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School of Accountancy renamed after Margo Steele

- Wits University

Former student pledges US$10 million to retitle the school after inspiring lecturer.

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 2023.Margo Steele 90th

Steele, who joined Wits University as a part-time tutor at the Wits School of Accounting in 1957, was appointed as a senior lecturer in 1969, and became the first woman Head of School of Accounting 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. The celebration was hosted by outgoing Head of the School of Accountancy, Professor Nirupa Padia, who followed in Steele’s footsteps as another female Head of School after Professor Jacqueline Arendse (BAcc 1986, HDipTax 1999). Other guests included Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi and business leaders such as First Rand's Alan Pullinger (BCom 1990, BCom Hons 1991, MCom 1996), Life Healthcare's Peter Wharton-Hood (BCom 1985, BCom Hons 1987), Sappi's Steve Binnie (BAcc 1990) and Batsomi's Rasetlhake Jacob Modise (BCom 1987, BAcc 1989, MBA 1993) – 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 chairman and CEO of Henry Schein Stanley Bergman (BCom 1972, CTA 1973), CEO of AmerisourceBergen Steve Collis (BCom 1982, BCom Hons 1983), former Investec CEO Stephen Koseff (BCom 1973, CTA 1975, MBA 1984, DCom 2017), and former Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg (BAcc 1982) who all sent personal well-wishes to Steele.

“He said that through this contribution, in honouring Steele, he would like to ensure that the school, in its diversity, rises to the next level and performs even better and reaches an even more diverse cohort of students, and assists students in need to receive a world class education like he received,” said Vilakazi.

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 family's 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 my family, about the day’s happenings and activities, and through those little discussions the young people were either corrected or 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. Because I was involved with the changes in the economic environment.

“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!”