Pat Mokgatle Balances The Corporate World With His Startup. Here's How. Mphahlela 'Pat' Mokgatle isn't just stylish. He's using his sense of style to build a business that stands out from the crowd.
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Player: Pat Mokgatle
Company: Decorum Stylists
Like many entrepreneurs, Pat Mokgatle wears two hats: He heads up Business Development for Audit, Tax and Advisory at BDO Johannesburg, and he runs his start-up, Decorum Stylists, which he launched in 2016.
The one is all creative flair and style. The other is strategic, challenging and exciting. The cross-over between the two is where magic happens though, as Pat is able to use his corporate experience to build a great business.
Balancing two worlds
A CA(SA) and member of SAICA, strategically Pat is responsible for the overall business wins, client liaison, key account management, analysis of market trends, pitches and proposals to audit committees and building the overall brand at BDO.
Operationally, his days involve overseeing the CRM platform, meeting various CFOs and CEOs to understand their business needs, attending seminars, setting up meetings with various stakeholders, reviewing proposals, and training partners and directors on dry runs and presentation skills.
One would think this level of responsibility doesn't leave room for anything else – but when you love what you do, you make the time.
Pat launched Decorum Stylists in 2016. It's a fashion business that unzips its clients into a world of colourful suits that exude exquisite style.
He describes Decorum Stylists as class personified − a brand that provides grooming, tailored suits, accessories, and image consulting for males and females.
"We work with the finest fabrics in the market and learn from the best around the world. We devoted the first two years to building the brand and marketing our products and services, which has earned us an upstanding reputation for our craftsmanship.
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"Our clients' ability to select their own cut, design, fit and style, with our guidance, fulfils us and we are always looking forward to our next creation," says Pat.
A taste of style
The inspiration to start Decorum Stylists was through Pat's awareness of how a future CA or business leader should look.
So, he began to immerse himself obsessively in corporate etiquette and how a gentleman should behave. Cupcake, Pat's business partner and fiancée, has added her feminine flair to the business too.
"To me, the clothes were an expression of the hallmark of a true man. While doing my articles, the brand was based on small-scale selling of pre-packaged suit accessories, and, on weekends, Cupcake and I would coordinate our outfits.
"Creating our signature His & Hers suits was preordained, and we continue to draw our inspiration from the business leader concept, but it has evolved into a creation that is fitting for both males and females.
"I believe that corporate etiquette speaks to one's personal brand When a CA walks into the room, he or she should command it without uttering a word,"says Pat.
Drawing international inspiration
Pat and Cupcake first travelled to Florence in 2017 for the bi-annual Pitti Uomo, the Olympics of menswear where experts from across the globe convene to discuss the latest and finest fabrics and share ideas for the future.
"Upon arrival, we unveiled the concept of the first Decorum His & Hers suits, which were identical Prince of Wales notch lapel suits with matching accessories. We challenged the status quo and dismantled gender stereotypes, while winning the hearts of the international market, which saw us being featured in international publications such The New York Times, Vogue, GQ France, GQ Mexico, GQ Taiwan, Man of Many, W magazine, Glamour Italy, The Impression, The Streets Magazine, Getty Images, and Fashionista. We learnt so much from industry experts from across the globe."
In 2018, Pat and Cupcake returned to the Pitti Uomo and took the trade fair to another level by having their proposal inside the Fortezza da Basso. They were humbled to be invited by a French boutique, Chapal, to Paris for an exclusive exhibition at their showroom.
They have also worked with Smart Turnout London, Auzzro Republik, Happy Socks and Mobicel – and are the proud image consultants for former Orlando Pirates goal poacher Phumudzo "The Bold' Manenzhe.
Pat's journey to success
As with most successful people, the journey has not been without its challenges. Pat signed with BDO at the tender age of 17, while still in matric at Jeppe High School for Boys.
He was one of the top three accounting students in the school, and his accounting teacher, Mr Wallendorf, requested that Pat send him his CV. He can still remember his first thought being, "Boy! I think this man wants to send me in for some child labour.'
"I remember donning my black and white school blazer, which was about five inches short on the wrists (it was the same blazer that I had worn from Grade 8, which got smaller over the years) and overpopulated with my academic and sports scrolls as I walked into my first interview at BDO.
"I walked out of the interview having bagged my ticket to becoming a CA(SA). I had received a bursary from BDO and three-year articles. At the time, that was my biggest achievement by far, but in hindsight, the easiest kilometres of the journey," says Pat.
The following year, Pat began his first year of BAccSci at Wits University. The first and second year was a breeze, but in his third year, he failed. "It was my first failure in my academic career. I got 49% for financial accounting and that meant that I had to write a supplementary exam. It was the toughest paper that I had ever written. At least, that's what I thought at the time.
"I remember that the exam paper was based on a company called UR DOOMED CC (DOOMED). Talk about ironic − I got 35% for the exam, which meant that I had failed and had to repeat all four subjects in the following year.
"This was in accordance with a new rule that Wits had introduced, which I unfortunately had to experience first-hand."
Pat opted to take the scenic route in life and explore working at Philip Morris International on weekends to make additional money for petrol, since he was no longer staying at the university residence. Here he learnt a lot about sales and how to effectively close deals. In that same year, he passed his third year at Wits and went on to do his CTA.
"The major league games had begun. CTA has no formula or friends and it literally drains every bit of naivety out of a person. This was the pinnacle of becoming a CA(SA). It was the year that I like to refer to as The Punisher. I had stopped my weekend gig at Philip Morris to fully focus on the toughest year in the CA(SA) programme, but unfortunately my exam technique was not at the level that it should have been, and I failed my CTA.
"However, I didn't allow it to stop me. I set out to begin my articles in the following year while doing my CTA part-time, even when my peers told me that it would be impossible to balance the two. I spent my days, from 8 am to 4 pm, at clients and from 5 pm to 10 pm at the office working on exam-technique and tutorial questions," he says.
"I passed CTA, then passed the ICT and the APC. I had 18 months' articles under my belt, which meant that I could do the double in one year. What a journey it was, but well worth it."
His dream for the future? "My dream is to have a loving family with Cupcake, expand Decorum into an international household name, and finally to be an inspiration for that child who comes from South Africa by proving that we can compete on the biggest stages and at the highest level globally and truly make a mark."
A version of this article first appeared in Accountancy SA.
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