Skip to main content

Five things that made me

How Sharnelle got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. Here we chatted with Sharnelle McCloed, one of our tax partners, whose sense of duty, care and making a difference have been beside her in every one of her adventures.

Meet Sharnelle

Sharnelle’s work is her passion, as the leader of the Finance Operate business in Business Tax. From her diligent seriousness growing up in South Africa to finding herself building a life in the UK, she realises her truest strength is in celebrating the smaller things and supporting those around her. Here’s her story.

[Editor’s note: This article contains details of fertility treatment and pregnancy loss which some readers might find upsetting. If you would rather not read on, please check out our previous Five things that made me stories. And if you work at Deloitte and are affected by any of the issues in this article, you can contact our advice line – search the intranet for details]

1. Same but different

“I’m a coloured South African who grew up in a home familiar to me for its diversity and being welcoming to everyone. My earliest aspiration was to be a ballerina. Later, I have a clear memory of wanting to become a radiographer – I think I was just trying to be different.

My brother attended a coloured school, but I went to a Catholic primary school, so my early years were spent with kids of all races. It’s still shocking to say out loud that back then I had no awareness of Apartheid – it wasn’t the life I was living at the time.

I then attended a coloured high school and what an awakening! I went from what I thought was normal where everyone was equal to a world where it was very clear we were not the same. I found my first year in high school really challenging – I kept wondering if I was in some alternate reality.

I found myself doing a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in Accounting after high school, with support of a bursary from Johnson & Johnson. I took it very seriously and I wanted to make my parents proud. I felt it was my duty to give back and deliver given the investment in me, but I do wish I’d been a little more chilled out.”

“That sense of duty, I still feel with my clients today: I must deliver what I promise.”

2. An opportunity to live

“During the early years of my career, I loved what I did as part of the team in the South Africa Deloitte offices. I made great friends, got to worked on some of the most interesting projects and have so many successes I continue to celebrate from that time.

But suddenly, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. It was another awakening – I was only in my twenties and felt like I hadn’t really lived. Soon after, I told the partner I was working with and a good friend that I was leaving the firm. I just wanted to stop.

The firm arranged for me to come over to the UK on a two-year secondment. I didn’t hesitate – the biggest decisions in my life, I make in an instant. It felt like the opportunity to restart. Not long after landing in a snowy London I wondered what I’d done, but I was soon seconded to one of our clients, where I spent an amazing few years learning, making more lifelong friends and collecting a husband along the way.”

“We spend so much time at the office that it needs to make us smile at least four days out of five.”

3. Living two passions

“I wanted to delay having kids until I’d made director, but I hadn’t anticipated the challenge that would present us as a couple. The first cycle of IVF was during a significant client integration project which involved late nights and travel. It was a surreal period, not wanting anyone to know about the personal challenge I was experiencing.

After a third cycle we fell pregnant, but we miscarried at 12 weeks. There was no warning after the miscarriage of what would follow – it would be one of the hardest physical, mental and emotional experiences I’ve had. Through asking for help and resilience we survived. With hindsight, I’d give myself the space needed to go through this life experience. Not doing so definitely left me feeling numb for a long time.

Now, there’s Azai, my son. He’s chatting, busy, lovely, makes me happy and sometimes drives me up the wall. I still love my work and honestly, it’s not always easy to balance the two. He comes first so that means some days for me feel like I am sacrificing a bit of who I used to be, but I’m okay with that. I feel really lucky I now get my happiness from multiple places.”

“I’ve always put work first and everything else later, but now I have two things I’m really passionate about.”

4. Commit to change

“Being sponsoring partner of the firm’s diversity and inclusion charity Blueprint for All is important to me, personally and professionally. I’m successful because all along my life there were people who believed in me (family, friends, corporate sponsors, colleagues) and what I could achieve, giving me a helping hand.

I now have an opportunity to use my role and influence at Deloitte to do the same for others. I’ve met so many people who need support to realise their potential, to find their success. I want to be a step for them, so they can push further than I have.

We have a good symbiotic relationship with Blueprint for All. The organisation has so much they want to achieve, and we can provide access through the bursary programme and more. In return, the charity is helping us continue to drive change and evolve our own business. For me that’s what a successful partnership is: everyone grows and benefits.”

“I want to be a step for those young people, so they can push further up.”

5. Do what makes you happy

“I don’t know what success looks like without my team. Recently, one of my senior team members resigned. Through the process, I tried to remain neutral, but that was hard – I did not want her to go – but my message as a leader is constant: you need to do what makes you happy.

My journey to date means I have evolved, so I tell my teams they should take time to look after themselves and do what makes them happy. I also acknowledge I need to apply that to myself, too. Sometimes we leave self-care so late that the amount of effort required to recalibrate is significant. There are small things we can do every day that ensure we don’t get to that position.

For me it’s the school run with Azai. It’s a short walk, but he’s so alert to everything around him that he helps me see things I would ordinarily miss. I know I would have benefitted from being more mindful and kinder to myself earlier. Just go outside and breathe. Simple. Or have some chocolate!”

“What I do every day: that’s what makes me happy.”

Five things we learnt from Sharnelle

1. Take your work seriously, but don’t forget to live.

2. Make big decisions with your heart, not your head.

3. You’re much stronger than you think. Remember that during your hardest moments.

4. See how far you’ve come. Help others go even further.

5. Look after yourself. Look after others. Repeat.

Did you find this useful?

Thanks for your feedback

If you would like to help improve further, please complete a 3-minute survey