The 2017 winners of SAICA’s Top 35-under-35 competition are proving their mettle with leadership styles that makes a difference

The SAICA Top 35-under-35 competition, launched in 2014, is exclusive to young CA(SA) members under the age of 35. It has proven to be a huge success in recognising and showcasing young CAs(SA) who are not only achieving extraordinary results in their professional capacity but also having an immense impact on society.

After receiving hundreds of applications and nominations – both nationally and internationally – the list was narrowed down to just the 35 outstanding finalists who each boast remarkable portfolios of significant success for their age. These young achievers have displayed leadership, personal determination and drive in their journey.

The competition was sponsored by Investec, PPS and Syspro – organisations that appreciate the value of the competition as a platform to recognise young CAs(SA), both nationally and internationally, who are bringing about an important contribution to the economy of SA.

With a panel of prestigious judges, each finalist was interviewed and an overall winner was selected, along with three category – entrepreneur, corporate and academia– winners. This year, the overall and corporate category winner of the SAICA Top 35-under-35 competition was James Wilkinson.

James Wilkinson is an all-rounder. He’s a determined young CA(SA) yet remains humble and leads his team with a style that has earned him much respect at Distell. With his technical expertise equally matching his innovative and creative flair, Wilkinson embraces all the qualities of an overall winner.

Business is in his blood. As a school boy, Wilkinson was already conducting deals with high-end car dealerships by renting out parts of the rugby field on his school’s open day. At university, Wilkinson did something similar and turned the SRC from a cost-centre into a prosperous business by leasing the plaza to corporates during orientation week – the profits went towards a good student cause.

‘Additionally, we operate some specialist capabilities, manage and deliver multiple projects, and provide commercial decision support to various business functions. These include mergers and acquisitions, group marketing, the CFO, as well as business partnering to our Africa business unit.

‘Some in the business think of us as a kind of internal consultancy – we think of ourselves as occupying those spaces between the typical business silos and helping to innovate and create value through the unexpected,’ he says.

The business improvement team went live with a first-of-its-type centralised procurement shared service centre, which operates dynamic new capabilities, including reverse auctions. For a business such as Distell, with in excess of R9 billion of procurement from more than 6 300 suppliers, taking on the mammoth task of simultaneously redesigning their indirect and marketing procurement processes and mitigating to a shared service operating model has been a huge and exciting highlight for Wilkinson and his team.

Furthermore, Wilkinson’s team launched the E+Scalator programme, which supports rapid incubation and acceleration of black-owned businesses in their supply chain. The programme works with more than 40 Distell suppliers to drive transformation and create new jobs. Meanwhile, 33 Degree Energy Systems is an associated start-up company launched by his department that delivers group power solutions.

Besides that, Wilkinson was also a guest speaker at the first Business of Design Conference in Cape Town and has worked as a start-up coach.

Francois Herbst, an experienced serial entrepreneur, is the founder and MD of business advisory and consulting firm House of Growth. He is extremely skilled in leveraging strong entrepreneurial expertise in corporate and financial transactions while pioneering, establishing and directing start-up companies and investment projects.

To date, Herbst has secured R40 million in investment capital to finance start-up companies and investment projects. ‘As a business consultant for small and medium enterprises, I assist numerous entrepreneurs with the design and implementation of their financial structures, as well as their strategic planning. I see first-hand the growth of these individuals and their businesses,’ he says.

‘I’m fortunate to find myself in an environment where I keep on learning, keep on challenging myself, and keep on growing as an individual and professional. To achieve this has been one of my career highlights,’ says Herbst.

Where he really caught the attention of the judges is the way in which he has been instrumental in initiating and establishing Shift-The-Frame – a community upliftment project. The Hermanus-based initiative teaches carpentry skills to unemployed people. The SETA-accredited programme provides practical skills as well as mentorship. Herbst actively mentors, motivates and coaches students in order to promote entrepreneurship, personal growth and self-worth.

He’s resilient and motivated by challenges – and once Ayanda Kanana has set his mind on a goal, he makes it happen. ‘My journey in the public sector began in 2010 when I became a member of Municipal Owned Entities’ audit committees. I joined the SAICA programme that placed CAs(SA) in FET colleges in 2012. Soon after, I joined the Johannes-burg Metropolitan Municipality to strengthen corporate governance in the municipality group.

‘While in that role, it became much clearer to me that the private sector has a bigger role to play in transferring rare skills to the public sector. Why is it that the public sector can have such glaring financial and governance weaknesses when we can attract skills from private to the public sector and change the landscape?’

Ayanda joined the group governance department as the director responsible for governance in the city’s municipal entities. The role was central to his objectives as he was responsible for guiding board members on governance, and to support shareholders by ensuring their mandate was carried through.

In 2017, Ayanda was seconded to the Metro Trading Company as a managing executive of the broadband company – another demonstration by the municipality of its confidence in his abilities to stabilise and lead the entity with good governance principles. Today, Ayanda is the newly appointed CEO of the largest fresh produce market in the country. This is testament to his hard work and dedication, as well as support from leadership.

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