telling them to change things, to do them in another way, a better way. That was challenging.
So, here’s the thing. When you start something from scratch, you are in control of everything and can implement a system according to what you deem is the best. And people accept it because it is just the start. More so, they are open to change; you can choose which way to steer.
However, try telling someone this: “What you’ve been doing for 30 years works, but there is a better way to do the same thing.” Just imagine that! Woooh... It’s a whole different story.
If things are working well with the old way, people don’t like to see it change. But, what they don’t understand is that the company can hit a plateau. So, even though it works, it gives the same results. Where’s the growth?
You need to embrace change and adapt to a better way if you want to break that plateau and grow as a company. Together, my business partner and I, showed them that way :)
Making It Big Without Going To The Big 4 - “Trust Me, It Is Fine!”
Many CAs might feel inferior qualifying from smaller firms as compared to those who qualify from a bigger firm (especially Big 4s).
But, people, IT IS FINE. I never went into any Big 4 or a typical corporate. I have lived in a small city and am practicing CA here. I love it all. And I am doing well.
Small, big or super-big... What matters is learning and your ability to soak in the knowledge.
See, each environment is different and has its benefits. But, neither one is inferior or superior in comparison. Some people thrive better in a certain environment. Call it preferences. And that does not make a CA smaller or bigger than the other. They are all working and everyone is putting in just as much effort.
I never planned to move to a different (or bigger) city. I am a mom, a family person and an entrepreneur. I wanted to own a manageable-sized firm that would allow me the freedom to spend as much time with my family and kids as I wanted, without any burdening pressure. Working for a big corporate wouldn’t allow me that - which wasn’t what I wanted. That was my preference.
Balancing Work With Family
“You have to balance your passions, not your time.”
I lived a life of complete imbalance, which I feel is fine. People talk about perfect balance and keeping things in place and yada yada. They may be right, maybe not. I don’t know. But, according to me, living a balanced life is exhausting. And impractical.
I am not kidding. If you want to grow your business, you ABSOLUTELY NEED to spend more time working on the business rather than taking time off or indulging in your hobbies or something else. THAT’S THE TRUTH. So, the imbalance is fine.
Here again, I am not talking about a complete imbalance. Like give 100% of your time to your business and forget about the world. No. Be in control of what you spend time on.
I plan ahead and am all for time management. I write down my schedule for the day, the week, and there’s even a master plan for the month and the year. This helps a lot in prioritizing and dividing time.
Yes, there are times when plans get derailed too. But, that’s life! I tackle whatever comes my way, refocus and get back on track.
During office hours, I am dedicated to my work. A really useful tip here: For efficient work, I recommend planning things in advance. It helps you to keep track of time too.
So, usually, I work for about 8 hours a day, that’s when my kids are at school. In the evening, I spend time with them for ~3 hours before they go to bed, and 1 hour in the morning before seeing them off to school. When I am with my kids, I don’t think about work. I am focused on them alone.’
This is not in ‘perfect balance’, I know. But, we are happy. That’s what matters at the end. Ultimate Happiness.
Even though I have lead a team of accountants of all ages, I am inclined towards inspiring the younger generation of prospective CAs - encouraging them to dream and have the determination to fulfill them all.
Summing up my journey till date, here’s what I have learned and I want you to have it:
- Think big and be goal-oriented. Have a crystal clear vision about what you want to achieve. And work towards it each day, every day.
- Give it time. You won’t conquer the mountain in a day. Work towards it. The man on the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.
- It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out from the start. Life is a journey. Keep discovering. And keep learning.
- Aim for progress, not perfection. Move forward and the path becomes clearer with each step you take and your goal would be so much more closer.
- Ensure that you do at least 1 thing every day towards achieving your goal. One step at a time. These all add up. In a year, you would have done 365 things towards your goal.
- Have a lifestyle that embraces personal development. There is no ceiling to personal growth and you can always better yourself. Keep trying.
To those who work full-time and are studying alongside, please know that this hustle, the hard work you are putting in is not for vain. It is all adding up that would sum up into the amazing future you want. Be positive. Stay motivated.
“It won’t be easy. But, it would be worth it, I promise!”
Now, It’s Your Turn!
Did you find the inspiration you were looking for? What impacted you the most?
Tell us in the comments. And share it with someone who needs to hear this motivating story.