Joseph Owolabi first African elected as ACCA global president

22 November 2022 3 min. read
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Joseph Owolabi, the founder of boutique Melbourne-based consultancy Rubicola, has been elected global president of the ACCA, the first African and youngest person to hold the role.

A former director with Deloitte in Australia and senior manager at PwC has become the first African and youngest ever person elected as global president and chairman of the ACCA in the industry body’s nearly 120-year history.

Joseph Owolabi, who hails from Nigeria but moved to Australia six years ago, now oversees an organisation with close to 250,000 members in 171 countries worldwide, and before his fortieth birthday.

Joseph Owolabi, ACCA Global President, Rubicola

“If you had told me as a child that I would one day be the first African leading the largest, truly global accounting body, I would not have believed you,” Owolabi said. “ACCA is an inclusive open and global community for members, future members and partners. Wherever in the world I have found myself, ACCA has given me a home and a family. I am passionate about connecting our community and inspiring the accountants of tomorrow.”

First established in the UK in 1904, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants is one the world’s largest professional accounting bodies, which in addition to its fully qualified members has more than a half a million students and future members on its books. Not only does the ACCA promote standards within the industry, but seeks to create future accountants capable of serving the world’s ever-changing economic and societal needs.

This notion was echoed by Owolabi, who currently operates his own consultancy, Rubicola, advising clients around the globe on risk, non-financial reporting and sustainable business strategies. “The challenges of today and the complexities of tomorrow will demand continuous learning, courage, sound judgment and a resolve to stay ahead of the curve. The accountancy profession has a key role to play in creating a better world.”

Prior to establishing Rubicola in Melbourne in the midst of Australia’s catastrophic 2019/20 bushfire season (the consultancy takes its name from the coral cay-dwelling rodent Melomys rubicola, the first Australian mammal thought to have become extinct as a result of climate change), Owolabi served for five years as a director with Deloitte, before which he spent a year with PwC Australia’s Capital Markets and Accounting Advisory Services team.

Owolabi first started his auditing and consulting career with PwC in Lagos in 2007 (where he completed his ACCA exams and became a qualified accountant), spending four years with the firm before later joining rival Ernst & Young and going on to establish and lead EY’s climate change and sustainability services offering for West Africa.

He first became an ACCA global council member in 2015, shortly before relocating to Australia.

In a 2020 interview with Accounting and Business magazine, Owolabi ironically notes he was originally motivated to give up his medical studies and pursue a career in advisory by a friend whose brother worked at KPMG – ultimately the only member of the Big Four he hasn’t worked for. Now, in what is ordinarily a single one-year term as ACCA president, he will be tasked with delivering strategy for one of the world’s largest accounting bodies.