Business

Winning Women: A finance giant who believes in Africa

2016-04-20 12:31

Driving into the Barloworld Equipment office park in Sandton, I feel like I’m in the bush – the lush wild grasses, indigenous trees, rocks and stones create an intrinsically African sensation.

That is reflected in the heart of its executive director of finance, Anushuya Gounden.

She speaks from knowledge gained over five years of working in countries as far afield as Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Nigeria.

“Back then, I was Deloitte’s chief operating officer for east and central Africa, leading the integration of its Africa member firms,” says the tall, vivacious chartered accountant.

She was also serving as a partner in its financial institution services team.

Now, large pictures of massive earthmovers dominate her spacious, light and bright office. A model of one that’s almost too heavy to lift has pride of place on her coffee table. It’s clear we’re in major male territory.

Barloworld Equipment is the sole accredited dealer for CAT earthmover machines, power systems, and related mining and construction equipment across 10 southern African territories.

There have, until recently, been relatively few women in this masculine world, but when Gounden joined in March 2014, she set out to change that demographic.

“I said that we needed to find more women, especially young black ones, and I drove the process with my team.”

When there’s a discussion about a new female appointment and questions arise about her suitability for a particular environment, Gounden manages the conversation firmly.

“I set the example by going to mines in my jeans, safety boots and hard hat. That sets the tone.”

She reels off the names of women she and her male-dominated team have placed as financial managers in Namibia, Zambia and Kathu in the Northern Cape.

She has also made a point of looking for chartered accountancy talent in other African countries, and she recently imported someone from Botswana.

Last year, Gounden was named by Global Finance magazine as one of the 31 most influential, creative and powerful people in business and financial communities in Africa.

“I was humbled because, as a Pan-African, it means a great deal to me,” she says.

Gounden grew up in a close-knit family and community in Reservoir Hills, Durban.

Her father, who owned a shop there, noted how intelligent his daughter was “and pushed me to be independent, well educated and capable”.

Her mother, a nurse who ended up in the pharmaceutical industry, also worked throughout Africa, “and was passionate about education. I come from a matriarchal background.”

Instead of attending university in Durban, Gounden, who found maths and accounting easy at school but dreamt of becoming a lawyer, went to the University of Pretoria.

“I was keen to break out, to mix in different circles, and this I certainly achieved at Tukkies,” she says. “There were few Indians there in the 1990s.”

Deloitte had awarded the determined young woman a bursary and she ended up working for them for 15 years, becoming a partner at the age of 28 in 2006.

She was made Deloitte’s chief operating officer for east and central Africa, and led the integration of its Africa member firms. At the time, the resentment stemming from the perception that South Africa was the “America of Africa” meant that an Indian could blend more seamlessly into other continental cultures.

“We tend to forget how diverse South Africa is and how well different cultures get along here,” says Gounden.

She has made a point in her career of giving back to her country.

In 1999, she co-founded the Siyakhula programme at Deloitte, which provides an accounting education to underprivileged matriculants. She is also a former board member of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of SA.

The hard-working financial director, who used to be teased for being a workaholic, says she is managing her life “more holistically today. I love cooking; reading recipe books is a passion.”

She goes to gym regularly and travels “to one new place every year. Cuba is on my list. So are the churches of Ethiopia and the library at Timbuktu.”

Clearly, Africa is embedded in her being.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Business tip: Be unrealistic in your self-expectations and you will achieve beyond what you think you are capable of. 

Mentor: I have had many, and the ones who questioned me endlessly were the best.

Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, because it’s about the need to constantly evolve.

Inspiration: Our democracy. It gave me the opportunity for a completely different life from that under apartheid.

Wow! moment: The day I was told that my thyroid cancer was in remission.

Life lesson: Being good enough has never been good enough for me. I always try to be better.

September 15 2019