CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

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CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

Jun 23, 2024 | Interviews, Strategy & Leadership

When Ncumisa Saba-Mkunqwana fell pregnant in the second year of her articles at Deloitte in Gqeberha, she was determined not to let that halt her career. Committed to provide for her unborn child, she focused on crafting solutions rather than being fixated on the situation.

‘My son was born in June 2008 and I needed to make sacrifices to have the 18-month work experience required to write the second part of the board exams in November that year. Instead of taking four months maternity leave, I only took two. My mother took care of my son when I went back to work and study. When the results came and I had passed, I cried tears of joy because my sacrifices were not for nothing,’ Ncumisa says.

This experience taught her to be solutions driven and to never let challenges drive her from realising her dreams. She credits resilience and the support of her then employer with seeing her through the situation.

‘Deloitte put me on audit assignments closer to home which permitted me to visit my son on weekends. The support of my mother was also invaluable because she stood in after my unfortunate experience with a nanny did not work out,’ she recalls.

Ncumisa means ‘the one who made us smile’. Her mother chose her name after discovering she had given birth to a girl following the birth of three boys.

‘My mum was a teacher who had side hustles to make money to raise her five kids. Besides farming maize and rearing cattle, she had taxis that would ply routes in and around Mputi Location in the Eastern Cape where we grew up. When the taxis would come home in the evening, I would help her count the money and this is where my interest in commerce was born,’ Ncumisa explains.

Excellence

Ncumisa was a top student in primary school and was admitted to Clarendon High School for Girls in 1998. Her excellent results persisted and she got admitted to the then University of Port Elizabeth (now Nelson Mandela University) with a scholarship from Deloitte. After her training contract, she spent a year as an audit manager at Deloitte before joining General Motors South Africa (GM) in Gqeberha as a general accounting coordinator.

‘It was at GM where I developed love for taxation which led me to study for a Masters in Taxation in 2018. I also enjoyed dealing with aspects of quality and compliance which are the areas that I was looking to work in when I left the company. Because I had a small child at home, I did not want a job that would require me to travel and this is how I ended up taking the position of an audit quality control specialist at the Auditor General in 2013,’ Ncumisa explains.

At the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA), Ncumisa rose through the ranks in a stint that lasted close to a decade. She was appointed senior manager in 2018 where she continued to enhance audit quality through rigorous compliance monitoring, corrective action reporting, and conducting awareness sessions. In 2021, she became the Acting Business Unit Leader for Quality Control. Her most recent role, Business Unit Leader for the Quality Management Business Unit, spanned from June 2022 to February 2023, where she led initiatives to ensure high standards in audit quality and compliance at the firm level.

‘I left after successfully overseeing the implementation of the new International Standards on Quality Management. I felt that I had reached my ceiling because further promotion within AGSA would have meant that my work would be more managerial and administrative rather than getting involved in actual quality control work which I enjoyed,’ she explains.

Joining Chapu

‘Joining Chapu was also exciting because as a young audit firm, I have the opportunity to scale the knowledge gained in quality control and be innovative within the parameters of the quality management standards. I love a challenge and I felt that the experience gained at AGSA had equipped me to take on new challenges, especially in the entrepreneurial space where I would then be able to fully utilise the business aspects my mother instilled in me. Besides that, I am a firm believer in coaching and mentorship which is much needed in my current role as many of our trainees are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds,’ she adds.

Ncumisa started off as Quality Assurance Director at Chapu Chartered Accountants in March 2023 and was promoted to Chief Executive a year later. Chapu is the brainchild of its chairman Rhangani Mbhalati, who Ncumisa met at university and was a colleague at AGSA. The firm’s growth has been remarkable, now employing over 50 permanent staff with offices in five provinces.

‘Our success is built on being firm on ethics as our overarching principle. We see problems as an opportunity to showcase our expertise to our clients and we pride ourselves on our responsiveness. Delivering quality service promptly has led to many referrals. We also have a policy of self-improvement at both an individual and corporate level,’ Ncumisa says.

In her new leadership position, Ncumisa reads broadly for knowledge and inspiration. Among her most notable reads is Atomic Habits by James Clear, a comprehensive, practical guide on how to change your habits and get 1% better every day.

‘It is an easy book to apply in both my work setting and personal space. Another book that really inspired me is Becoming by Michelle Obama. I love that it encourages introverts like myself to find the power in our voice, to improve and define ourselves lest somebody else does it for us. Michelle Obama’s own story is quite inspirational as it demonstrates that you can work hard and push limits to achieve success,’ Ncumisa states.

Self-doubt and resilience

Locally, Ncumisa is inspired by South Africa’s first-female chartered accountant Nonkululeko Gobodo whose story is captured in the autobiography Awakened to my true self. Like Ncumisa, Nonkululeko comes from the Eastern Cape and also faced the challenge of dealing with pregnancy early in her career.

‘Lessons in the book that resonated with me include dealing with issues of self-doubt and being resilient in the most difficult moments. Nonkululeko was very transparent about her business failures running an audit firm and she shares lessons that will be helpful for me at the helm of Chapu CA. I am appreciative for her vulnerability in detailing the challenges of balancing parenting, running a practice and marriage which is a space I currently find myself in,’ Ncumisa explains.

She goes on to express her gratitude for her husband’s support during her career transitions and his understanding of the demands associated with her current role. Although she doesn’t follow any sports club competitions, she has a strong interest in World Cup tournaments, particularly rugby, football, and cricket. She watches nearly every match in these contests, captivated by the mental strength, resilience, and tenacity required of the athletes—qualities that are also essential for running a successful business.

To test her own character and mental fortitude, Ncumisa runs frequently. The 32-kilometre monster race in Pretoria is a feather in her cap that she wears proudly.

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