Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?
DU PREEZ: I started with Deloitte out of college and worked in audit for a number of years, which was really great for learning about the fundamentals of business and finance as well as seeing how a number of companies operate. But I always had a sense of wanting to be involved in an industry where I’m able to make a difference in the work I do. In auditing, you’re playing an important role in preserving the trust of investors in a company, but it can sometimes be hard to see the tangible value of your work. I was really looking for a role that could challenge me but also help me really make a positive impact on companies and their stakeholders.
So began the search for my second career. While I was working full time, I decided to pursue my MBA. During my studies, I came across the restructuring industry in one of our elective modules, which exposed me to the world of turnaround, bankruptcy, distressed companies, and so on. It seemed to fit all the markers I was looking for—I could use business acumen to assist a company, ideally be able to support the company and its stakeholders to develop a better financial position.
I was based in South Africa at that time, where they had just released the equivalent of U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy legislation (called Business Rescue), which was a great time to jump in and start focusing on that industry. I completed my master’s dissertation on the topic of Business Rescue and turnarounds, and that launched me into this industry. At the same time, Deloitte in South Africa had relaunched its Restructuring Services team as well, providing me with the perfect opportunity to really get involved and pursue my interest and career into that world.
Q: What have been some of your most gratifying, favorite, or important engagements?
DU PREEZ: The first one that jumps to mind was an engagement that I worked on about two years ago, where our team took on the role of chief restructuring officer (CRO) at a family-owned business. The company had been in the family for more than three generations, and three siblings were running the business. Even though it had grown sizably over the years, the company had started to struggle financially. We were brought in by the lenders to help uncover the underlying causes, as well as to assist the company in stabilizing and maintaining liquidity.
It was the most fascinating engagement due to the small-business mindset combined with the family-owned dynamic and how all of that played out in the running of the business. At times, we would notice that situations which should be dealt with by using common business practices would get complicated or convoluted due to the strained family relationships running the organization.
The siblings had all carved out businesses for themselves within the company, and they were running the units independently as they saw fit. But no one was collaborating and working toward a common goal for the organization. Each sibling was employing his or her own family members in the business to sustain that part of the business.
It was really fascinating. We had to do a lot of work to untangle sibling rivalries, help ensure that the customers stayed on board, and convince key vendors to continue supplying the production. At the same time, we had to work closely with the lenders to monitor and report on whether there was still enough value to the company to continue lending to that management team or that organization.
Fortunately, we were able to do that. We saved most of the jobs and assisted the company in a sale to a private equity firm and the junior secured lender. It was a really interesting learning experience as well as a valuable one, as we were able to assist a number of stakeholders.
Q: There were a lot of dynamics at play there. Family businesses and small businesses have their own unique set of problems. When you go into those engagements, you become part shrink and part consultant.
DU PREEZ: That’s exactly right. We had a number of employees and family members confide in us about what others in the business were doing that was not in the best interests of the company. It was very interesting.
Q: Any other engagements come to mind?
DU PREEZ: The other one that stood out was a bankruptcy of a large corporate retailer that I supported with my team for more than a year, assisting with bankruptcy administration services. We helped prepare the statements of financial affairs (SOFAs), schedules of assets and liabilities (SOALs), and monthly operating reports (MORs), while also reviewing various creditor claims.
It was a really great engagement from the perspective of the size and prominence of the company and the scale of the operations. It was interesting to be part of the process of determining the value to our client and how we could support them successfully through a period as challenging as a high-profile bankruptcy. The scale was significant, making it another great learning opportunity, if very different from the small, family-owned business I mentioned earlier.
Q: What key milestones in your career have helped to make you the professional you are today?
DU PREEZ: The first thing I would say is obtaining my Chartered Accountant qualification while I was in South Africa. It is the equivalent of a CPA in the U.S. That was significant in opening doors and in learning financial essentials.
The second one was studying for and obtaining my MBA, because that’s what really launched me into this industry, peaked my growing interest, and helped me shift my career focus to turnarounds and restructuring.
The third one was getting actively involved in the TMA. In South Africa, I helped to relaunch the local TMA chapter and was on the board there for several years. Later, professionals in the Chesapeake Chapter, as well as in the broader TMA organization, really helped me to build my industry education and network in the U.S.—both of which helped me establish trusted relationships with people I wanted to work with. So, that was a big milestone.
Lastly, the opportunity I had to move to the U.S. was significant. I moved here in 2016 with my firm to practice in our restructuring services team. It was a wonderful move for my career, because I started work on even more interesting and complex engagements. I also had the opportunity to expand my professional network further. It really gave me exposure to a whole new platform, and I was able to leverage my knowledge and skills to become a better restructuring professional.
Q: You touched on the role your TMA membership has played in your career. Did your membership make your career transition to the U.S. easier?
DU PREEZ: Yes and no. Yes, because having an existing TMA network and chapter board experience certainly helped me expand my U.S. network more quickly. However, I still had to build my personal brand from the ground up in the U.S. Even though I knew the TMA and how it worked, I didn’t have any local affiliations, so I had to work hard to leverage the platform TMA offers to build relationships. That required me to get involved at the local chapter level—to volunteer, attend all the events, and make sure I got to know everyone. I had to reach out to the contacts I met and travel to different cities to network.
It required work on my part, but once I had built up relationships and was elected to the board of the Chesapeake Chapter, having that earlier experience with TMA in South Africa was really valuable. Having been in another chapter, I was able to share some of the learnings, insights, and contacts I had when certain opportunities arose.
Q: What advice would you have for someone who was new to the industry or was thinking about getting into the industry?
DU PREEZ: That was the same thing I had to think about when I moved to the U.S. Firstly, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in your local chapter. The only way people can get to know you professionally and personally via TMA membership is for you to get involved. I did exactly that.
That’s related to my second point, which is go to as many events as you can. When I arrived in the U.S., I immediately did research on all the local events that were taking place in my TMA chapter. I attended as many as I could, not just educational events but also conferences and networking events. I really put myself out there to get to know a lot of people.
Once I built some relationships and trust, especially with chapter board members, I started volunteering—helping to organize an event, helping to create a survey. We did a number of different things—the newsletter, helping to raise membership money, and so on. The team saw my passion, my interest, and my commitment to the chapter, and that helped me to be elected to the board.
What you put into TMA and your career really is what you get out. If you’re passive and are waiting for things to drop in your lap, you’ll miss out on a lot of fantastic experiences and opportunities. But if you go out there and get out of your comfort zone and meet people, you’ll be surprised at how much you learn and realize that you don’t know what you don’t know until you start engaging with people. It’s really a fantastic experience to do that.
Q: What are passionate about outside the office?
DU PREEZ: Family accounts for a big part my time outside of work. I have two girls who are 4 and 6 years old, so they keep me busy and I love spending quality time with them.
Secondly, a passion of mine is yoga. I like to do what they call “power yoga,” which is yoga in a hot studio. They crank up the temperature to about 100 degrees, and then you go through the power yoga routine. I really enjoy it, as it gets your heart rate up and you build up a sweat, but you also feel like you have had a chance to mentally switch off for that hour.
I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now, and I absolutely love it. It’s become a real passion of mine. I try to do it as many times a week as I can. I’ve managed to introduce a few friends to it too, and it’s been a really good experience.
From a physical perspective, it makes you stronger, more flexible, and healthier. Mentally, it has been an incredibly useful tool for switching off from daily stresses. Yoga really helps you to get out of your head and into your body, as your mind is always racing a million miles an hour, thinking of the next thing to do or what just happened, and that hour that I do power yoga helps me to switch off and focus on me and my body and what I’m doing in the moment.
Other than that, I love going for walks and sometimes jogs in our neighborhood. We are blessed with beautiful trails in northern Virginia, so the kids and I will walk up to the playground. They might take their bikes, and I might jog with them.
Also, I absolutely love concerts and live music shows. My husband and I love going to those events as a treat for us to connect on something we enjoy together. Our favorite thing is music in a really fun setting. It helps you to let your hair down and enjoy a performance.
Q: What might people who only know you in your professional capacity be most surprised to learn about you?
DU PREEZ: For many years, I trained in kung fu. No one expects me to say that because my personality doesn’t give that away. But I found it a really good discipline, really good exercise, and a really fun thing to do.
Another interesting experience I had was meeting Nelson Mandela years back when he was still alive. I was fortunate to be involved in an initiative where he was supporting high school students who were part of a leadership development program for which I served as a program faculty member.
Participating in a program he led was really a life-changing experience because, as everyone knows, he was a great man for many reasons. But when you met him in person, you couldn’t help but be impacted by his presence—his warmth, kindness, and wisdom. It was really amazing. He was so humble and such a wise man who lived for something much greater than himself. I feel very thankful to have had that opportunity, which inspired me to try to live a life for something greater than myself.