1 June 2021

Seize tomorrow today - Dr Gideon Botha

How he fits everything he does into a 24-hour day is anyone’s guess. In 2020, Gideon completed a PhD at Nelson Mandela University titled ‘A framework for price tariffs in the costing structures of South African private hospitals’. The thesis was the first of its kind to propose a framework for the determination of price tariffs that could be used to implement the National Health Insurance (NHI) in South Africa. This framework has been piloted in Namibia to benchmark tariffs for private hospital cardiac catheterisation laboratories.

The success of an NHI in a country like South Africa depends on who will be implementing it, according to Gideon. ‘Everyone needs access to quality healthcare and change is imperative, but the underlying issues such as the infrastructure, management systems, costing structures, procurement, and service delivery need to be addressed first. I think an NHI is viable provided that the private sector administrate and manage it. Dr Phil McGraw said, ‘the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, so you have got to create a new history…’.

When it comes to South Africa’s future, Gideon feels the decisions the country makes will determine the plausible futures. ‘However, it doesn’t feel like we are making decisions but rather that we are continually kicking the can down the road. The problem with this approach is that it leaves less time to implement much needed decisions and compounds the outcomes of the decisions not being made. We have everything we need to make South Africa a great country, but we will have to start making the right decisions. Because not making a decision is a decision in itself …’

Whilst completing his PhD in 2019, Gideon also completed a postgraduate diploma in Future Studies at the University of Stellenbosch. He is currently finalising his master’s in Future Studies titled ‘Retail bank lending practices in South Africa by 2040’. ‘The diploma I completed at Stellenbosch included topics such as complex systems thinking, philosophy, leadership, and management for change. These topics challenge one’s view of the future and how one thinks about the future. This is important because your perception of the future will influence how you live today, which, in turn, will determine your tomorrow. As there are numerous plausible futures, multiple perspectives allow one to craft a new way of seeing the future. The course just blew my mind and I loved it! There’s a beautiful quote in the Bible relating to the tribe of Issachar that says, ‘we know the times that we live in and we know what to do about it.’ It makes you think about what you can do, given where you are at this moment – I find that incredibly interesting.’ His master’s’ is about how certain trends will affect banks’ lending practices in the future. ‘For example, will the banks give preferential rates to buyers who purchase electrical cars because they are seen as “greener” than petrol or diesel cars, and what does it mean for South Africa? Will AI be used to make credit decisions, even though it contains inherent bias? There as so many interesting factors.’

Gideon is hopeful about the future, but he is also playing the long game. He does not measure success based on achievement at a young age but prefers to measure success over the continuum of his life. ‘When I’m 80 looking back, will I be able to say that I ran a strong race and ended strong? This view forces one to create daily habits that will ensure longevity, highlights the importance of everyday decisions, forces one to be fully present daily on the journey of life and to build relationships that go the distance. Everyone has something they aspire to, something they are working towards. It is that point where everything you’ve worked for your entire life has prepared you for that moment of inflection. And when you’re called, you are ready. Aristotle said, ‘where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation’. If I can be at that inflection point at the end of my life, where what I do and the needs of society meet, I will be happy.’

On top of his interest in future studies, Gideon is also busy with a part-time online BSc degree in Economics through the University of London, which requires him to take one subject per semester. He has enrolled for this, as it has always been a dream to better understand the functioning of the greater economy and how it influences society. As if that is not enough, Gideon is planning to complete a PhD in Future Studies in the not-too-distant future. ‘The great thing about working at Nedbank is that the organisation encourages its staff to continue growing and apply learnings to our particular portfolios. Furthermore, my divisional CFO supports my continual growth and provides opportunities for me to apply what I have learnt. This also extends to being part of an exceptional divisional finance team.’

One of the compulsory modules in the BSc degree is mathematics. ‘This subject has truly humbled me as it is very challenging, a completely new field, and I am learning to persevere when things aren’t as easy as planned and to conquer the fear of the unknown,’ he admits. ‘Another key lesson that I learnt whilst working through mathematic problems with my friend Alexis Levendis, a PhD candidate in Actuarial Sciences, is the value of working with people from a different discipline to yours as this stimulates creativity of thought.’

Education has always been a big part of Gideon’s life. ‘My mom and grandparents always encouraged me to learn new things. The wonderful thing education has taught me is that the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. For me, it creates a humility to know that I’m not there yet. Education creates shifts inside me, challenges the way I think, the way I am and act. It’s a change agent. I’m constantly learning something new. Education not only provides a skillset for a livelihood; it also provides the opportunity to change and evolve as a person. I do it more for this change inside me than the new knowledge I gain. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. It enriches your thoughts, your conversations, and your life, which is more important than the degree itself.’

As senior financial manager, he manages a Nedbank staff complement of five and is responsible for technical accounting, management accounting, and reporting for his division. ‘Everyone has a different leadership style. I believe in empowering people by giving them the space to thrive while still needing to be accountable and sticking to performance standards.’

His advice for young and future CAs(SA) is the words of the British politician and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, William Wilberforce: ‘Before I can change the world, I must change myself … You can change things without changing yourself, but you have to constantly make sure you are where you need to be in terms of integrity, where you are going, how you are growing, what you are doing. That is extremely important and is what will give you longevity.’

Gideon also encourages coaching. ‘Johan Slabbert has been my leadership and life coach for almost five years. I see him every two weeks. It’s important to realise everybody is different. Everyone’s style of leadership is different. Johan encourages the development of one’s unique authentic leadership brand. You need a coach that can help you transform and ensure you stay aligned and in synthesis with your environment, new concepts and new thoughts. Coaching is second to none, especially to have someone help you become aware of your blind spots and support you becoming the best version of yourself.’

As a young CA, you have to figure out what makes you you. ‘For example, my wife is a surgeon who has a passion for serving patients in the public sector with exceptional kindness and patience, which makes her ‘Meryl’. What makes me Gideon is my passion to obtain a high level of proficiency in four or five different fields. As a CA you need to know yourself, know what you want to achieve. Your life needs to be synthesised. It’s no longer about “balance” but rather about “integration”. You are a complex system where everything is interlinked. Some fantastic young CAs are coming through in an extremely competitive field, achieving amazing things. A CA is no longer just audit, tax, management accounting ... the options and opportunities for CAs are literally endless these days. That is why it is important to figure out why you are doing what you are doing. People often say CAs don’t have personalities,’ he laughs. ‘Your SQ (social intelligence) is the go-between in terms of your IQ and your EQ and how they interlink – this breaks the whole paradigm of balance. You cannot separate the different aspects of your life because they all form part of a whole.’

For Gideon, the question is never whether you can or can’t do something but whether you tried and gave it your all. ‘For a long time in my life, I lived in fear – the fear of failing. Central to live in hope is my Christian faith that taught me to live in hope, not in fear. If I gave everything and yet failed, I would still be in a better space than if I never tried at all.’ For him the point is to have hope for the future and use that hope to become the best version of yourself for that future. And he is certainly seizing today to carpe mañana.