Interview with Female Partner & Exec Head of People (HR) at KPMG, Africa

When Tantaswa Fubu passed standard 5 (grade 7) in South Africa, her father bought her a congratulatory card with a hand written message: “That is a sweet smell of success.”

Now, every time she achieves something in her career, she stops to reflect if it was what he was talking about those many years ago. And she always believes that it is not – he had more in mind. And so she goes for more.

This inspiration has led Tantaswa to her role today, as Partner and Executive Head of People (HR) at KPMG in South Africa and Africa. She has held this role since September 2011, and also serves on the Executive Committee and the Board of KPMG. KPMG employs 145,000 people and is one of the largest professional services companies in the world, among the “Big Four auditors.”

Tantaswa attributes her success to the immense support of her parents, her many career sponsors along the way that lifted her as they rose, and God’s grace. She also has a great love for developing others around her. “Knowing that I have positively impacted someone and left them at a better space than I found them gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” Tantaswa said. “I live for this.”

We were honored to have the chance to ask Tantaswa some questions, not only about her role at KPMG, but how she’s overcome professional challenges, and her advice to other women who want to advance in their careers.

How are you, as Exec Head of People, and KPMG, helping your female employees advance in their careers?

TF: I mentor a lot of female employees, formally and informally. I am unfortunately, quite hard and demanding on people, but mostly they understand and appreciate where I want to take them; that I truly have their best interests at heart.

I also identify female employees that I believe have potential and in most instances without formally discussing it with them I appoint myself as their career sponsors. Whenever I have interesting and difficult projects, I make sure that I expose them so that they get to gain self-confidence in their own capabilities. I make them believe in their decision-making capabilities by refusing to make the decisions that pertain to their jobs, for them – they need to make their own mistakes and learn from them. They need to feel empowered. I believe my role is to empower and support them. Also, this is about having critical conversations with our menfolk about trying to change the landscape as we realize we cannot do this on our own.

What are some of the most challenging professional obstacles you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?

TF: My first biggest challenge and triumph was converting from a psychology degree to an accounting degree in one year. This, I managed to overcome through sheer hard work, prayer, keeping fit and depending on the community around me.

Secondly, I love doing work that I am not particularly trained to do or that I have not done before like joining the technical department at partnership level and recently heading up our people (HR) department. I also read a lot and this comes in handy whenever I start a new role and it helps me innovate.

“I do not believe that my mistakes define me. I am also not afraid to say ‘I do not know’ – teach me.”

I am not afraid to make mistakes – I learn from them but I also share the learnings with others so that both the firm and other individuals can benefit from my experiences. I do not believe that my mistakes define me. I am also not afraid to say “I do not know” – teach me. In both these roles, I have depended on people that have been there for quite some time and I regard them as experts even though in terms of reporting lines, they “reported to me.” I do not believe this diminishes who I am in the least bit. In everything that I have done, I have always remained true and always believed in the power of my Maker.

Are their particular challenges you see for professional women in South Africa and Africa?

TF: As professional women, we still have the challenges of stereotypes that we have to fight against. If for instance you have young children, people might believe you cannot be sent on certain executive development programs because you will not want to be separated from your children – instead of asking you what your preference is.

We also see a high number of women workers at lower levels of the work force, but as you move up the corporate ladder, the gender ratio becomes heavily weighted towards the male specie. I read in the weekend paper that women still get paid less than men even when doing the same job!

What advice would you give to other women who want to advance in their careers?

TF: Self-belief is critical. Doing your absolute best every moment is non-negotiable. How you show up determines how you deliver.

“We must always lift as we rise, giving to others without expectations.”

Acknowledge your mistakes but learn to forgive yourself. Give credit where it is due. Take care of your physical appearance – professionalism is key. We must always lift as we rise, giving to others without expectations. Read as much as possible. Make time for yourself –  this allows you to reflect, to be creative and innovative. Be willing to be misunderstood. Never choose the path of least resistance – stand by your principles even when you feel alone. Know where and how you re-energize. Do not look to others to inspire you – know how to self-inspire. Do not chase money, you will easily get demotivated. Rather, work out what kind of a job you would do without being paid and do that with passion.

Be sure to follow Tantaswa on Twitter.

Learn more about Tantaswa: 

Tantaswa studied for a Bachelor of Administration Honors Degree and majored in Industrial Psychology and Public Administration. After working for the Standard Bank of South Africa for a period of about two and a half years, she returned to The University of Cape Town to study for the B Comm Accountants’ Conversion Course (a one year course that allows non Accounting graduates to become Chartered Accountants within the shortest possible time).  After this she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting with the University of KwaZulu Natal. She then did her traineeship with KPMG Johannesburg. After the traineeship, she left KPMG to rejoin Standard Bank for a short while as a Credit Risk Manager, part of Group Risk at the Head Office in Johannesburg. Before re-joining KPMG in January 2007 as a partner in the technical department, she was with Nkonki, an accounting firm, for six years where she started as an audit manager, becoming a partner and ultimately Head of Audit. In September 2011, she was asked to head up the HR for KPMG SA and Africa, where she is today.

Erin Risner

Director of Community Engagement

Writer. Creative. Brand Strategist. Content Curator. Social Media and Marketing Maven. Passionate about connecting with women around the world and telling their success stories.