Young CAs(SA) Shaping The Future Of Business

The SAICA Top 35-under-35 competition launched in 2014. It has proved to be a huge success in recognising and showcasing young CAs(SA) who are achieving extraordinary results and have an immense impact on society.

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After receiving hundreds of applications and nominations — both nationally and internationally — the competition was narrowed down to just thirty-five outstanding finalists who each boast remarkable portfolios of significant success for their age. These young achievers have displayed leadership, personal determination and drive in their journey.


The competition is proudly sponsored by Investec, PPS and Syspro who have recognised its value as a platform to recognise young CAs(SA), both nationally and internationally, who are bringing about a valuable contribution to the economy of South Africa.

With a panel of prestigious judges each finalist was interviewed and the overall winner is selected along with three categories winners: Entrepreneur, Corporate and Academia.

The overall and category winner — Corporate

James Wilkinson (33), Group General Manager: Business Improvement at Distell Group Limited.

Business is in his blood

As a school boy James was already doing deals with high-end car dealerships by renting out parts of the rugby field during his school’s open day. At university, James did something similar and turned the SRC from a cost-centre into a good business by renting out the Plaza to corporates during orientation week.

James Wilkinson not only understands the issues affecting our country but is determined to do his part to make South Africa succeed. Those who know him well say he is one of those rare individuals who understands that leadership and service are inextricable.

The innovative spirit

Being the first recipient of the PwC CEO Innovation Award, when James moved to Distell he took along his innovative spirit. The team’s ethos is to solve business challenges by interpreting the group’s strategy and adding value through unique business innovations.

“Business Improvement is a division within Group Finance and our mission is to tackle difficult, often cross-functional challenges and opportunities. Some of us are CAs(SA), others have a background in industrial engineering, business process optimisation, business consulting, and innovation management. I value our team’s diversity as we all have different views and ways of approaching projects,” says James.

“Additionally we operate some specialist capabilities, manage and deliver multiple projects, provide commercial decision support to various business functions, such as mergers and acquisitions, group marketing, the CFO, as well as business partnering to our Africa business unit.

“We think of ourselves as occupying those spaces between the typical business silos and helping to innovate and create value through the unexpected.”

Business Improvement went live with a first of its type centralised procurement shared service centre that operates dynamic new capabilities such as reverse auctions. For a business such as Distell, with over R9 billion of procurement from more than 6 300 suppliers, taking on the mammoth task of simultaneously redesigning their indirect and marketing procurement processes and migrating to a shared service operating model has been a huge and exciting highlight for James and his team.

Secret to success

“I don’t think there is necessarily a secret key to success — I don’t even think I have a good definition of it for myself yet. I do believe that you become a product of the people that you associate with — both your friends and your colleagues. If they exhibit those traits you respect and aspire to, you’ll drift in that direction.”


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The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading accounting institutes. As South Africa’s pre-eminent accountancy body, the Institute provides a wide range of support services to more than 38 000 members who are chartered accountants and hold positions as CEOs, MDs, (board) directors, business owners, chief financial officers, auditors and other leaders in their chosen spheres of business operations and public life. Most of these members operate in commerce and industry, and play a significant role in the nation’s highly dynamic business sector and economic development, but some are also employed in the public sector.