A guiding hand

BBQ Iqhawe Mentorship Award winner Simphiwe Ntlantsana

The transition from school to the workplace is one that often finds even the most distinguished graduate at odds with the realities of stepping into an unfamiliar environment. For this reason, mentorship and mentorship programmes are becoming more popular in this transition.

The 2014 BBQ Awards that took place at Emperors Palace in Joburg saw a number of esteemed delegates gather for a celebration of African proportions. The Iqhawe Mentorship Award celebrated and honoured those who have, through their ventures, advanced mentorship in a South African context. Taking home the prize in this category was Simphiwe Ntlantsana from Ntlantsana Accountants and Auditors.

Born in Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape, a town just outside Mthatha, Ntlantsana describes himself as a family man. He is married to Ntombentsha Gidi-Ntlantsana and they have two children, a daughter, Sinovuyo, and son, Athayanda. “I attended school at Imbasa Primary School in Old Crossroads, Cape Town and later joined Dr Nelson Mandela High School. After matric, with the great assistance and mentorship of Ms Hilary Ackerman, I went to study at what is now known as Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and then went to the University of the Western Cape in 2006 for a Certificate in Forensic Examination. I recently obtained my Management Development Programme from the University of Stellenbosch (USB),” he says.

Initially enrolling at Woolworths head office in Cape Town as audit student, Ntlantsana soon found himself joining the ranks of the Western Cape Provincial Government where he served under the leadership of Ebrahim Rasool. “I learnt a lot from my previous work experience: management skills, forensic investigations, risk management, human resource, and many more. I also learnt how to work in both the private and public sector and have a lot of mentors in both industries who really made a significant impact in my life,” he says.

Ntlantsana says growing up in the Black Management Forum (BMF) under the leadership of people like advocate Mbulelo Bikwani, Joe Mwase, Nadia Mason and Jimmy Manyi, he was always inspired by the style of the organisation. It was soon after that he realised his days of being an employee were numbered. “I needed my space and freedom. I was not okay with the bureaucracy and the way things were done in corporate, hence I decided to go and pursue my dream of owning my own accounting firm,” he says.

When it comes to the important topic of mentorship, Ntlantsana says in his opinion, good mentorship is all about the passion and love of sharing and imparting skills, knowledge and experience with young people in their communities. Looking specifically at accounting, he says one needs to bear in mind that this is indeed a scarce profession in South Africa.

“After school, young people need to be taken on a journey of practically learning about the theory they received in tertiary institutions. Mentorship is also a good skill for community building, if one lacks the spirit of community building, then mentorship is missing. I have a great passion and love of sharing what I have learnt throughout my life with young people who are willing to be moulded and sharpened for the future.

“Lastly, mentorship is a process of growing; it needs to be an ongoing process, as it needs to be revived on an ongoing basis. Imparting knowledge is not a once-off activity; hence I also still have my different mentors on board to keep me going,” he says.

Ntlantsana stresses that mentorship is critical for young, aspiring entrepreneurs and that one needs to be guided when running a company. According to him you might have the finances, but without mentorship there will be huge risks in terms of either the business collapsing, personal strain, as well as other unwanted outcomes along the way.

“One needs to have a source of motivation, network that one need to always revisit when facing challenges. I always say to my team, entrepreneurship is a religion, it is because, in every religion, there is God the Almighty. So if you are in the entrepreneurship religion, one will know, respect and acknowledge The Almighty God, because without God, an entrepreneur is doomed to fail. There are a lot of challenges in the field of entrepreneurs, one needs to be always ready to face the challenges in order to survive,” he says.

In the world of mentorship, individual mentorship often takes preference over team mentorship. As Ntlantsana explains, the challenge with team mentoring is that is a lot of work dealing with a diverse group of people. He says as a mentor, one needs to always look out for what is not seen by others and understand people quickly in order to adjust oneself in the process. He however says that he enjoys working with the diverse and dynamic youth of our country.

“The youth is awesome. Most of them come to dig for knowledge and experience, putting aside the money expectations. I must say, these are the ones who end up with a lot of learning. We are also facing the challenge of the youth being pressured by parents to get quick financial solutions after studies. This is always a major challenge,” he says.

Currently, Ntlantsana’s company has a mentorship programme which has been active since 2010. Working predominantly with the CPUT, they have established a good relationship where accounting and management students are taken on in an internship programme. He says the reason for this is clear, since they are growing an accounting firm of choice and company destined for great success. He says the implementation of the internship programme is not only aimed at the development of the company, but also contributes to the community.

“We play a role in turning around our youth, converting theoretical knowledge into practical experience. We assist them in making mistakes, learning from the mistakes, corporate expectations in a work place; as a result our youth are good and have a professional touch. We respect and honour our clients and the community and make them feel welcomed and respected as we need them to survive in our journey,” he says.

Reflecting on his own mentors and what he learnt from them, Ntlantsana starts by naming a host of people ranging from lecturers to friends who have broadened his views on culture, tradition and politics. “I consider many people to have contributed to my entrepreneurship journey and general life experience. Out of all my mentors, I had learnt that I need to have confidence, believe in myself, and just pursue my dreams and goals, no matter what is the situation or circumstances,” he says.

Ntlantsana remains convinced that mentorship has made him a better and improved individual, working with people who really showed him that one needs to share with others as outlined by the principles of Ubuntu. “Sharing what you have no matter the size of what you have. These are my mother’s words when we were growing up, and I find it true and relevant that when one for instance shares some food, the food gets so much tastier than when we’re eating it alone.

“I am an entrepreneur today, but I opened my company for other people whom I do not even know - strangers. However, in our culture, you are expected to treat human beings with the same respect as the people you know. I am what I am today because of my company, my community and our clients,” he says.

When asked about best practices in mentoring, Ntlantsana says it is a relationship between two or more people with a clear and common objective to be achieved, based on common and mutual respect, honesty and integrity. According to him, mentorship should be fun and full of excitement, however, firm and strict on timeframes, reaching objectives, and milestones.

In his opinion, the mentor and mentee also need to adhere to the mentorship programme in place, tasks need to be completed, monitored and also measured at all times. “I always say to my mentees, one need to start somewhere and be able to look back and say, ‘wow, I have done it’ and to be able to graduate from one task to another.“

Looking at the benefits mentorship has for companies, Ntlantsana says when speaking from his own company’s experience, the benefits are that you get the youth while they still have fresh minds, and ideas from the tertiary institution. According to him, in the field of accounting, statutes and laws change frequently, hence there is a need for new mentees to come on board and assist.

Ntlantsana says in his opinion, when it comes to what he believes the most important ethics and values are one needs in business, one needs to be a community role player, good person and be able to practice good ethical conduct at all times regardless of the circumstances.

“Remember, you are an entrepreneur, a lot is expected out of you by your community and other stakeholders. The following are some of the aspects needed at all time: good business ethics, love of people (Ubuntu), dealing with people, honesty, integrity, customer service, Bantu Pele principles and many more. One needs to be an outgoing person, open minded to ideas and views from different people at all times, selflessness and a leader,” he says.

Comparing the need for accounting services in the private sector to that of the public sector, Ntlantsana starts by acknowledging that in our country, it is true and evident that we still lack good accountants and accounting services. He says our youth are not given opportunities in accounting and end up working in the retail industry and not doing what they studied for.

He says according to the auditor general, we need accounting skills in our country as the adverse audit reports from the national, provincial and local municipalities are not painting a good picture for our government. “We need many black accountants who will add significant value in our government, and these young people need good mentoring and coaching from our own experienced individuals. We need chief executive officers and chief financial officers from the black community in order to assist our government.”

Many companies are deterred from implementing mentorship programmes, yet the argument could be posed whether this shouldn’t be weighed against the high cost of employee turnover to determine the benefits of coaching and mentoring. Ntlantsana certainly agrees and says that because coaching and mentorship is a great experience, it affords a company to access good young individuals, whom it may grow with and later on absorb in the company.

“It is always a great experience to have people who understand the company style and vision, and these in my opinion may become good partners of the company in a long run. In an accounting environment, just like law firms, there is a possibility of attracting good partners from the coaching and mentorship programmes if it is implemented with a great objectives,” he says.

Ntlantsana concludes by saying that companies need to open their doors to our youth, be able to welcome and mentor them appropriately. “This may really assist in terms of the unemployment we are experiencing in our country.

“Mentorship is a great tool which may be used when companies do their recruitment and selection, instead of just recruiting strangers that they know little or no information about. Through mentorship, the youth grows with the company and learn a lot in terms of the company vision and mission, not forgetting aspects such as corporate culture of the company.”


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