#CareerFocus With Prem Govender SAIPA Board Chairperson

Prem Govender
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1. Tell us a bit about yourself?

My greatest achievement has been the two amazing children that I was privileged to bear so I am a mother first and always will be. Second to this, I am a career woman who takes her profession very seriously. I nurture my company with the same level of skill and care with which I raised my children and I am proud to say that this fledgeling company, started by my late Dad, proudly turned 60 last year.

2. What work do you do?

I am a professional accountant in private practice, something I have done ever since I qualified.

3. How long have you been in the accountancy profession?

Pretty much all my life! But to be specific I have served this profession for 42 years, and counting.

4. Has your work always been your passion? Tell us why?

Absolutely yes, it has been my passion ever since I heard very early in my career that if you treat your job as you do your hobbies, you will never work a day in your life. So I don’t feel like it is work, it just feels more like having fun while getting paid to do it. To this day, I look forward to driving to the office in the morning and I use the 15 minutes that it takes me to drive to work to call my children just to say good morning. Definitely an added bonus.

5. Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life and career?

Without a doubt, my parents. My Dad played a major role in my choice of career and my Mum ensured that despite the careerwoman my Dad wanted me to be, I also prioritised being a wife and mother. I only realised much later in life the struggle my parents had to contend with, on the one hand they wanted their daughters to be educated, but had to put the brakes on this sometimes to ensure that as Indian women we knew our place as homemaker. It couldn’t have been easy for them, but they somehow managed to instil the right skills and values in us to excel in both aspects of our lives. I therefore attribute all my achievements in every sphere of my life to my parents and I know how proud they were of their girls. I am proud of the fact that I am equally comfortable in the kitchen as I am in the boardroom.

6. Being a woman in the accountancy profession – what does it take?

Back in the day when I joined the profession it was not easy being a woman in a predominantly male and patriarchal profession. Women were just about to explode into the world of commerce and law and this was certainly not well received. Add to that the fact that we were a society deeply divided by apartheid, so I always say that for young Indian women it was a double whammy and we had to work so much harder to prove ourselves on the work front while proving to our elders that we were equally talented on the home front.

I grew up in an era where the men went to work and the women stayed at home and played the role of nurturer, wife and mother (and a million other roles demanded of us), and if you chose to be a career women it was no excuse for neglecting these duties. We were forced to balance the both with very little or no support. After all, you did this my choice. So, it took a lot of tenacity, determination and sometimes tears to stay ahead of your career. As difficult as it was, I wouldn’t change a thing and would still choose this profession if I could live my life again.

7. Tell us about your biggest challenge, and how you overcame it?

My biggest challenge was persuading my Dad’s clients to accept me in the practice. Most of them were conservative older (than me) Indian men who firmly believed that a woman’s place was at home. They also couldn’t understand why a man would bring a daughter into a business instead of a son, well that was easy to explain, my parents had no sons!

Client meetings were a nightmare, although I did the work and presented, all questions were directed at my Dad who they insisted be present in the room. Nevertheless, I persisted and bit by bit won every one of them over, just by being patient polite, empathetic and definitely very professionally charming. I am proud to say that our firm is now taking care of the third generation from most of these families. You know you have been around for too long when your clients are younger than your children and call you Aunty Prem!

8. What has been the most difficult challenge of your career?

Trying to stay positive about a profession I love despite seeing the values that this profession once stood for become eroded by a few bad apples that has unfortunately led to financial and job losses for so many people.

For me the cornerstone of the accountancy profession has always been one based on integrity and sound ethical values. Ours is a profession that stands for unshakeable values that has seen and helped giant oaks grow from tiny acorns – I am referring to the huge JSE listed companies that relied on our profession to take them to where they are – but alas these values have been ridiculed by the actions of people in the profession and its becoming increasingly difficult to hold my head up high and proudly say what profession I belong to.

The erosion of corporate values are largely due to the rogue behaviour of the very people tasked to uphold the profession and this makes me incredibly sad and disappointed.

9. What advice do you have for other women in the accountancy profession?

I am so proud that there are so many more women in this profession these days and my advice to them would be to serve with distinction and pride and never feel that they are less than their male counterparts.

I also want to encourage women to support and uplift each other, be the giant on whose shoulders others can stand and when they can please make the time to serve their profession in whatever way they can. As women we have the advantage of being nurturers by nature and we must use this advantage to show our clients that there is a softer side to us by showing them that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

10. What is your vision for the profession?

Simple, to be restored to its former glory where our word is our bond and society’s faith is us is unshakeable. I believe that this can be done through professional bodies like SAIPA where we are working tirelessly to ensure that we become a respected profession again while keeping up with technology and world best practice.

11. Plans for the future?

I am excited and honoured to be leading the Board of this esteemed Institute and together with my board look forward to serving both our members and the profession with diligence and pride. I also look forward to mentoring our younger directors so that they can lead with the same pride. Long after my term of office is over, I will continue to be #SAIPAPROUD as I watch this much loved professional organisation grow from strength to strength under the leadership that my fellow directors and I had a hand in moulding and shaping.