AT first glance, Hilton Sansom is your stereotypical “privileged student”. The well-spoken, well-dressed 22-year-old attended Grey High, matriculated in 2011 with a 93% aggregate, and received one of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s most prestigious bursaries – the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship, currently worth R80,000-plus annually – for each year of his BCom (Chartered Accountancy) degree.
But what most people don’t realise is just how hard Sansom had to work to get there. Growing up as the only child of a single, unemployed mother, he has – since the age of nine – relied on bursaries for his education. “I learned from an early age what hard work was.”
Academic excellence became his ticket to success – and he grew up defining himself in terms of the marks he achieved, so much so that when his results dipped in a very challenging third year and again during this, his Honours year (years he had planned to pass cum laude, bearing in mind he was NMMU’s top first-year student in 2012 and among the top five second-year students in 2013), he sunk into depression. “I started to lose my identity when I stopped getting good marks.”
Sansom was one of three panellists sharing their “struggle to success” stories at Thursday’s (29 October) end-of-year function for NMMU School of Accounting’s PinnAcle Leadership Programme, a ground-breaking programme designed to fast-track the development of the School’s top 80 Chartered Accountancy students into responsible leaders.
“The programme is the only one of its kind in South Africa,” said School Director Prof Frans Prinsloo. “It aims to enhance not only the students’ academic performance, but also their leadership and other essential professional skills.”
The other two panellists were Lunga Tshikila, 24, an orphan who dropped out of university in 2012 but has gone on to become one of South Africa’s top young CEOs, and Gugu Nxiweni, 35, a Chartered Accountant, NMMU alumnus and social entrepreneur who recently co-founded his own company.
Tshikila, in particular, defied great odds to achieve what he has, but he had a goal towards which he was striving. Much of his success stemmed from his intensive internet research.With two years of a BCom (Accounting) degree behind him, and a natural affinity for numbers, he filled in the knowledge gaps online and used Facebook to network with people who have since become critical to his success. Today, he runs Tshikila Holdings, a private equity and venture capital firm in Sandton, Johannesburg, and he has been selected to participate in next month’s One Young World Summit in Thailand.
“I never thought I’d travel overseas.”
Sansom’s slump, meanwhile, was the start of his finding direction in life. “I needed to find out what my strengths were as a human being and not as a student.”Having realised after three years that auditing was “not really [his] thing”, he was able to identify his passion for the fashion industry – and is now planning to apply his business knowledge to build a career in this field.
“I learned a lot about myself and found the direction I need to take in life. For me, that’s success already.”
In his talk, Nxiweni, the Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Improvate Group of Companies, said: “For me, the greatest life struggle is the struggle to be the best version of yourself … How do I make the most of the cards I have been dealt?”
He told the audience he had a “philosophy of excellence – of triumph of ability over circumstance”.
“ Success in itself is not a goal. Success is a barometer against which we measure the achievement of stated and unstated objectives ... But success is meaningless without impact. As you do things and set goals for yourself, make sure you focus on the things that can change the world.”
Nxiweni’s company focuses on infrastructure-related opportunities, including supplying construction and building material to emerging contractors involved in the construction of RDP houses.
At the breakfast, PinnAcle students also reflected on the various leadership tasks they have completed over the year, from driving their own entrepreneurialprojects to assist NMMU Vice-Chancellor Derrick Swartz in his Mount Fuji fundraising quest for bursaries, to running 10 Parkruns to raise awareness around 10 critical issues, to helping out at the Lukhanyiso Children’s Home.
“One of the key thrusts of the PinnAcle programme is about finding unique opportunities for students to develop their own leadership skills,” said PinnAcle coordinator Elize Naude.
Earlier this year, the School of Accounting won NMMU’s Engagement Excellence Project Award for the PinnAcle programme.
INSPIRATION FOR STUDENTS … “From struggle to success” was the theme tackled by panellists (from left) Gugu Nxiweni, Lunga Tshikila and (right) Hilton Sansom, at Thursday’s (29 October) end-of-year function for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s PinnAcle Leadership Programme, where student Bongeka Mbonisweni was also awarded the PinnAcle Leadership Development Trophy. Picture: Leonette Bower
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