The introverted trailblazer

A leader, mentor, pioneer, and family man, Victor Sekese’s impact on the accountancy and auditing profession spans generations and borders and extends beyond his role as CEO of SNG Grant Thornton. He talks to us here about how faith, people, and partnerships have sustained him over an eventful career as part of The Henley Centre for Leadership Africa series showcasing positive and optimistic leadership journeys of South African business leaders.

With three decades of audit and consulting experience spanning the public and private sectors, Sekese boasts a multifaceted understanding of key stakeholders in South Africa’s economy and their unique needs and requirements. As a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (2006-2008) and previously a board member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), Sekese has long used his position and influence to help his chosen profession create better opportunities for talented young Africans to shine. In 2023, Sekese received the SAICA CEO Award for his “unwavering dedication to create a better future for all” and for spearheading “initiatives that propelled the accountancy industry forward”.

As a member of the Grant Thornton International network, which spans 135 nations (with an African footprint covering 22 countries), SNG Grant Thornton provides an impressive platform from which Sekese can nurture leadership and development initiatives that make a profound difference in the lives of talented young professionals. This approach continues the vision of SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG), Southern Africa’s largest home-grown audit and advisory firm, of which Sekese was CEO until the firm joined forces with Grant Thornton South Africa in 2018. While the firm’s moniker has changed, Sekese’s leadership continues to be shaped by his uniquely South African story and his profound personal journey. 

A journey of perseverance

A Mamelodi township child who was educated through the apartheid-era system of Bantu Education, Sekese passed his chartered accountant exams in 1991, a time when democracy was still a dream and transformation, talent development, diversity, and inclusion were far from the mainstream business imperatives they are today. In conversation with Henley Business School Africa, Sekese explained that more needs to be done to keep shifting the overall culture of the profession and to improve its inclusive credentials. “As a profession, we have done a lot, but there is a lot more to be done because the demographics are not there yet. However, as SizweNtsalubaGobodo, we certainly put ourselves out there as a model of what was possible with the necessary support and a vision of creating an inclusive African practice that represents the demographics of South Africa.”

Notably, inclusivity and transformation are not the only issues currently confronting the global accounting and auditing profession, which is battling talent retention issues, adjusting to a remote work reality, changing tax and regulatory regimes, as well as the fallout from accounting scandals, such as Enron (2001), Steinhoff (2017), and EOH (2017).

“The accounting and auditing profession as a whole is facing an intersectionality of challenges,” notes Sekese. “Our credibility is at stake; it is being questioned, so we are doing a lot collectively as an industry to address that. I think transformation and inclusion are still key issues, particularly considering our history in South Africa and the fact that black people were excluded from professions like these, and women too to some extent.”

Sekese’s career is overlaid by the impact of South Africa’s divisive and divided history, so much so that he looks back on the early part of his career and how the cards were definitely stacked against him. “I think the formative years of my career were particularly difficult in a sense of the prevailing environment at that stage and the lack of a mentor, a role model, who was genuinely interested in my development. This went to the core of my being, and particularly how I had to deal with imposter syndrome,” he admits.

During those challenging early years, when he was still completing his articles, Sekese explains that the default position in the industry was to assume black people were somehow incompetent until they proved otherwise. This mindset made it harder for young black graduates to grab opportunities and gain valuable experience. “When I look at my peers who I started the training programme with, we were literally miles apart in terms of the skills we acquired over those three years and the confidence we’d built because I was not given the same chances, the same opportunities as my peers. I knew, at that point, that I was not operating at the same level, and that pains me significantly since it didn’t relate to my potential at all. I felt left behind, but I didn’t lose faith.” 

A new direction

Fortunately, faith – which continues to play a central role in Sekese’s life – was playing a guiding role, even though he did not necessarily see the signs at the time. Having been seconded to an independent, sole practitioner practice during his articles, Sekese was dispirited at not working on big, blue-chip accounts and rather servicing black, township-based clients.

“I resented it,” he recalls. “I wanted exposure to high-performing listed entities, and I felt I was relegated to struggling township entrepreneurs and non-governmental organisations. Over time, of course, that’s where I found my purpose: to help others. In the process, I also found my confidence.”

This period in Sekese’s life coincided with his shift in the early 1990s to the firm that would eventually become SizweNtsalubaGobodo after merging with Gobodo Incorporated in 2011. Just four years after joining Ntsaluba Inc. (as the firm was then known) in 1998, there was a dramatic shake-up among the leadership when co-founder Sizwe Nxasana left to take up the role of CEO of Telkom. Nxasana – whose Sizwe & Co became the first black-owned audit practice in KwaZulu-Natal in 1989 – would go on to lead the FirstRand Group.

Nxasana’s departure followed that of his fellow co-founder, Sango Ntsaluba, leaving the young company at a crossroads. Thirty-something-year-old Sekese rose to the challenge, taking up the CEO role and overseeing the rebranding of the company as Sizwe Ntsaluba VSP. Growth may have been the vision, but the focus was still firmly on expanding with the township entrepreneurs and helping to foster their development into big, robust organisations. These relationships were both satisfying and fulfilling to the young CEO.

Putting people first

Partnerships and relationships have served Sekese well over the years – from his early days to the present – and he continues to nurture them. Perhaps the most seminal association was the mentorship and guidance he gained from Ntsaluba. “I adopted him as a mentor, and for quite a lot of my professional formation, I acknowledge him for shaping me,” recalls Sekese. “I was this very reserved and conservative introvert, and under his guidance, I was able to come out of my introvert shell. I wouldn’t say I’m an extrovert now, but it helped me to elevate to chief executive and become the face of the business. Those are things you can’t learn from a textbook; you learn it in the field. Sango would take me to meetings, and I’d watch and try to emulate him. I really owe a lot to him, and we still meet twice a year to break bread, catch up, and exchange notes.”

As a mentor himself, Sekese also knows that at different times in your life and career, it is important to leverage the experience of a range of potential guides. He did exactly this when he sought out Jacko Maree, the former CEO of Standard Bank, for guidance in growing SNG from a medium-sized firm to a bigger organisation with notable ambitions in Africa. “This was a transition for me,” admits Sekese, explaining how he needed to tap into the experience of a leader “who had exposure running big organisations and also expanding into Africa. Standard Bank made a lot of mistakes on its growth path, and it went to Latin America and had issues in the UK, then it committed to focusing on Africa. Plus, Jacko’s succession planning was quite unique, so I tapped into that. In short, I adopted him, and he agreed to be adopted.”

In time, that mentorship came to a natural conclusion, says Sekese. Although the two subsequently served together as directors of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.

Passing the baton?

As Sekese acknowledges, these real-world examples of leaders in action are not always easy for young graduates and leaders to tap into due to issues of access and confidence. Having studied at the University of London and the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom, as well as his alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Sekese feels South Africa’s future leaders already have a solid academic grounding. However, more needs to be done by organisations to better equip young leaders for the demands of leading in an African context of complexity.

It was this focus on leadership and development that drew SNG Grant Thornton to Henley Business School Africa, explained Sekese. “We partnered with Henley Africa Executive Development to develop a unique programme for our future leaders. Our Africa Director Development Programme aims to capacitate promising professionals within the firm who have the potential to lead the firm to the next level. For this, we liked the Henley action learning approach.”

Beyond the learning programmes run through Henley Business School Africa, Sekese notes that the partners seek out ways to work together to better understand contemporary issues facing business leaders, such as cybersecurity.

One leadership capability that Sekese would like to receive more attention in the future is the uniquely African approach of Ubuntu, which taps into aspects of humane leadership and interlinked futures. “Had we paused in 1994, with our transition, and discussed what type of society we wanted, and then if we had adopted those cultural principles and brought them into government, business, and society, then maybe we would be performing more to our potential today,” he says. “I would say if we can leverage our culture and our approach to life, we can export it to the world.”

Keeping his energy up

When it comes to feeding his soul and decompressing, Sekese’s remedy may surprise many. “I’m studying, can you believe it? I’m doing a master’s degree in theology. Yes, it’s stressful because of time pressure, and it’s also a challenging programme, but it has really opened my mind, and I’m having fun with it. I get fulfilment from that challenge.”


While acknowledging that his family has been extremely patient with him as he pursues his studies, Sekese admits that “of late, I’m hearing voices! My wife is becoming more vocal now!”


With a lively two-year-old granddaughter, Sekese acknowledges that spending time with her is a particular pleasure at the moment. “Every small amount of time I spend with her, I’m in my element of relaxation,” he says. “We offer to babysit as often as we can.”

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