BDO’s Gilchrist Mushwana: Digital is the logical next step

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The BDO advisory director and head of cyber security shares his journey from IT to forensics.

Gilchrist Mushwana is originally from Limpopo, and for many people his age, access to quality education was a struggle. Excelling in a maths and physics exam unlocked a scholarship opportunity, and gave him the chance to attend a boarding school that offered computer science – which ultimately led him to enter the world of IT.

“I took computer science because I've always been good at mathematics,” says Gilchrist. “But in all honestly, I felt it would allow me to get a job and support my family as quickly as possible.”

At the end of high school, Gilchrist was awarded a bursary to study computer science at the University of Cape Town. Coming from an ocean-less Limpopo, he admits it was “a big adjustment” to move to Cape Town, but he wanted to build new relationships and start a new life, so he was thrilled when UCT accepted him.

A serial entrepreneur goes corporate

Gilchrist unexpectedly entered the finance industry early on in his IT career. Through an IT solution he needed to implement for a finance company, he was introduced to fraud detection and forensics, and he soon became interested in these aspects of law and accounting. He wanted to learn more.

“I obtained a postgraduate diploma from the University of Pretoria in investigative and forensic sciences, and since then, I've been involved in that space,” says Gilchrist. “I also saw an opportunity to start my own business.”

Gilchrist ended up being the managing director for three of his own businesses: a forensic investigation professional services firm and two IT companies. One of the companies was a subsidiary that provided enterprise risk management and fraud detection solutions, and the other was a data analytics and consulting company.

Over the years, he built up his three businesses, qualified as a certified fraud examiner, and, in 2014, he obtained his MPhil in accounting sciences and fraud risk management.

Gilchrist enjoyed being an entrepreneur, but he always wanted to “go corporate” by the time he was 40. That happened with a couple of years to spare when he joined BDO as director in their advisory division in July this year.

Digital transformation and managed services

“I decided to make a clean break and leave my entrepreneurial interests with my former business partner,” says Gilchrist. “The decision to go corporate was something I knew that was going to happen.” For Gilchrist, there are pros and cons to running a small business versus being in corporate; in a smaller business there is less red tape and the turnaround from a proposal to getting signed is quite swift, and in corporate, there are systems because controls must be in place.

“On the flip side, you have a support system in corporate, and intellectual property, human resources, and marketing are already there. I never used to have that, so, it's different.”

Transitioning to corporate has allowed Gilchrist to focus on cybersecurity and tech advisory. Gilchrist is enthusiastic about building BDO’s cyber security portfolio and further growing its digital offering, particularly when it comes to digital transformation.

“For a company like BDO, the digital space is an exciting one,” adds Gilchrist. “We have a lab of our own that focuses on vulnerability risk assessments, penetration testing, digital forensics, and IT assurance-related work, which includes cyber security reviews, gap analysis, and benchmarking.”

According to Gilchrist, BDO also offers managed security services, as not every customer has the skills or infrastructure to deal with cybersecurity. And on the tech advisory side, they’re placing a strong emphasis on assisting clients with cloud migration, data governance work, and leveraging analytics through artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Learning from books and negotiating a third Master’s

Two years ago, Gilchrist enrolled in his second master’s degree, this time in applied business ethics. He has a deep love for knowledge and reading – before he signed up for the master’s, he read two books a month, but that has taken a backseat due to juggling his part-time academic studies and work commitments.

“I read books about anything,” says Gilchrist. “Recently, I read a book entitled The Choice by Dr Edith Eger, a psychologist who is an Auschwitz survivor. Books are so important – you can learn about what other people have gone through and apply it to your own life. As South Africans, we can use books to tap into the experience of others who have walked similar paths to manage change and transition. I can talk about books for hours!”

If he’s not reading, working, or studying, Gilchrist enjoys going for a run as it clears his head. “I love to run,” he says. “I go for a 5km run almost every day, and it helps with my mental wellness.”

Gilchrist is currently working on his dissertation – but once it’s completed, he wants to do his third Master’s.

“I'm negotiating with my wife, but she's refusing; she says it's enough!” he laughs. “After a couple of years, I may be allowed to look into it…”

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