Yacouba Traoré: The Visionary Leader Driven by a Desire to ‘Make a Dent’ in the Universe

Top 10 Visionary Business Leaders in Africa 2024

Yacouba Traoré, Partner and President at ETY, has established a formidable reputation as a visionary leader in the African accountancy industry, after working on various other sectors for more than two decades. His diverse background, ability to adapt, appetite for knowledge, and unwavering commitment have propelled him to the forefront of the accountancy industry.

Yacouba has extensive sectoral experience in banking, insurance, microfinance, mining, industries, agriculture, risk management, and other sectors. After garnering over 23 years of experience in these diverse sectors, he decided to transition into accountancy. He views this switch and his subsequent rise to become an international leader in the field as a call from destiny.

Yacouba firmly believes that accounting firms are trusted third parties, essential for strong economies, development, and stable markets. He became aware of the accounting profession’s crucial role while working for a leading accounting firm in Burkina Faso. “I consider it to be work done in the public interest,” he points out.

Primary Responsibilities at ETY

As Partner and President, Yacouba’s main responsibilities involve developing the company’s strategy, monitoring its implementation, and evaluating the results. Secondly, he is responsible for the development of the firm’s client portfolio. He works on the company’s geographical growth and overseas development, as well as development and protection of the ETY brand.

Finally, Yacouba ensures quality control of deliverables and takes ultimate responsibility for engagements. “To achieve this, my credo is a participative approach, which allows teams to enjoy the flexibility they need to unleash their creativity and full potential in the service of the client,” he says.

He expresses his participative leadership approach by advocating and leading by example – setting the tone from the top. Yacouba also believes in working together to improve the transfer of skills and knowledge. This involves collaboration and knowledge management technologies, designed to break down the silos characteristic of old-world companies, according to him.

Challenges and Accomplishments

As an entrepreneur, Yacouba has encountered numerous challenges. Some of them arose after he resigned and set up his firm, and he also had to deal with challenges while growing his firm and working to establish a standard of quality backed by international standards. He could overcome every challenge he faced because of his confidence.

Yacouba shares that he was confident about his project from the outset, and he was willing to work hard to achieve his set objectives. This confidence and willingness culminated in the drafting of the firm’s organisation manual the year he resigned to devote himself to it. Yacouba also learned from others in the industry, in addition to analysing the best practices followed in the profession.

“I have been curious about success stories in the sector and other companies like the so-called high-tech unicorns,” he says. “I keep a technology watch and identify and integrate any technological developments that might impact the business and support functions.”

In his long and illustrious career, Yacouba has a string of achievements to his credit. One notable accomplishment is the completion of a business valuation engagement. He shares that he was professionally exhilarated when it happened. “This was very appreciated by the client,” he adds.

The engagement involved carrying out a valuation of a developing goldmine project. Yacouba explains that the work was remarkable not only because the report was to be used nationally and internationally – by at least three foreign countries – but also because of the complexity of the engagement. One complexity was the use of multiple standards. These included International Valuation Standards (IVS), Metallurgy and Petroleum on Valuation of Mineral Properties (CIMVAL) of Canada, the Australasian Code for Public Reporting of Technical Assessments and Valuations of Mineral Assets (The VALMIN Code), and the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM)’s Cost Estimation Handbook for the Mining Industry.

Another complexity was that the project was in the development phase and still to generate revenue, Yacouba points out. “Additionally, no local official data were available on the discount rate, long-term risk-free rate, and country risk, bringing me to formulate hypothesises and determine such rates from scratch,” he adds.

Navigating Diverse Sectors

The whole business environment is constantly changing and evolving, particularly in banking, insurance, and mining. Yacouba is of the opinion that the key to successfully navigating the complexities of these sectors requires quality education – initial education as well as continuing professional development – and the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn as part of a lifelong learning approach to keep pace with industry changes and innovations. According to him, following industry-specific knowledge is key to success:

  • Banking: Understanding financial regulations, risk management, and the evolving landscape of digital banking.
  • Insurance: Knowledge of underwriting, claims processing, actuarial science, and regulatory compliance.
  • Mining: Familiarity with geological exploration, environmental regulations, and commodity market dynamics.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Staying updated with global and local regulations, ensuring all operations meet legal requirements, and implementing robust compliance programs to mitigate risks.
  • Risk Management: Identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks through comprehensive risk management frameworks, including financial risk in banking, underwriting risk in insurance, and operational and environmental risks in mining.
  • Sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations and issues in these industries.

Yacouba believes that the path to success is also riddled with failures, and it sometimes also requires one to work hard like athletes. So, in the tough, competitive world of business, beloved and supportive families are an asset, he points out.

Qualities Required for Success

Yacouba is a successful leader in every sense of the word. According to him, a leader’s success depends on a number of factors. Some of the qualities that are an asset and enable a leader to achieve their set objectives include the ability to quickly grasp the environment, adapt to new situations, and show empathy and compassion. Yacouba also stresses the importance of having the ability to keep an open mind, be capable of learning, unlearning, and relearning; building and ensuring the harmonious working of a competent team; and identifying needs on time and proposing an appropriate offer.

Successful leaders also have technical skills, analytical minds, great capacity for analysis, professional scepticism, IT skills, and business acumen, Yacouba says. He explains that these qualities enable a leader to understand the operational business models, and thus, comprehend the industry as a whole.

Work-Life Balance

Yacouba is a seasoned practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. He currently serves both private and public sector entities. He regularly contributes to international standards-setting through board memberships, submission of comments, and attendance at standards setters’ forums. “I chair and/or sit on various professional accountancy organization boards at national, regional, and international levels,” Yacouba says.

ETY’s values are “leadership, integrity, and commitment,” Yacouba highlights, adding that work-life balance is a key part of the company’s ‘commitment’ value. To achieve this, they have placed technology at the heart of the business. This approach, according to Yacouba, unleashes productivity gains across all their operating segments, improves coordination and supervision of employees, and allows them to optimise resources. As a result, it frees up time for family members – who are an asset – to get refreshed after hard work, and leisure activities.

As part of their team-building programme, Yacouba has set up an annual golf competition at ETY. Employees serve as organisers of this competition and are responsible for awarding the trophies. The competition held its 5th edition in June 2024.

Motivating Factors

Yacouba’s motivation to stimulate growth in education, accountancy projects, and development projects stems from his awareness that – “we are passing through Earth and the conviction that we must be useful to our community and the world – if our journey is to be worthwhile.”

He notes that a study by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), titled Nexus 2: The Accountancy Profession – A Global Value Add (2015), has shown a strong correlation between the number of professional accountants and economic development. “Thus, my commitment to the profession aims to ensure that Africa can benefit from this lever,” Yacouba says.

“With regard to the various services provided to populations by development projects in support of governments, our societal and human values dictate our multifaceted contributions,” he adds.

He also underscores the importance of education. He firmly believes that it is a powerful means of changing mentalities and sowing the seeds of a mindset geared towards progress and development. “It also enables us to give back what the community has entrusted to us and even hope to move on to immortality,” Yacouba says. He draws his motivation from Steve Jobs’s words: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why even be here?”

Staying Innovative and Adaptive

Yacouba believes that education is key to innovation. He emphasizes the importance of both initial education, which is needed to acquire the necessary basic knowledge, and continuing professional development. The latter allows employees to remain constantly relevant and fit the company’s purpose, according to him.

Together with clients, Yacouba and his team imagine the solutions that meet their needs and help address their unique challenges. This is encapsulated in their slogan, “Imaginons vos solutions,” which means “Imagine your solutions.” In addition, ETY also monitors technological developments, including in the field of learning, to ensure that its employees are constantly adapting to its professional environment.

“With this in mind, we carefully select our employees not only on the basis of their technical skills but also on soft skills such as curiosity, perseverance, empathy, the ability to synthesize ideas, and the ability to work as part of a team,” Yacouba says.

He also points out that they train their employees regularly to maintain a high level of competence throughout their careers. This approach also applies to leaders like him. Everyone at ETY is obligated to attend at least 40 hours of continuing professional development a year. This session covers all the firm’s offerings as well as areas that enable employees to bring innovation into the business.

Disruptive Role of Technology in Africa

Yacouba believes that technology will play a disruptive role in the future of businesses in Africa. The continent will leverage technology to solve some of its current problems and develop new technologies based on challenges specific to African countries. According to Yacouba, this will enable the continent to catch up with the rest of the world and even become tomorrow’s leader.

His vision is to see technological leaps used to reinvent progress and development without following the linear path of developed countries, and invention of new solutions. “In that respect, small and medium-sized African businesses in all sectors could offer high-quality, highly competitive products and services based on an appropriate technological package,” he says. The development of mobile money in Africa is an example of this trend.

Yacouba also envisions an African start-up using artificial intelligence to develop an innovative tool for modelling and measuring mining or natural resources, which could absolutely change the value chain for resource exploitation.

Similarly, he foresees, in the short-term, African Small and Medium Practices (SMPs) leveraging artificial intelligence to improve their auditing and accounting practices while significantly reducing the usual audit and accounting software costs, or providing sustainability report preparation services with minimal staff.

Additionally, Yacouba anticipates that an African start-up using data mining tools and AI could disrupt the health industry by extracting insights from quality data available on biotopes. It may provide the world with innovative solutions for sustainable development issues.

Goals and Plans for the Future

Yacouba and his team are focused on building up ETY’s brand recognition. They intend to make it a recognized brand by 2024. In addition, they also plan to begin their conquest of Africa and the world.

The other goals they aim to achieve by 2024 include integrating AI into all their operating business segments and support processes; nurturing, shaping, and tailoring their client experience; and achieving complete migration to the cloud – the whole business. “We also plan to offer our customers new products enhanced by technology,” Yacouba says.

As for his personal goals, he aims to fulfil his commitments as president of ONECCA-BF, the national professional accounting organization, board member of the Pan African Federation of Accountants (PAFA), and chair of the public value management technical and advisory group, and member of International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB).

Inspiring the Next Generation of Africans

Yacouba’s vision and ambition is to break all glass ceilings and inspire future generations in Africa. “I hope that the path I have travelled will inspire future generations,” he says.

He also hopes to raise awareness that anything is possible if one has the will and can work hard enough. For some leaders, ambition has a negative connotation, but not for Yacouba. He points out that it is not bad as long as someone doesn’t use unethical means to satisfy it.

Through his work, Yacouba wants to show the new generation that there are no limits to what they can achieve – no matter where they come from. He believes that only their imagination can be the limiting factor. “With a baccalaureate in maths and physics/chemistry, I’m currently a chartered accountant and partner in an accounting firm, where I’m also an IT architect and administrator – servers and network – while advising real estate and mining companies,” he says.

In the 21st century world, opportunities are limitless for those starting with good qualifications and the will, Yacouba points out. “And competencies can be acquired at any time, which allows mobility across diverse industries,” he adds.

Advice for Aspiring Leaders

When it comes to talking about success, Yacouba usually prefers giving a practical example rather than offering a word of advice. He believes that every leader’s path to success is different, and multiple factors such as context, personality, and environment influence their actions.

However, as someone who has traversed several sectors, overcome a string of challenges, and accomplished major goals, Yacouba has invaluable suggestions for aspiring leaders. He tells them to focus on cultivating themselves, deeply educating themselves, and accumulating knowledge. He also encourages them to have curious minds and a thirst to learn regardless of their age or stage in life.

“It is when you have the most accomplished knowledge, it becomes clear that you have even more to learn if you are to be relevant, to fit the purpose, and therefore, capable of adapting and making a mark,” Yacouba says.