Letshego Eswatini CFO Phindile Ndlandla, made history when she was shortlisted for the Inaugural Association of Chartered Certified Accountants Awards 2022. But where did it all start? In a one-on-one interview with Inside Biz, Phindile details her life journey and how she stood up to her high school head teacher who compelled her to choose Physical Sciences over Accounting. Also, find out how Phindile obtained her Chartered Accountancy (CA) qualification after not making it on her first attempt.
Interview and Article by Ntokozo Nkambule & Phesheya Mkhonta
Q: Tell us about yourself, who is Phindile Ndlandla?
A: Well, I come from humble beginnings. I come from a family of five, raised by a single mother, as my father passed away when we were young. My mother was my inspiration growing up, considering that she was a low-income earner, but did a great job raising us. She ensured that we always had food and basically enough to get by, which I still find inspiring to this day. I grew up in Malkerns, and attended St John Bosco Primary School; then proceeded to St Francis High School, in Mbabane.
Q: When did the Accounting bug hit you?
A: I knew from the very first Accounting lesson I had in Form 1. It just came naturally to me, and I believe the Accounting arena resonates with my personality. I had already heard about the field of Chartered Accounting but did not know what it took to get there. Then, interestingly, in Form 3, I was in the top 50 of the best-performing pupils in the country.
This, however, proved to be a curse more than a blessing, as my head teacher instructed me to choose the Physical Sciences stream, as this was seen as the more prestigious career path for students perceived to be ‘’intelligent’’. A stand-off then ensued, as I was hell-bent on choosing the Accounting stream. Fortunately, my mom came to my rescue and persuaded my head teacher to allow me to choose a stream of my choice.
But my journey has not only been about Accounting; as I was also in the top 3 of best-performing pupils in SiSwati, in my Form 5, O’Level results. That also played a huge role in boosting my confidence.
“In my graduation year I performed exceptionally well, and was number one in the whole faculty of Commerce. As the best student, I got the Dean of Commerce award, and the best Accounting student award from KPMG Eswatini”.
Q: Tell us about your tertiary education life (University life)
A: After performing well at O’Level, I enrolled for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the University of Eswatini. As I was enjoying University life and the youthful freedoms that come with it, something drastic happened; I got pregnant. That moment changed the trajectory of my life. It was both a shock and a disappointment to people who knew me, but, I will always be grateful to the people who were supportive during this difficult period, especially my step-father.
He made me realize that I had made a mistake, and that was part of life, so I could take responsibility and learn from it. I then took a conscious decision that I would work and study very hard, and I was determined that my child would be afforded the life I never had. At this moment my child became my inspiration. My thick skin and personality grew stronger at this time and this has been influential in my life and career ever since.
Q: We believe that you also got the Dean’s award during your University graduation.
A: Yes, but before that, I got all distinctions in my Diploma, which was another much-needed confidence booster. Then in my fifth year (graduation year) I once again performed well and was number one in the whole faculty of Commerce. As the best student, I got the Dean of Commerce award. I also got the best Accounting student award from KPMG Eswatini.
Q: Tell us about your professional working life, where did it start?
A: It started before I graduated. I got a tip-off from a friend that PwC was looking for Audit Graduate Trainees and my name had popped up. Without hesitation, I organized an interview, and guess what, I got accepted. God’s favour continued to shine over my life again as the awards never stopped, and I received the managers’ award, among others, while I was still an Audit Trainee. In my second year, I was getting more recognition from the firm, as I was assigned tasks typically performed by supervisors, which made me realize that I was doing something right.
Q: What do you think made you thrive at PwC?
A: I would attribute it to a number of factors. Working hard is certainly one of them. But I think most importantly, I had mentors that played a huge role in my career, and I am eternally grateful to them. My former managers at PwC, particularly, Makhosazana Mhlanga and Thandeka Dlamini, have been quite instrumental in my career.
Q: Being a Chartered Accountant (CA) is no easy feat, how did you qualify to be one?
A: It certainly isn’t easy. I also did not make it on my first attempt. I took the South African route and did the CTA qualification, but something did not go well in one paper. In essence, I had to start afresh, but at this point, I was done with my articles, so I had to make a decision. I decided to drop the South African CA route. I re-strategized and took the ACCA qualification and finished it in fifteen months. That is how I qualified as a CA in 2016.
Q: You are the current Chief Financial Officer at Letshego Financial Services Eswatini, how did that come about?
A: To be honest, my dream has always been to be Partner at a big Audit firm. But as I was climbing the corporate ladder at PwC, I got a tip-off that there was an exciting opening at Letshego. I reached out to them immediately to enquire more about the opportunity. I was then invited for an interview and I was successful. Coincidentally, at the same time, there were also two offers, one from a commercial bank, and the other from a non-government organization (NGO), I chose Letshego because I felt I was going to learn more, and I generally felt good about it.
Q: You are an ambitious young woman, and have been at Letshego for five years, what’s next?
A: Well, Letshego Eswatini is a subsidiary of a bigger group that presents endless opportunities. For example, earlier this year I was invited to interview for the Letshego Lesotho CEO position, which went well, but regulatory issues hindered the move. This indicates the opportunities that surround me. And, most importantly, I am enjoying myself here and learning a lot as well. I am also excited about our strategy, and our digitization agenda. I can safely say the future is bright at Letshego and I want to be a part of that.
“Anyone interested in being a CA must work very hard, perseverance and having a thick skin helps as well, but most importantly; they must be good in mathematics and accountanting”.
Q. You have been shortlisted for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants inaugural awards 2022. What does this mean to you, Letshego, and the country?
A: It has been humbling for me personally, it makes me believe and appreciate all the hard work I have put in. This also means a lot to my company, as it feels like I am representing the entire group, which is truly humbling. In terms of the country, this is good for the country’s image as it shows what we are capable of as emaSwati.
Q: What challenges have you come across as a woman in the industry?
A: It is no secret that this is a man’s world. Our industry is no exception, but I have been fortunate to have good male mentors who have held my hand and supported me whenever I needed it. Our current CEO, Mongi Dlamini has been very helpful and I’m proud and happy to learn from him every day. But again, there are certain things I cannot do because I am a woman.
I cannot, for instance, easily call up a male CEO and request that we have a business dinner because this has certain negative connotations attached to it. Those are the limiting factors, which are more societal than industry based.
Q: What would you say to anyone interested in venturing into this industry?
A: I would say they should be ready to work extremely hard. They should also be passionate about accounting. They also need to be very good in Mathematics and Accounting. Perseverance and having a thick skin are very important in this field.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
A: I hate contentment. I am always comfortable being uncomfortable. So to young girls, this is very possible, dream and then push. Give it everything you have.
Q: Thank you for your time Phindile.
A: It has been a pleasure.