This ambitious Congolese, travelled to South Africa became a CA & later quit his secure Big 4 job to join a tech co.
- Meet Timothy Kiluba who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country rife with political instability and wars over the last 25 years.
- After school he started a degree in Information Technology at a local college, however, later moved to South Africa to study further and changed courses to pursue the CA(SA) designation.
- A few years after qualifying and working at KPMG, an opportunity presented itself at Uber.
- Although family and colleagues encouraged him to remain at KPMG and rise to the rank of partner, he decided to take a leap of faith and seize the opportunity at Uber.
- This is his story.
From Congo to South Africa
I was born in Lubumbashi, a southeastern city in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Congo has experienced significant political instability and wars over the last 25 years. This has resulted in economic stagnation. Most parents have no choice but to send their children outside of the country to further their education.
My parents sent me to boarding school in Zambia where I completed my primary and secondary school education. I would go back home for holidays after each term.
I moved back to Congo after completing my secondary school education. During this time, I enrolled in an information technology degree at a local college. However, before completing the degree, I moved to South Africa to seek further opportunities.
From an incomplete Information Technology degree to CA(SA)
As an immigrant in South Africa in 2006, I had to identify a career path that made me competitive locally and relevant internationally.
In South Africa at the time, chartered accountants and actuaries were scarce resources. In the end, at 23 years old, I chose to pursue the chartered accountant qualification due to its flexibility.
My family initially wanted me to complete my IT degree but were quick to support me the moment I informed them that I would rather pursue a Chartered Accountant qualification.
I applied at the University of the Witwatersrand (‘Wits’) for a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree in late 2006.
To meet the admission requirements, I needed to complete 4 A level subjects or sit for the South African Matriculation examination. I chose the latter.
In 2007, I sat for the matriculation examination and I passed with distinction. I started my first year of the Bachelor of Accounting Science at Wits in 2008 and completed the degree in record time by 2010.
At university, I found the auditing modules to be challenging; however, I focused on achieving my qualification and pushed through by keeping the end goal in mind: to qualify as a Chartered Accountant.
In 2011, I completed a higher diploma in accountancy (CTA) - it was challenging but my family was my biggest support system.
Although I did not apply for a bursary, I received the University Council Entrance Scholarship (awarded to students with distinctions).
Needless to say, my entire journey has been challenging and I had to prove myself every single time, fortunately it was all paying off!
From academics to the corporate world
In 2012, I started my articles with KPMG.
The first year was challenging and it took quite a lot to adjust to working life.
With patience and grit, I was able to adapt and excel in the second and third years of my articles. During this time, I passed both board examinations on my first attempt...I was now a Chartered Accountant, a dream come true.
After completing my articles, I made a choice to remain at KPMG, to get managerial experience before moving on, however, I knew I did not want to continue with external auditing.
What next? I had a choice between taxation, internal auditing and risk consulting - I opted for risk consulting! (I had an interest in forensic auditing and I was attracted by the opportunity to travel the continent for work.)
I am glad that I made that decision as I had the opportunity to work with Dean Friedman (a Director at KPMG) who mentored me and provided invaluable guidance.
The CA career path has allowed me to redefine my career path as I progressed.
From a secure position in a Big 4 Audit firm to an undefined role
In 2017, I was contacted by a hiring manager at Uber via LinkedIn. (Until then I was unaware of Uber’s global scale.)
The business had just created a new operations manager role with a focus on building strategy and implementing controls to curb driver and rider fraud and improve driver compliance, quality and safety on the platform. The role covered Sub-Saharan Africa (‘SSA’). It would give me an opportunity to define the role.
To add, I always had a passion for technology, and working at a Tech company appealed to me. (Little did I know that the IT training that I received in Congo would come in handy when I would join Uber years later.)
I discussed the move with all of the directors in my department at KPMG, they all thought I was forgoing great career potential with KPMG. My wife thought the same. However, we agreed to try Uber out for a year.
Pros and cons I considered before leaving my secure job at KPMG
- Exposure: You are exposed to more than your role description. You pretty much define your experience. Fortunately, the company strives to make Uber the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.
- Freedom: You work with very limited supervision and are expected to make decisions
- Innovation: You are allowed to innovate and help make an impact in the lives of locals by creating products that change the face of transport
- Salary may be lower than in established businesses
- The workload is heavier and you are expected to work long hours
The risk paid off!
When I started at Uber in 2017 the team was growing, more and more people in local cities joined to help grow the business.
Whilst at KPMG, I focused mainly on identifying issues and providing recommendations, at Uber, I go a step further in executing on the recommended strategy.
Uber provided further opportunities for me to travel the continent, and I was attracted by this opportunity to meet and work with a diverse group of innovative and competent people across SSA.
It challenges me to think differently and stretches me to new heights. I also loved how a global company had the ability to adapt quickly to local countries' needs.
Through their various networks, the app offers access to leadership, professional development, and peer mentoring programs Uber strives to work towards equal opportunities and inclusion through its employee culture and policies.
In a few years, I was the New Models Lead Operations Manager for SSA where I am responsible for formulating the strategy and managing the launch of new business models, which include delivery options, among others. This also requires a focus on scaling new products by building strategic partnerships while developing effective risk management strategies.
Working at Uber has taught me that adaptation is key for business and leadership survival.
Through my journey, I have learned that one can achieve anything they set their mind to. This has helped me set clear incrementally staggered objectives and clearly identified steps to achieve this. It has helped me along the way to pick up new skills.
Setbacks and or crises are an inevitable part of human life. We can either learn from them or decide to let them define us.
Understanding the reasons that led to a setback/crisis helps one rise above it and prepare oneself to better handle it. It takes preparedness to identify and take advantage of opportunities that may arise from crises.
I have endeavoured to live my life with the following motto: “Whatever you find to do, do it with all your heart.” If anything has any worth, then it deserves my undivided heart
I believe that Africa’s potential remains largely untapped. There are immense opportunities for innovative individuals and companies to play a transformative role using technology to solve our continent’s biggest challenges.
As African youth, we need not wait for governments to create the necessary conditions for development, we should rather begin to build the necessary ecosystems while actively engaging governments for the required reforms.
Timothy Kiluba is a Chartered Accountant (SA) with extensive and diverse experience in business operations, geographic expansion and product launches. He is passionate about the African continent and its untapped potential.
Now It's Your Turn...
Would you ever quit a secure big 4 job to join a startup? Comment and let us know.
(Articles edited by Catherine Edmunds and image by Ankit Lodhi)