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Wits School of Accountancy renamed after former Head, Margo Steele

- Wits University

Former student pledges US$10 million to rename the school after first woman head of school.

Wits University has received a donation of US$10 million to rename the Wits School of Accountancy after celebrated Professor Margo Steele, who served as Head of School from 1987 to 1995.

The donation was announced at Steele’s 90th birthday celebration that Wits hosted in her honour on Wednesday, 3 May.

Wits executive members, guests and former students of Margo Steele celebrate her 90th birthday with her.

Steele, who joined Wits University as a part-time tutor at the Wits School of Accountancy in 1957, was appointed as a senior lecturer in 1969, and became the first woman Head of School of Accountancy at the University in 1987. She served in her position for eight years before she retired in 1995.

Wits University celebrated Steele’s 90th birthday in a small, exclusive event at the Wits Club on Wednesday. The celebration was hosted by outgoing Head of the School of Accountancy, Professor Nirupa Padia, the third female Head of School (after Professor Jackie Arendse - the second Head of School), and attended by guests, including Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi and business leaders such as Alan Pullinger (First Rand), Peter Wharton-Hood (Life Healthcare),Steve Binnie (Sappi) and Jacob Modise (Batsomi), all former students of Steele.

In thanking Steele for her contribution to Wits University, Vilakazi said “she brought unparalleled expertise, experience to the sector”.

“Her dedication to excellence and her unwavering and unremitting commitment to excellence in education and development of her students has made her widely respected within the Wits community and across the world,” said Vilakazi, adding that her work led to the Wits School of Accountancy being the leading faculty of accountancy in Africa and globally.  

Naming a number of global leaders of industry, such as Stanley Bergman (Henry Schein), Steve Collis (AmerisourceBergen), Stephen Koseff (Investec) and Ivan Glasenberg (Glencore) who all sent personal well-wishes to Steele, Vilakazi announced that one of her former students pledged US$10 million towards renaming the Wits School of Accountancy after her.

“He said that through this contribution, in honouring Steele, he would like to ensure that the school, in its diverse form, rise to a next level and perform even better and reach even a more diverse cohort of students, and to assist students in need to receive  world class education like he received,” said Vilakazi.

Upon receiving an invitation to attend Steele’s 90th celebration in mid-April, the alumnus immediately suggested the generous gift. The University has moved rapidly to ensure approval from the appropriate governance structures.

“This approval has been achieved in record time and with wholehearted endorsement,” said Peter Bezuidenhoudt, Director of Development and Fundraising at Wits University.

The renaming of the school to the Wits Margo Steele School of Accountancy was approved by the Wits Council in the first week of June. The funding will come in tranches of US$1 million per year.

Steele, who recounted various personal stories of her and her families time at Wits at her birthday celebration, said the one thing that surprised her during her time as Head of School was that she was told to develop an academic course in ethics.

“I actually presumed that I learned all my ethics by having discussions with my peers and with my family, about the day’s happenings and activities, and those little discussions. The young people were either corrected or they were commended for the steps that they had taken. That was ethics to me,” she said.

But as the world changed, so her ideas needed to change.

“I had to re-assess my whole theory on this. And in this reassessment, I was fortunate also to be right at the coalface of this reassessment. Because I was involved with the changes in the economic environment, in the social environment and so I changed. I had to change.

“I wanted to change and with that change, I found that I became a different person. Having learnt all of this, I was lucky to meet so many different, wonderful people. I met academics, students, colleagues, they were all wonderful, decent people, and I loved them all. And here I felt it was such a pleasure to work with them.”

In closing, Steele shared that she had recently met an old lady, whose daughter was a chartered accountant, who had studied at Wits.

“That old lady told me very hushed tones, that her daughter had said that everybody was terrified of me,” said Steele.  

“I was stimulated by this [the University] environment. I was so encouraged by the things we were achieving. But here I learn that everybody was terrified of me. Well, that was ridiculous. I didn’t believe a word of it. So, I want to leave you all with a good piece of advice today. Never believe a thing that an old lady tells you!”