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Robin holds various interests in the industrials, property, renewable energy and logistics sectors across Sub-Saharan Africa. He is the Founder and Chair of Lonsa Group Limited, Chair of Lonsa Everite, Deputy Chair of Swartland Investments and Chair of Firstmile Properties. Robin (a fellow of the Chartered Securities Institute in England & Wales) is a professionally qualified and experienced investment banker and in 2016 was appointed to the ICAEW Member’s Advisory Board for Africa. Robin is also a member of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa, the past patron for the African Institute of Petroleum, and a former appointed consultant to the World Bank and IFC.
Robin Vela




Lonsa Group Limited

What inspired you to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant?

My late father was my biggest inspiration. He came from humble beginnings in rural Zimbabwe and benefitted from an educational scholarship to study economics in the UK, and later joined an Anglo-American plc subsidiary in the City of London as a graduate trainee. He never realised his dream of becoming a chartered accountant but recognised that education had given him his relative break in life and instilled that knowledge in me.

After graduating from Bristol University, I was offered a chartered accountancy training contract by Coopers & Lybrand. As I entered the world of finance, I discovered a natural love and affinity to finance which then kickstarted my career.

Thinking about specific people or experiences, what helped you to get to where you are today and how?

During my chartered accountancy training I quickly found that I had a limitation of aptitude for auditing and tax but a real natural talent with regards corporate finance. KPMG were starting a corporate finance unit in their London headquarters – I joined and was placed in a team led by Boyd Mulvey who was an experienced investment banker from the City of London’s leading bulge bracket investment banks. 

Boyd liked my work ethic and saw potential in the starry-eyed black kid he had under his charge. Boyd took me under his wing, handed me the rope and enabled me to grow and learn from him. He did this, not just technically, but also with soft unspoken mannerisms when engaging with counterparts or negotiating a transaction. I learnt a lot from this.

What actions can we all take to become workplace allies and what does this mean to you?

Becoming workplace allies first means accepting a level of discomfort in the transition to embracing diversity. Action is key, as it is an active process; one which people need to incorporate into their everyday lives.

We need to understand privileges and natural prejudices, actively recognise the challenges and discrimination faced by people from different communities, and advocate for change. 

When I started 30 years ago, there was no appreciation for cultural and community differences. I think it is important that this generation of talent do not experience the same limitations my father did, or the challenges that I did purely because of race.

One of ICAEW’s strategic themes is ‘strengthening the profession by attracting talent and building diversity’. Why do you think this is important?

Building diversity not only opens the profession to a wider pool of talent, but also an appreciation for the varying complexities of relationships with finance at a community level. The sustainability of the profession also depends on its acceptance of being an inclusive club.

It enables accountants to provide context-based services based on shared perspectives and experiences, thus building credibility. This diversity of thought helps to encourage better ways of solving problems and provides further opportunity to educate and learn about cultural differences, and the value that brings to a Global profession. 

Becoming workplace allies first means accepting a level of discomfort in the transition to embracing diversity.

How do you think the profession is becoming more diverse?

I have been fortunate to be involved in ICAEW as an advisory board member for Africa. The aspirations of ICAEW to expand into the continent gives it recognition and entrenches its leadership position as an accountancy body.

In recent years, ICAEW has taken active steps to become more diverse by signing up to the Black Talent Charter, expanding this beyond its original remit to include all areas that ICAEW has influence, and in addition creating its own Black Members Community, one which exists to promote and support black talent in accountancy. In encouraging inclusivity, ICAEW automatically attracts a wider range of talent to the profession.

What would you like to see more of in the future of accountancy?

I want to see more young black men and women being able to easily visualise the ultimate level of success in this profession. I would love to see more people from ethnic minority backgrounds in positions of leadership and management in this profession who also actively take on the role of mentor to talent from similar backgrounds. 

What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of joining the profession?

Find a good mentor, someone you respect, who motivates you and never be afraid to ask for help.

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