Excellence, inspiration and pride were the order of the night as a number of exceptional students walked across the Aula stage to collect their certificates at the recent annual Financial Sciences Awards.
Hosted by the departments of Accounting, Auditing, Financial Management and Taxation in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), these awards recognise the academic excellence of students in these programmes across undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The awards, which took place at the Aula on the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Hatfield Campus, were attended by EMS management, heads of departments, lecturers, industry partner representatives and sponsors and representatives of the main event sponsors, PwC and Ernst & Young (EY), as well as the award recipients.
In her welcome address, Professor Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu, Dean of the Faculty of EMS, congratulated the students and hailed the academic staff in the financial sciences for contributing to the students’ exceptional accomplishments and achievements. She highlighted that the departments in the financial sciences play a key role in the successes and achievements within the Faculty of EMS. These include the Faculty retaining its position among the top 101-150 globally in the Accounting and Finance subject areas in the latest international QS World Subject Rankings, in which UP is first in South Africa in these subject areas. She expressed her pride over the exceptional performance of the Faculty’s students in the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Initial Test of Competency (ITC).
“I am delighted to share that our CA programme students achieved a remarkable 100% pass rate, with three individuals earning a place in the top ten rankings, including first place in the country. In addition to these students, UP has 10 candidates on SAICA’s Honours Roll for achieving 75% or more in the ITC,” she said.
Passing grains of inspiration and success tips to the prize recipients, UP alumnus Theodore De Jager delivered the keynote address at the awards ceremony. De Jager is a qualified Chartered Accountant (CA) and currently serves as the Managing Principal: Head of Audit for ABSA Group Limited. Reflecting on his career which spans almost two decades, he detailed how he never imagined the career success he has achieved to date.
“If you told me 25 years ago, when I matriculated, that I would be a Chartered Accountant today, I probably would have said yes, but if you told me that I would have a master’s degree in tax, working in internal audit, being an executive at one of the largest banks on the continent and be on the stage today, I would have probably said, not a chance,” he said.
De Jager, who has developed comprehensive skills in audit, risk management, project management, and corporate governance throughout his career, made courageous career choices that shaped the leader he is today. A few years after qualifying as a CA, a career that attracted him as a young Grade 4 learner, he made a switch to internal auditing. This transition is one he never imagined he would make, but “the change was nothing short of spectacular”. Although he had very little understanding of the job spec of his internal auditing role then, he said the transition was the best career decision he ever made.
He encouraged the achievers to be bold and pursue intimidating roles that will challenge their knowledge and skills, and also ascend them to greater heights.
“Something that I would strongly encourage you to do, is to go for that opportunity that stressed the hell out of you, go for that opportunity where you understand very little of what is being said in your job spec, go for those roles where you really have that leader that has the strong vision for the future. But just remember that at some point in your career, you have to become that leader that has a strong vision for the future. Become comfortable with the fact that you will never know everything, but be willing to ask. You have to be willing to learn and at least know who to ask if you don’t know something. Always be curious, and if something does not make sense, ask again until you understand it. Through this learning process, you ultimately build confidence so that you can walk into almost any job with the qualifications you have acquired,” he said.
De Jager is deeply passionate about leadership development and fostering healthy corporate cultures, while also cultivating high-performing teams. At the age of 31, he was entrusted with the role of director. While this role tested his abilities, it also posed significant challenges, not only making him an unpleasant colleague to work with but also presenting the most demanding years of his career to date.
“I was tough and not always nice to work with, and some of the most painful feedback that I ever got was when people said that I am not a good leader. I felt like my orbit was disturbed. I didn’t know what to do with this information, and it didn’t make sense,” reflected De Jager.
He recognises self-awareness as an important attribute every leader should have, as it shapes the type of leader you will be. Moreover, “to be a very effective leader in your organisation and in your society, you have to be aware of the fact that your worldview is not the only worldview,” he said.
In his closing remarks, he urged the academic achievers to use their knowledge and skill set to make a difference in society and to be resilient. He said: “The world needs people like you, who are willing to work hard, be creative, and solve complex problems. To achieve great things, you need a vision, you need to have a sense of focus that drives you forward even when the going gets tough. You need to be passionate about what you do and never lose sight of your goals, even when the going gets tough, and it will. You need to be resilient.”
Gareth Griffiths, the winner of the Russell Loubser Merit Prize for demonstrating exceptional academic achievement and leadership skills, expressed his gratitude to the four academic departments for celebrating their excellent students. Griffiths was awarded the 2023 EMS Vice-Chancellor and Principal's Medal for Excellent Undergraduate Academic Achievement in May.