The journey from an aspiring business professional at varsity to an Audit Manager in public practice has probably been the most daunting and taxing period of my life to date. In the 4 years and 3 months between receiving my degree and being promoted to Manager, there were numerous struggles, set-backs and obstacles. However being granted the opportunity to overcome these and prove my worth has been invaluable. That being said, the time will invariably come when you ask yourself one or both of the following questions- whether you’ve chosen the right path and whether you want to stay in audit or move on to a new challenge. The answers to these questions can vary greatly depending on a typical day in audit but from a sober perspective, I’ve found that taking stock of your journey’s ups and downs is perhaps the best way to discover how harshly you judge your current path and consider the future.

I started my articles in 2013, fresh-faced out of Stellenbosch and ready to embrace the professional world. After spending my first few weeks / months acclimatising to the office environment and learning the various ways to and not to prepare compilation files and tax returns, I was planned on my first audit. The term “thrown in at the deep end” has never come alive to me as it did during that first audit. Without going into the particulars of this specific situation, a culmination of factors resulted in my fellow first year and I managing to post a week’s worth of time to successfully reconciling the general ledger to the trial balance. The intricacies and processes required to perform an audit were quickly made aware to us by the Senior and Manager on the job and, through late nights and long hours, we managed to steer the audit (and budget) back on track.

It was at that time I truly realised the importance of mentors and the role senior staff members play in the firm. The Manager continued to play an important part in my development as a trainee auditor and provided a seemingly inexhaustible source of knowledge and patience in moulding the dozens of trainees in the office.

Skipping ahead to the end of my second year, the mentoring and hard work had started to pay dividends as we had proved our ability to cope with the “deep end” and jointly won the firm’s award for auditors’ of the year.

Throughout the remainder of my time as a trainee and the first few months of moving into a Supervisor role, this mentorship gradually shifted from Managers to Partners and the wealth of knowledge being passed down just increased. The most notable shift here came in that the lessons learned from partners didn’t only relate to auditing but also to a change in mind-set. Receiving training over a period of three years to adequately perform the role of an auditor comes with a few obvious struggles. However the most significant of these was only made aware to me after I finished articles. Learning how to shift your view from that of a strict auditor and to get your mind out of that little box proved to be one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during my time in auditing.

There are many obvious cons to the auditing field, timesheets, long hours and the ever-changing moods of clients and Partners to name a few but in hindsight, these are exactly the challenges you want to be able to say you’ve overcome and learned to navigate. The ability to cope with frequent change and adhere to strict rules develops an efficient work ethic and in the end, creates a more rounded and adaptable professional individual. Even if your ultimate goal in life isn’t being an audit partner or being even remotely linked to the field of auditing, the experience is one that should be embraced in that it provides a great deal of lessons to learn in a relatively short period of time.

One of my lecturers at varsity shared a quote with us one day, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. At the time I didn’t think too much of it but I’ve come to realise that on a subconscious level, I’ve been applying this very same quote to my reasoning for staying on this path. The lessons I’ve learned have come as a direct result of there always being at least one exceptionally knowledgeable individual available to me from whom I could learn and further my own development. This feeds into our drive as rational human beings to always try and improve ourselves, always looking for the next challenge and trying to reach the top of the particular ladder that interests you.

I would gladly make the same choice again to go down this path and learn what I have learnt and seize the opportunities afforded to me. As to the second question posed at the start of this article, I can only follow the same principle and in turn afford the same advice that’s worked for me thus far, and that is to make sure that the smartest person in your proverbial room isn’t the one reading this article.

Neal Fisher

Manager | Audit, Cape Town