Meet the Boss: Michelle Olckers, Co-CEO, Mazars South Africa

Michelle Olckers

This interview was conducted on the sidelines of the Africa CEO Forum, which recently took place in Kigali, Rwanda. The answers were shortened and slightly edited for clarity.

1. What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

What I don’t know. I sometimes worry if our clients are being serviced properly and that our work is of a high quality. And the other thing is cybersecurity – for the businesses we service as well as for ourselves.

2. Name three traits required to survive in this role.

Passion, perseverance and a positive attitude.

3. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

Often I introduce myself as an accountant, and then I get asked, ‘Oh, are you like a bookkeeper then?’ I find that very funny.

4. Who has had the greatest impact on your career?

There was a partner when I joined the firm, and his name was Lewis Gottschalk. He died a few years ago at age 74. He worked in the business long after his retirement age because he was such a passionate person. And he taught me basically everything I know. He taught me how to believe in myself. He taught me when to take up opportunities. He pushed me towards opportunities. He was just a mentor to me. I really miss talking to him because he was such a great soundboard to me. He would just tell me when he thought there was something I could do differently, which a lot of people don’t do. But he did it in a way which I really appreciated.

5. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

I think it is working smart, not over-working; just finding a smart way of doing everything. Also, don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions, because there are often a lot of people who have the same stupid question, but no one is asking it. And then, to keep learning. Never stop being open to the fact that you have to learn constantly.

6. The top reason for your professional success?

My positive attitude – I generally see the glass as half full. And again, it is the mentors that I’ve had in my life who’ve supported me throughout my career. And also the opportunities that have come my way. I think opportunities follow positivity.

7. How do you relax?

Reading. Spending time outdoors. And I love going to the spa and just switch off.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I can work from anywhere. I really don’t believe in clock watching. I get up early, I go to the gym at 5:45am. And then I go home, shower, and get to work by 9am. I will check my emails during this time. I don’t believe you should sit in the traffic just for the sake of being in the office by 8am.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

I like asking people where do they see themselves in five years or 10 years. And the reason why I really like that question now is because I asked someone recently, and she said, ‘I want to be managing partner like you.’ I thought that was absolutely awesome! [laughs]

10. The biggest perk of your job?

Travelling the world. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been to many countries. It is not just about seeing the country, it is about meeting different people.