01 August 2023 | Story Kekeletso Takang | Photo Supplied
Business Acumen 2023
Students engaged experts on the accountancy profession at the recent Business Acumen Day hosted by the UFS School of Accountancy.

The University of the Free State (UFS) School of Accountancy held its second Business Acumen Day on Wednesday 19 July 2023 in the Callie Human Centre on its Bloemfontein Campus.

The morning saw approximately 650 students fill the centre, eager to listen to the accountancy experts who attended.   

“Central to the success of an accountant are values that guide one’s professional behaviour. Values of patience, respect for oneself and others, ethical behaviour, and having the right mindset,” Conrad de Wee, Chairman of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Central Region Council and Senior Manager at auditing firm Mazars, told the attendees. De Wee also shared the story of Dion Shango and his journey towards becoming the first black executive to be appointed CEO of PwC Southern Africa, at age 39.

Patricia Stock, audit partner and CEO of auditing firm MGI RAS and former SAICA board member, said she lives by the motto “Grow as I grow” and believes that, “The place you come from does not make you; it’s the choices you make that make you.” Stock described attending the event as a “privilege” and encouraged students by sharing her own journey. “You have given us an ear. You have given us the power to speak over your lives. We are here to plant a seed, sharing nuggets of wisdom… Do away with limiting beliefs and rather embrace diversity. The workplace needs diverse professionals who bring diverse ideas.”

Professor Bernard Agulhas, former CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors and currently Adjunct Professor of Auditing at the UFS, said that auditors are in the right place to shine a light on irregularities, and if they don’t, one questions if they are complicit. He also discussed the required behavioural competencies of accountancy professionals and auditors. “We should go back to the basics. I would like to tell you about those basics. Focus on the principles that guide auditors when you go into the profession… Accounting professionals should be professional, independent, accountable, courageous, serve the public, and maintain trust.” 

Prof Agulhas urged students to uphold these principles at every step of their career journey. 

Rob Rose, Financial Mail Editor and author of Steinheist, alluded to the financial scandals of the past decade. Rose, who has written about governance and the grey area that exists between what companies say and what they do, contributed to exposing, among others, the Steinhoff scandal. “With Steinhoff, the red flags were there. There were tons of red flags all along. Why did the board of directors, partners, and investors miss them?” When asked by a student if there was a link between the past decade and the former governance of South Africa, Rose responded, “Yes, there definitely is a link. During that governance, there was a culture of permissibility. Plenty of grey area. There was an ethical slippery slope that didn’t hold individuals accountable.”

Prof Frans Prinsloo, Director of the UFS School of Accountancy, noted that the Business Acumen Day had addressed important professional values, attitudes, and skills that aspiring accountancy professionals need to be effective in the workplace. He also encouraged students to learn from the mistakes of the past, not to repeat them once they enter the profession, and thanked sponsor Standard Bank for investing in future leaders and helping to ensure the event’s success.  

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