Wdb expert opinion screen variety

Leading South African investment firm – owned and run by women for women – reveals how they are doing it for themselves

30 Dec 2015

Mathapelo Mthembu, [25], dreamed of becoming a famous film director. That was until she sat down with her accounting teacher at Mokgome Senior Secondary School in Soweto who gave her insight into the accounting profession and the wonderful world of numbers.

Today this junior accountant is well on her way to fulfilling her ambition of becoming a fully-fledged Professional Accountant , thanks to investment giant WDB Investment Holdings (WDBIH). 

Mthembu came straight from the University of Johannesburg to become the first candidate on the company's fledgling learnership programme that aims to produce young, female Professional Accountants. 

The WDBIH was formed in 1996 to enhance and promote the upliftment of rural women (through the WDB Trust founded by, among others, former First Lady Zanele Mbeki) and entrepreneurs. 

Today it has grown into the country's leading women-owned and led focused investment firms, with interests in key sectors of the economy including financial services (banks and insurance), health, industrial services, property, retail as well as the oil and media sectors, with a net asset value of just under R3-billion as at their year end March 2015 
Over the years these long-term investments have raised more than R165-million for the WDB Trust, with over 100 000 rural women entrepreneurs also benefitting.

Two years ago, as part of a holistic growth and transformation strategy, WDBIH also initiated an enterprise fund which offers loans of between R50 000 and R500 000 to female entrepreneurs, particularly those involved in agriculture, agro processing, green industries and specialised services.

As part of this growth strategy, says finance manager Rose Mamabolo, WDBIH also seeks to aggressively "grow its own timber" through initiatives such as the learnership programme.

She says: "This is the first year of the programme, with WDBIH seeing skills development as crucial to its core business. At the moment it encompasses a training contract with the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). To participate, candidates must have a National Diploma in Accounting or equivalent."

Mamabolo says the programme is structured according to the curriculum requirements of SAIPA, which include financial accounting, taxation, internal controls, management accounting and business management. 

"Even though we have just started with Mathapelo as our first candidate, we have already identified a junior bookkeeper within the company whom we are grooming to also participate in the programme."

Mamabolo also serves as Mthembu's mentor, something the latter describes as "invaluable", saying: "She has such a wealth of knowledge to teach me about the profession and shares her knowledge and personal experiences about her career path."

On WDBIH, Mthembu says: "Being here does not feel like working at all. I love the fact that I am constantly learning, because with accounting there is always something new. I say that my preoccupation is now an occupation."

She says she is especially proud to be working for a company with the ethos and principles of WDBIH. "It is an impact investor – that is, an investment company with a conscience which uses its profits towards the economic upliftment of rural communities. It is also women-owned and run and dedicated to the upliftment of those previously excluded from participating in the economy."

And, says WDBIH CEO Faith Khanyile, this is what underpins the company's strategic plan. "WDBIH seeks to add value to its investments strategically, through board participation, assisting investee companies in their business growth plans and helping drive women empowerment and transformation strategies."

Khanyile says the successful portfolio of equity investments WDBIH has in both established and growing businesses is testimony to its success.

The company today has interests in local and multinational companies, including Bidvest, Discovery, FirstRand, Assupol, Ascendis Health, Safari Investments, International Housing Solutions, Anglo Inyosi Coal, Maemo Motors, and even in local radio stations Algoa FM and Smile 90.4FM. In April the company acquired shares in Woolworths in a R500-million deal. 

This spirit of "women investing in women" - which is WDBIH's motto - is not lost on Mthembu. "I was raised by my mom who dared me to dream. I am who I am today because of her. When people compliment me, I tell them that the praise actually belongs to her. She defied the odds, shaped and empowered me and transformed me into a strong woman.