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Winning Women: Wisdom in youth

Nov 27 2016 06:00
Sue Grant-Marshall

When chartered accountant Nakedi Ramaphakela was made finance director of Royal Bafokeng Holdings in July, it brought together her life philosophy – that of community caring – and her skills as an accountant.

Ramaphakela works for the sovereign wealth fund of Royal Bafokeng Holdings that has assets under management of about R30 billion.

Royal Bafokeng Holdings, which is wholly owned by the Royal Bafokeng Nation, is a fascinating company with an interesting history that dates back to 1834.

Back then, Kgosi August Mokgatle advised his people to pool their resources to buy back, from white colonialists, the land the Bafokeng had cultivated for centuries.

Extraordinarily, the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals were discovered on the land in 1924.

The Bafokeng invested the wealth they earned in royalties from the mining industry – after apartheid ended – through smart investments.

These have been used to, among other things, build a 45 000-seat stadium and athletics complex, and build clinics and roads.

“I work with every department here, ranging from supporting the investment strategy to communications, governance and so on,” says Ramaphakela as we sit in the massive boardroom at the company’s swanky office in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.

She adds: “Our portfolio value is bigger than some of the companies that are listed on the JSE. Our philosophy lies in diversification across as many sectors as possible.”

Ramaphakela comes from a risk management and governance perspective, despite “accountants being, by nature, very risk averse”.

“We invest in Africa and offshore – in mining, property, financial services and infrastructure.”

Ramaphakela admits that there are challenges involved
in being as young as she is.

“It’s difficult for women to manoeuvre through the corporate world at the best of times. Add my age to that and, yes, it can be tricky.”

She can sense when people are uncomfortable in her presence “by their body language. But I always rely on my solid work ethic, which includes researching and learning about everything I am dealing with.”

She’s studying for her chartered financial analyst exams at the moment. She has one level left to take, “and then I will have this globally recognised certificate for investment specialists”, she explains.

Ramaphakela was born in Soweto, where she lived for a while with her grandparents. She credits her energetic entrepreneurial grandmother, who sold vegetables and clothes, owned a casting agency and was an actress who loved to tell Sepedi stories, for her own “get-up-and-go” attitude.

Ramaphakela grew up in Pretoria and matriculated from Pro Arte Alphen Park High School in 2004.

“I loved drama and chess, and was thinking of becoming a social worker or journalist before accepting that I had a strong analytical mind.”

She obtained her bachelor of accounting science degree at Wits University and she graduated with honours in taxation before becoming a chartered accountant in 2012.

She was an assistant manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) when she was sent to Houston in the US, “where I learnt a great deal. But I also noticed there were few, if any, black women working in corporate America.”

She was dealing with predominantly white men who were set in their ways.

“There was a male African-American colleague who was working at a lower level than me, but people still addressed all their remarks to him and not to me.”

She chuckles at the recollection of another learning experience.

But “once they realised that I knew what I was talking about, they began to accept me”.

While she was still working for PwC, Royal Bafokeng Holdings approached her.

It is typical of her measured approach to life that Ramaphakela asked lots of questions about her growth path before making her decision to join them.

Today, she is thrilled that she can work both in figures and analysis, as well as go to Phokeng and its environs to “help paint crèches and be involved in community work”.

She relaxes with her engineer husband and their daughter, Oratile (3), by swimming with them in summer and watching TV, “even the Kardashians”.

Little Black Book

Business tip: Your work ethic is everything – no matter how smart and clever you are.

Mentor: My grandmother, because of her approach to life of never sitting still.

Books: Talent is Never Enough by John C Maxwell. It’s about leadership, business and life.

Inspiration: Women in general who do amazing things.

Wow! moment: Being appointed to Royal Bafokeng Holdings.

Life lesson: Life is a journey about growth and self-discovery that never ends.

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