CFO AND ACTING CEO: ENERGY AND WATER SETA
Mpho Mookapele was born in a small village called Dinokana, Zeerust. While her parents worked in Johannesburg, she was raised by her 14-year-old sister and learned from a young age to be independent. In 1995, in what Mpho describes as the ‘Groot Trek’, the family headed to settle in Joburg.
When she finished high school, she decided to be bold and approach her father’s employer to fund her first year of studies. ‘I believe if I didn’t take the initiative and the bold step, I would be living a different story today,’ says Mpho.
She then registered for a BCom Accounting qualification not really knowing where the road would lead to. It was only in her second year of studies that she found out what a CA really was.
‘One of the greatest challenges in my career was the struggle to pursue my personal dream, especially when mine did not appear as exciting when compared to my peers’ dreams. My desire to serve the public sector was often frowned upon.
I often felt alone in the journey as not many have walked a similar path,’ says Mpho.
The first question she asked herself when she qualified as a CA(SA) was ‘Now what? How do I use this qualification and the skills to bring about a difference in people’s lives?’ Her passion for development in the country and in Africa guided her career towards serving in the public space. ‘The greatest attributes I have gained from the CA(SA) qualification are professionalism, integrity and analytical, critical and creative thinking skills. I realised that being a CA(SA) is not about attaining a qualification but attaining an enabler. It enables one to open doors and confidently sit at the table and have meaningful discussions and apply my mind to bring about solutions. ‘I have also learned early that there is only one Mpho Mookapele and if I for one moment forget to be myself and chase after being someone else, I will be robbing the world from the unique gift that I bring. My desire and passion is always about making a difference in people’s lives,’ says Mpho.
BRINGING BACK SEXY TO THE PUBLIC SECTOR
‘The greatest highlight of my career is being able to see the results of the works of my hands not only benefiting myself but others.’ Mpho’s career spans more than 10 years in the finance and regulatory environment in both the private and public sectors. She served in the public space first as a consultant and currently as a public servant. One of the lessons Mpho learned is that the public sector is not ‘sexy’ enough for trainees; it comes across as being the place for the less ambitious. But most importantly, she learned that CAs(SA) play a critical role in South Africa’s growth. She made it her mission to ‘bring sexy back’ to the public sector.
A career highlight was being promoted to senior manager at Ernst & Young where she led strategic planning and reporting solutions in the public sector. She facilitated strategic planning sessions for boards and senior management for a number of public entities and assisted with the preparation of strategic plans and annual performance plans.
Mpho thanks the mentor who helped her achieve her dreams and who trusted her with higher responsibilities that built her confidence and often affirmed her motto that ‘I CAN’. ‘Johan Luface mentored me from a personal development perspective. The greatest lesson I have learnt from him is that I am a unique being created for a purpose and that in all I do I should strive to serve that purpose. Mr Higgins and Mr Colyvas were my directors at EY in the Financial Accounting and Advisory Services division. They were not formal mentors, but they contributed immensely to the woman I am today. I learned from them the importance of supporting and contributing to another person’s vision. They identified my passion and my strength and ensured that every opportunity that would grow me toward achieving my purpose they would expose me to. They trusted me with higher responsibilities that built my confidence and often affirmed that I CAN.’
A great milestone was to be appointed CFO of the Energy and Water SETA in 2016. Mpho admits that as CFO, she has encountered opportunities to ‘enrich’ herself several times at the cost of her moral standards and at the cost of young South Africans’ future. ‘Each time I was faced with this situation, I chose to do what is right and this speaks volumes to those presenting such opportunities. I work among senior colleagues and stakeholders and at every opportunity given I live and preach integrity.’
She has been acting CEO for the past 10 months, and her executive leadership and accountability to the board has highlighted the importance of strategic leadership governed by ethics.
Mpho thrives in her role as acting CEO through developing a capable workforce with the right skills in the energy and water sector for our country. This enables her to lead and develop others today so that they can lead tomorrow. ‘South Africa is facing a number if socio-economic development challenges and high unemployment is at the forefront. My current role allows me to work with different sectors and partners to develop skills solutions in the utility sector that can increase employability and drive enterprise development that will in turn create job opportunities. This critical and sometimes overwhelming responsibility speaks to my deepest desire to positively impact people’s lives. I do it with pride and with joy and with fulfillment,’ says Mpho.
MPHO’S DEEP PASSION TO UPLIFT WOMEN
Mpho’s journey in life has exposed her to women facing many struggles in their lives that hinder them from achieving more in society. As part of her theology diploma studies, she equipped herself with counselling courses to help these women.
‘Seeing women who are broken from different social challenges such as divorce, loss of loved ones, career struggles and even struggling to find a purpose in life has driven me to want to be that agent of relief,’ she says.
Mpho is involved in a number of initiatives aimed at capacitating women at different stages in life − from young CAs(SA) who are struggling to define what they want to do, or those who are discouraged by many attempts to qualify, to women who are professionals and are struggling with dealing with traumatic experiences in their lives. She even recently organised a trip to Durban for women who are mainly unemployed domestic workers or who have low-paying jobs. Some of the women never thought they would see a beach in their lifetime. Mpho organised this holiday to help them dream again and believe that anything is possible.
She also serves on the African Women Chartered Accountants board subcommittee, is involved in her church as a mentor to women, and is a supporter and sponsor of the annual Miss Dinokana pageant.
In her leisure time, Mpho likes to spread her wings and fly to different countries because she says it broadens her perspective of the world and gives her a renewed appreciation of life and of the diverse cultures we have. In the last 10 years she has travelled to 19 countries and has returned to four of the countries twice already. ‘My favourite holiday destination is the smooth, sandy and peaceful beaches of Rottnest Island in Perth. There are no cars on the island one uses bikes to get around,’ she says.
‘I love life and all that life brings around me. I enjoy a good laugh and making those around me laugh. I celebrate every step of my life and I take every challenge in my paths as a steppingstone to higher ground. My spirituality grounds me.’
Where does she see herself in five years’ time? ‘I see myself continuing to fulfil my purpose, which is to positively impact people’s lives. In the long run I want to serve UN women in a strategic role to allow me a wider and international reach.’