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13 Jul 2016 00:00
Nonkululeko Gobodo teaches on the importance of leaving a legacy and always keeping the next dream in mind.
You could call her the Thuli Madonsela of the private sector.
Nonkululeko Gobodo laughs at the
suggestion but her outspokenness
on the country’s leadership crisis and
the disease of corruption has been as
scathing as any verdict delivered by
the outgoing public protector.
Her criticism is not borne out of
despair but rather an unsinkable will
to make South Africa work.
Gobodo’s assistant had initially
expressed concern about the unexpected presence of cameras this
week when the Mail & Guardian
visited Gobodo at her new offices,
but she is perfectly at ease from the
word go. She even giggles a few times
as we discuss some of the tragicomic
aspects of the South African sociopolitical landscape, such as the tide of
racial slurs that have been exposed
on social media and the growing
defiance of young South Africans.
“They’re a different kettle of fish,”
Gobodo says, chuckling in the way
parents do when they have been
exasperated by their audacious offspring, but also can’t help admiring
There are key themes that emerge
when talking to her: the importance
of leaving a legacy and always keeping the next dream in mind.
factors contribute to what Gobodo
has always been passionate about
– economic transformation and
Our 90-minute conversation covers
everything from timing to trusting
your intuition as an entrepreneur.
There is even one bombshell she
drops almost as an aside – one that
many might find hard to swallow.
“I always felt that God trapped me
into this accounting thing because
in the beginning I got exposed to
accounting and auditing … the part
that I didn’t quite enjoy was auditing. I enjoyed accounting.
“But as an entrepreneur your
adrenaline comes from establishing
something, you can establish anything. You don’t have to be passionate about it. It’s the entrepreneurial
spirit in you that is your passion
because it’s taking something from
an idea, [and] converting that into
This year, the 55-year-old launched
Nonkululeko Leadership Consulting
after retiring as chairperson of
SizweNtsalubaGobodo – the company she helped build into the biggest black-owned auditing firm in
South Africa after joining forces with
business giants Sango Ntsaluba and
former First Rand chief executive
“The thing that drove
me during those years [at
SizweNtsalubaGobodo] was the
developmental stuff … If I was not
raising leaders, I was not fulfilled,”
she says. “That made me realise this
is something I want to do to contribute to the development of South
Africa and Africa.”
Gobodo’s new offices in Parktown,
Johannesburg, are as well put-together as its chief executive, who is
dressed from head to toe in different
shades of brown. The overall impression is somewhat matronly without
being staid or standoffish. The office
walls are painted purple and some of
the furniture is grey, in keeping with
the company’s logo.
Consulting’s approach to its work
sounds equally considered. Together
with her two partners, Gobodo
devised a leadership plan that
focuses on three elements: corporate
culture, leadership effectiveness and
helping organisations to formulate
and execute a strategy.
“Fortunately, the three of us, we
come from practical leadership positions. We’ve been on the other side …
So, we thought, let’s bring our practical leadership experience with the
best practice that has been there and
come up with our own unique solutions,” Gobodo says.
“What we hear from our clients
is that we’ve come with something
fresh, it’s a breath of fresh air, you’ve
taken the fluff out of this because there’s so much investment in leadership but how much is the real
return on investment?
“So we came up with this integrated approach … that works so well
because people would focus on leadership and then wonder why strategy execution is suffering because
they haven’t focused on linking all of
those things. Or they would say: ‘OK,
culture is an issue. Let’s look at culture.’ But, because they are not integrating the three, things would still
The consultancy’s timing could
not have been more opportune. By
all appearances, the world has never
been in greater need of a makeover
when it comes to leadership. Gobodo
cites the Brexit phenomenon, where
Brits blindsided the establishment
by voting in favour of ditching the
Here at home the same could be
said of violent protests that erupted
in the capital city over the ANC’s
nominee for Tshwane mayor, Thoko
Didiza, not to mention the turbulence at state-owned enterprises
such as SAA and the SABC.
Furthermore, recent research by
consultancy firm PwC revealed that
80% of senior executives in Africa say
that their overall strategy is not well
But Gobodo agrees that it’s encouraging that leaders are stepping up to
admit that they need help. Both the
public and private sectors have come
knocking at their door.
“Things are changing. Globally
now we see the state of the world
and we realise we need leaders who
are able to lead in complex environments, to lead us through troubled
times because we can’t just give up
on the world, we can’t just give up on
the future of our children,” she concludes, adding: “I remember when
we established Gobodo Incorporated
in 1996 … and one day, we had
offices in Parktown on Empire, and
I walked into our boardroom and I
thought: ‘Wow, you were just an idea
in my head, and now you are here.’”
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