Puso Thahane Running my own race

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Junior Associate, McKinsey & Company
BA (International Relations) LLB


Puso, we’re overwhelmed by just how much you’ve accomplished! After being admitted as an Attorney of the High Court subsequent to completing your articles of clerkship at a Top 5 South African Law firm, you went on to become a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company. You have worked for two highly-rated companies, but most notably, you made a career change. Tell us about your journey towards where you are today – what informed your decision to go into consulting?

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about economic development in Africa and curious about the role of entrepreneurship in shaping sustainable change on the continent.

When I joined a corporate law firm, I fell in love with business and quickly gravitated towards the mergers and acquisitions department. I was fortunate to work  on cross-border transactions with some of the best legal minds the M&A space and on some of the most complex transactions across Southern Africa.  On each transaction, I found myself being more interested in why our clients were doing the transactions for which I was drafting a agreements. I regularly asked myself “what decision would I make if this were my own business?” This curiosity quickly grew into passion for business and I made the decision to join a company that would allow me to develop my business tool-kit at the cold-face of business innovation. I also wanted to work with people who were truly passionate about developing Africa and McKinsey was the obvious first choice.

Both notorious for their strenuous work hours and stressful environment, working as a lawyer or as a management consultant is no easy feat. How differently do the two professions require you to apply yourself?

As a corporate lawyer, your job is to become a trusted advisor and being a truly great consultant is no different. Both professions require one to be extremely analytical however as a consultant I am required to be far more hypothesis driven – I am required to think creatively about what the solution might be, while as a lawyer, I was paid to know exactly what the law said in black and white.

Contrary to popular belief, as management consultants our clients do not pay us to know the answer but rather to help them work through the best solutions to their most complex problems collaboratively. As a consultant, I am required to be a thought partner. In practical terms, I now also use MS Excel to do more than just check my billable hours and most of the people I work with hardly know how to open a document in MS Word.

more about yourself helps you to be more confident in being your authentic self and becoming a better version of that every day.

You are also a key member of Bosele Foundation Trust, an education trust founded in 2014 which aims to benefit under-privileged children in resource-scarce communities by providing them with a bursary to fund their formal high school education. Why do you think it is important for young professionals to perform acts of philanthropy and giving back to the community?

Young professionals, particularly in Africa, have a personal interest in developing other young professionals to drive and sustain economic transformation on the continent. I believe the most sustainable way to achieve this is transformation is through education, which is why I am personally invested in Bosele Foundation. However, any act, which builds the community, has a positive and exponential impact on the lives of those affected by it.

I believe that life is made up of a series of “magic moments” that significantly affect the trajectory of one’s progress and development irrespective of one’s stage of life. Each act of philanthropy translates into a “magic moment” for the beneficiary of the act and send his / her life on an exponentially different trajectory.

You also serve as a Council Mentor of the Johannesburg Junior Council. Could you tell us more about your duties in this regard?

The Johannesburg Junior Council is a non-profit organization made up of the top 2 learners elected from each of the  40 best schools in Johannesburg to spend a year representing the youth of Johannesburg and developing leadership skills by implementing community outreach projects including youth advocacy campaigns and fund raising drives.

When I was in high school, I was selected to represent my school on the junior council and I was privileged to serve as the junior mayor.  I now sit on the Governing Body of the council as a mentor and in this role, I am responsible for advising the council students and assisting them with the execution and implementation of their community outreach and youth focused projects. Through the mentors, the junior councilors have a board of advisors from whom they can draw insights and test ideas prior to implementation.

Let’s throw in a tricky question. What do you believe leads to success? Is it a series of deliberate and calculated steps or a matter of attaining great opportunities?

I believe that success is as much about luck as it is about practice and preparation. A series of deliberate and calculated steps is likely to move you towards your goals and set you up for the best possible chance of taking full advantage of the opportunities that come your way. The nature and timing of the opportunities presented to us however, has a lot to do with luck. Success, my mind, is the intersection between luck and diligent preparation.

You are most notably known for your pristine reputation. Give us some insight into how one should handle their personal brand…

One of the most liberating axioms I have learned and have since lived by is to “run my own race” and to bring my full self to everything that I do. I believe that Investing in learning more about yourself helps you to be more confident in being your authentic self and becoming a better version of that every day.

 

Take us through what a typical work day looks like for you?

Activities
05:00

Wake up and head to the gym with my wife – we use one car and maximize on “quality” time together because we both lead relatively busy lives

07:30 Check emails in my Uber ride to the client – read only and prioritise responses and data requests (no reply) – then wonder what today will be like because no two days are ever the same
08:15 Arrive at the client and prepare for team “check-in” at 09:00am
08:30 Team check in to discuss our respective goals for the day
09:00 Team problem solving to brainstorm solutions to the overall client problem – how can we help our client stimulate economic growth in Southern Africa – this is my favorite part of the job
11:00 Prepare a client presentation on my latest thinking on demand stimulation and customer care
13:00 Have lunch and play some or other trivia quiz with the team to de-stress and switch-off from the PowerPoint
15:00 Present the team’s latest thinking to the client and discuss refinements requested by the Chief Executive
17:00 Finalize a document for the client Chief Executive’s meeting with the National department minister tomorrow
20:00 Watch ted talks in the Uber on my way to dinner at home with my wife

Advice for young professionals?

As young professionals we are all encouraged to spend the early part of our careers learning and honing a set of technical skills, (legal, engineering, medical, finance etc) so that we are proficient in it.  While the importance of this cannot be overstated, it is equally important to spend time investing in building personal mastery. This can be as simple as  getting to know yourself a bit better by trying to learn something new every year, picking up an instrument or learning a new language or travelling. This will give you the confidence to navigate the rest of the maze that is building a strong and rewarding career.

Corporate Quickie

I would love to be mentored by Sim Tshabalala – the man is a lawyer who is running Africa’s largest bank while most people think lawyers can hardly count.

The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is giving up Karate after 17 years to focus on my career

Africans have the opportunity to shape the next global economic revolution and to restore humanity in the world

Worst money mistake – Getting an uncapped cell phone line as a student and then roaming while travelling abroad and returning home to a R16000 bill.

Best investment – R123 with a return of 650% over 6 years. I bought a copy of Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki – This book inspired to start investing in a small financial product that I contributed very small amounts to religiously. I called it the “BMW fund” and although I did not end up using it to buy a car, it helped me pay for almost 50% of our wedding. Small and steady is always the best golden when investing.

 

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