“I wanted to look good in a suit” … In conversation with Fortune Chigwende

“I wanted to look good in a suit” … In conversation with Fortune Chigwende

A careers event at school inspired Fortune Chigwende to become an accountant. She tells Anisha Pithwa from Protiviti’s iGROWW network how she channelled self-belief, drive and confidence to reach the top of her internal audit career.


Fortune Chigwende wanted to be an accountant at the age of 13. After a group of industry professionals visited her school in Zimbabwe, it became clear she was on a different path to her sisters, who were training to become teachers. But it wasn’t just accountancy that interested her – she helped to run the family business – it was the image and confidence of a smart accountant that captured her imagination.

“I wanted to look good in a suit and hold a briefcase,” she remembers. “I was already the de facto bookkeeper for my mother’s sewing and knitting business, so, the profession was perfect for me. But, at that age it was interesting how impressionable I was, deciding to become a chartered accountant at that point.”

An accountancy degree with the University of Zimbabwe and Accounting Science with the University of South Africa followed, before Fortune joined a Big Four firm. She went into banking, becoming head of audit and then risk management, by the age of 30 at the same time pursuing a Master’s in Business Leadership with the University of South Africa. Drive and ambition helped to navigate her early career; confidence and self-assurance meant she became recognised as someone who could “do the job.”

That confidence took her to London in 2006, as international experience became the goal. What followed were a series of steps back up the career ladder, after stepping down on her arrival into the UK. After starting as an audit senior at a Big Four firm, she progressed into more senior roles and later joined as a senior manager with a global asset manager, until a head of internal audit role became available.

“I put my hat in the ring and was interviewed along with other external candidates,” she says. “Fortunately, I was successful, got the job and have never looked back. I think having confidence and putting yourself forward is key. You never know when the next opportunity will come along. That helped me to get where I am.” Today, Fortune is the head of internal audit at Investcorp, and currently based in Bahrain.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

“Investcorp is piloting a flexible working week, which has helped to strike the right balance. I can adjust my working hours around work, having lunch with my family and doing other things at home during my breaks, for example.

“But for that balance to work effectively, people need to establish trust with their managers. Throughout my career, I have been known as someone who is hardworking, dependable, and can deliver, which has helped me to develop flexibility in the way I work.

“When I joined the Big Four in the UK, people knew me affectionately as the manager with two children. I would tell anyone who would care to listen that I had to leave at 5pm, pick up my daughters, and then look at emails again in the evenings.

“Flexibility and compromise work both ways. In any relationship – marriage, friendship, work – people have to give, in order to receive. They can’t expect the company to be flexible when they can’t be flexible in return.”

What’s the biggest adversity you have faced in your career?

“When I moved to the UK, I took a few steps back: I had already been the head of risk management and became an audit senior. Re-establishing my career in a different environment with two young children was tough and required patience, perseverance, and self-belief. 

“Our family support network shrank considerably; it was just me, my husband and our two children. We had to educate ourselves about the new environment and make friends that would support us on the journey. 

“Is there anything I would have done differently? Well, working long hours stopped me from developing at times, when working smarter would have achieved the same results. Helping my team members to become better auditors, so I could delegate more, has helped me to do that – but it’s something I should have done much earlier in my career.”

Have you seen any improvements to the gender gap throughout your career?

“There are more women in senior positions. At Investcorp, for example, the head of corporate strategy is a woman, alongside the head of HR (Gulf and Asia), and the head of institutional capital raising, among others.

“Ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of women in this industry. In meetings, I would often be the only one, but that has changed. We’re seeing improvements to the gender gap across all levels of seniority, which is good, and I think we need to celebrate the small wins.

“But companies need to be specific with their actions. At Investcorp, for example, we have looked at our recruitment framework to ensure that we reach all underrepresented groups, including women. By focussing on the right things, firms have a better chance of changing.”

What’s the best work-related advice you have ever received?

“Don’t burn bridges. The world is getting smaller; we meet the same people in our circle of work when looking for a new role. This is related to building strong networks, which help to provide support and guidance. It’s especially important for internal auditors because it can be a lonely job; a network of peers, friends and family can provide support along the way.”

Have you got any advice for the next generation of women?

“We need to celebrate being women, but, importantly, remain true to ourselves. Don’t be intimidated by a role simply because you’re a woman. Put in the time and effort to gain the experience, of course, but be the change you want to see. 

“Get involved in activities that champion women: apply for promotions, market yourself, ask for a mentor or sponsor. Women need to take their progression into their own hands. If women do something to promote themselves, they will get where they want to go.”

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership that tackles women’s professional issues through forums, and facilitates networking events and community service activities.

For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].