Kotobe spent about two years as financial manager and then financial director at Barloworld in Botswana, before returning to SA this year
Ayanda Kotobe is not a name everyone knows yet, but to those with an eye for talent, she is definitely one to keep watching.
Earlier in the week, City Press met up with the 32-year-old financial director of the international automotive electronics dealer, RS Components, at the company’s premises in Kyalami, Midrand, and discovered how she has come a long way from harbouring ambitions of being a mere chartered accountant (CA) to being one of the few black female financial directors in the country.
Born in Orlando West, Soweto, into a family of four siblings, but raised among seven children in the same household, Kotobe learnt early on in her life that options for her were limited.
She attended school at the nearby Mzamo Primary but it was her excellent academic performance before the age of eight that earned her a scholarship to a multiracial school in Crosby, Johannesburg, and that seemingly changed the course of her life.
“I remember it was my eighth birthday when I was taken to Laerskool Jim Fouche to start my Grade 4. I was just happy that I would be going to a new school with white people and that became my breakthrough,” she says.
After completing primary school, she received another scholarship and moved on to a school that specialised in mathematics and science.
“When I went to Metlife Raucall, it focused on kids from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and to get in you had to take an aptitude test which I took when I was in Grade 7. It was an amazing and well-funded school and was meant to equip kids with maths and science skills,” she says.
After matriculating from this school that is supported by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Kotobe enrolled at UJ for a Bachelor of Accounting degree, setting her on the road to becoming a chartered accountant – a story in itself.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer because of the things we saw on television, but in Grade 10 at Raucall we had a career day and one of the career presenters from [financial services firm] EY arrived late in a Porsche. I love fast cars and approached him and asked what he did and he explained to me that he was a chartered accountant,” Kotobe says, describing the defining moment that made her change her career choice.
At UJ, despite being generally a good academic performer, she did not meet the threshold for accounting courses, which would have allowed her to enrol in the honours programme specifically for chartered accounting.
“You have to keep a certain average to be able to go to the CA-stream honours and in my third year I dropped. I think I was just too busy and involved in too many extramural activities. I graduated but didn’t meet the required average, so the following year I had to do a conversion course before doing honours,” she says.
Having been partly funded by Deloitte in her undergraduate studies, she joined the company as a trainee accountant in 2010.
During her three-year stint at Deloitte in Johannesburg, she was exposed to and grew to love financial services, after having worked with the biggest banks in the country.
“I worked with pension funds, private equity, banks and sometimes Old Mutual and that gave me a good spread of exposure,” she says, adding that the company also presented her with an opportunity to spend four months at Deloitte in the US after she made the cut as one of the top-rated trainees.
Based in New York for the few months was another eye-opening experience and was also the year she was admitted as a CA, completing an important chapter in her life.
“Some of my colleagues stayed on to work in the US but for me it was not an option, as my mother was not well, so I returned and the company offered me a job as an audit manager,” she says.
Transitioning from trainee to managing people of her own age, and some older than her, was not easy and, tragically, during the same period her mother passed away and then her sister eight months later.
“I suffered emotionally but I never let it impact on my work. I was ranked top because I didn’t want to be that lady who crumbles under pressure.
“I was starting my career and building brand Ayanda and I have always been that determined,” she says.
After two years in the position, she was disenchanted with the work and, having discussed her career direction with her mentor, Anushuya Gounden, who is now group chief financial officer at Wesbank, she left Deloitte to join Barloworld Equipment as financial manager.
“Being at Barloworld was a big eye-opener because it was completely different from the audit firm. As I had no experience in the field, I had to earn my stripes in that male-dominated sector,” she says of the job she stayed at for two years before she was posted to Barloworld Botswana in 2017 as a country financial manager based in Gaborone.
Eight months later, she was promoted to be the country financial director and that is where she stayed until she returned to South Africa this year to join RS Components as its financial director.
When not crunching numbers in her workplace, Kotobe has several passions that also bring her joy.
“I love cars. My father was a part-time mechanic and I used to help him so I know more than how to change a car tyre,” she says, revealing she can also jump-start and even hot-wire a car.
Kotobe is an avid Orlando Pirates fan and also keeps up to date with current affairs.
“I’ve got FOMO [fear of missing out]. I never want to be in the dark about anything. From sport to politics,” she says.
Kotobe says her upbringing and her niece are what motivate her when she is feeling down and near to giving up.
“I know what it feels like to be poor and I am not going back there and that motivates me to work hard.
“Another thing that motivates me very much is my late sister’s daughter who looks up to me. She tells people about me but I feel like, if I fail, what story will she tell her friends. I cannot fail her,” she says.