One of those whose modesty is outshined only by their quality, who seem to have more to share, more time for others, endless energy for charitable projects and for investing in the next generation, Accenture’s MD of Resources, Kenneth Robinson is a rare character indeed.
I’ve always enjoyed the role of trainer. Years ago, I took a bunch of UNISA students under my wing every Saturday morning for extra accounting lessons. I do a regular 20-session curriculum for new analysts at Accenture on a Tuesday evening. I enjoy the learning environment, the energy and questions of the young people.
I’ve mentored several small businesses over the years. And right now, outside of Accenture’s programme, I’m mentoring Nkonki, a black-owned accounting firm and am assisting a black retiring partner from E&Y set up, or rather, buy a manufacturing business. We’re investigating how best to approach the purchase, taking into consideration all the factors, including his favourable BEE status.
I’ve found I can help small businesses acquire contracts with large entities (state-owned or corporate), many of whom support purchasing from black-owned companies. There are often interesting mechanisms in place to help a small business secure the working capital they need to deliver on a contract, but until one knows about them, one can’t make them work in one’s favour. So I do my bit by suggesting to small businesses what facilities are available, when I find out about them.
"I’ve found I probably learn as much as the mentee. It’s a chance to refine my knowledge and gain an up-to-date and practical understanding."
For DV8, the IT start-up I was paired with in the ESD programme, the biggest challenge was their approach to processes. As a pure service company, they had the ideal model for a small business, offering software licensing, sales and maintenance with very few overheads. But they were struggling with liquidity, so we took a look at their payment processes, and how to invoice at the right time to avoid large gaps. We also looked at their after-sales support, and how we could apply some of Accenture’s standard processes to their business to ensure their customer service is on par.
There are some basic pillars Accenture can help a small business put in place, regarding standards, templates, paperwork and processes. Rather than have them go without processes, they may as well copy our approach, obviously tweaked for their requirements.
The mentorship engagement with DV8 took the form of a weekly face-to-face session over six months, based on a rough curriculum I’d put together, but also on what the guys wanted to know.
"Why do I continue to raise my hand to mentor? I’ve found I probably learn as much as the mentee. It’s a chance to refine my knowledge and gain an up-to-date and practical understanding."
My top tips for would-be mentors?
Know what you can teach and what you can’t. If you don’t understand company law, don’t fake it. Do the research or consult an expert.
Keep it punchy and accessible. I have a curriculum called ‘20-things,’ which gives the small business some idea of how long the road ahead is. I also do a talk on presentations skills titled: the good the bad and the ugly … that always gets a laugh.
Ask questions, engage their brains, gauge their knowledge. I was astounded to discover that none of the latest batch of analysts could tell me what “quantitative easing” is!
Give them choices—work with them to address the issues they want to discuss, rather than try to force them into a one-size-fits-all approach.
"Mentoring gives you a slice of life that you wouldn’t see otherwise. At Accenture, all of our clients are Fortune 500 Companies. Now you’re dealing with a different challenge altogether, and it’s quite stimulating to apply your skills creatively in this way."