Interview with Noma Ashom, new CEO of post-merger RSM South Africa

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Interview with Noma Ashom, new CEO of post-merger RSM South Africa

Jan 27, 2024 | Interviews, Strategy & Leadership

In August 2023, RSM South Africa firms in Johannesburg and Cape Town merged with Ngubane Johannesburg. The merged firm is now known as RSM South Africa. Former Ngubane CEO Noma Ashom was appointed the CEO of the merged entity.

Noma spoke exclusively to Financial Minds Magazine about the reasons for the merger, how the process has been thus far and what they hope to achieve as an amalgamated entity. She also shared some of her favorite things for us to get to know her better.

Why was this merger necessary?

From the RSM South Africa point of view, the slow pace of transformation was impeding growth while from Ngubane’s side, we were lacking a clear avenue to access regional and international markets.  Also, at Ngubane, we wanted to expose our staff to more than just the public sector. Furthermore, the world is becoming smaller as a result of globalization and digitization of processes. The merger of our firms is part of that futuristic evolution.

There were many other firms that Ngubane could have merged with, why did you settle on RSM South Africa?

I liked the honesty with which they approached the question of transformation. The other firms gave us the standard answer; that it is difficult for them to retain black talent because black accountants get better monetary offers in the market. RSM SA was more upfront about the need to enhance their transformation efforts at leadership level. Moreover, both parties were willing to build a new leadership team that is aligned to the markets we seek to serve and incorporates the skills of both parties.

What were your fears going into the merger?

There were no fears, rather, ‘realities’. I was realistic about it not being easy. Historically, RSM South Africa has never been led by a woman or by a black person so having a black woman at the helm would understandably take getting used to. I was also aware that no merger goes without some internal integration issues.

Has the merger been more difficult than you thought it would be?

It has been challenging. Our biggest challenges have been diversity, inclusion and cultural differences. In order to align the two South African firms into one merged firm, we had to relook the systems and processes to ensure that they are fit for purpose given the growth agenda and to make sure the structures are effective for us to service the merged firm clients and its combined workforce. Our goal was to focus on synergy realizations and integration management within the first year to free ourselves to address the growth agenda. Transformation takes time and so it cannot be rushed. However, if you take too long, things will fall apart.

What steps did you take to prepare yourself for the merger?

I did a lot of self-reflection to understand what I am good at and what I struggle with and sought assistance to deal with the latter. This came from within the RSM network as well as externally. We had the Africa regional conference prior to the merger, and I established some connections there that have proven worthwhile. The CEO of RSM Mozambique, Paulo Lopes, who was recommended to me by Dr Robert Coles (Global Chief Culture and Transformation Officer), has become one of my mentors given that he has had experience with mergers. I also called in Dr. Robert Coles who has also assisted us with our integration challenges. The CEO of RSM International Jean Stephens and current chairman of RSM South Africa Brian Eaton have also been valuable sounding boards. Finally, my MBA studies also provided me with some academic insights that have guided my leadership of this process.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

As South African chartered accountants we get specialist training which in my view is insufficient for executive positions. I did the MBA because I felt that there were certain things on an executive level I needed to be educated on. I needed more training on how to manage things internally and further guidance on seeing the bigger picture in order to piece things together. I chose Henley because their schedule suited me as a young mother and wife. My thesis (the impact of leadership in driving digital transformation on South African mid-tier auditing) is aligned to the RSM 2030 strategy which emphasizes the planned and ongoing work to build our global technological infrastructure to achieve our strategic goals. Apart from the thesis, the coursework was informative as regards channeling people’s energies to the right areas and the strategy lessons helped me put together a model for the merger.

What is your leadership style?

I find that leadership styles change based on what your organization needs, however we all have core values that drive our individual style. My leadership style is blended on empathy and coaching.  I do not see the worst in people and always try and put myself in their shoes. Often times, people tend to mistake quietness and a sense of empathy for weakness. I am first to admit that I don’t know everything and willingly ask when I need help. I believe “success is not a destination”, it is a journey. As you move up the ranks, you realize that people are at the center of everything. Employees will stay with you because of the human experience. Leaders need to be sensitive to their employee experiences and not believe their own hype.

How is Noma as a leader? (Question posed to Dipuo Mbhele)

I have worked with Noma for over five years. Prior to working in the marketing and human resources departments, I was her personal assistant. She is always uplifting people; she carries us as she goes along. As she reaches new heights, she ensures that we are also rising with her. She is quite passionate about upskilling staff from an academic point of view and is focused on helping us find the path where we belong. She does not wear the CEO badge on her sleeve and relates with everyone respectfully from her fellow partners all the way down to the cleaners. She is very ambitious to the point that she scares me, but she is also not afraid to take criticism. She is open to new ideas; when you pitch them to her, she encourages you to fine-tune them then come and pitch them again.

Noma’s favourites

Movie – Notting Hill. I watch it mostly when I am feeling down. It is a feel-good movie.

Book – Fiction book – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie and for non-fiction – Betting on a Darkie by Mteto Nyati.

Restaurant – Les Creatifs in Hobart Grove followed closely by Signature in Morningside.

Meal – In winter it is lamb stew and sea food in the summer. I love wine particularly Paul Cluver’s Riesling and Malanot’s Malbec.

App – My phone gallery which stores a lot of photos. Photos evoke emotions.

Car – I live quite far from the office and so I drive the fuel-efficient Kia Sonet. It is unassuming and great for the city. I would love to drive a Maybach SUV but I have bigger priorities right now than an expensive car.

Hobby – I read a lot and I also travel whenever I can to the beach, the mountains or the Kruger.

Holiday destination – The Kruger National Park because your phone doesn’t work there and there are no streetlights. You can see the moon and the stars, take in all smells and hear all sounds. As an extroverted introvert, being at the Kruger helps me come back to myself.

 

 

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