Upon completing a B.Sc. degree at UWC in 1981, Prof. Randall Carolissen, August started his career at the age of 20 as an industrial engineer at Firestone in Port Elizabeth and rapidly rose through the ranks. Pursuing his ambition to further his academic studies in physics, he returned to UWC in 1984 as a laboratory assistant, completing a BSc (Hons). In 1987 he was appointed as a researcher at the CSIR, and in this period, he completed an MSc (cum laude) in 1989. He was then appointed as a lecturer at UWC and a PhD in 1995 in nano-physics. While working towards his PhD, he assumed a research fellowship at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and worked in a team that performed groundbreaking research on Schottky barrier interfaces. He co-authored three publications that remain widely cited internationally. He assumed a post-doctoral research post at the University of Ghent and has published in internationally peer-reviewed journals in nano-physics.
In 2005 he completed an MBA (cum laude) at the University of Stellenbosch, specialising in International Finance, receiving the Old Mutual Gold medal. This milestone was followed by an M.Com in International Tax at the University of the Northwest in 2009. Apart from his junior degree, all postgraduate qualifications were pursued part-time, establishing his career.
He left the world of academia in 1999, and as the Managing Director of the South African Bureau of Standards, he was tasked to corporatise the commercial arm. The 2005 annual report of the SABS will show that he effected a major turnaround from a loss-making government agency to an internationally competitive certification body with financial sustainability and independent from government funding. In 2005, he assumed the position of COO of Damelin group of companies. Damelin was sold by Naspers.
Prof. Carolissen joined SARS in 2007 as a General Manager responsible for Quality Management which included mapping processes and drafting policies and procedures to operationalise the SARS modernisation program. As Group Executive responsible for revenue modelling and forecasting, his team developed statistical and data analytics models cited by the IMF as amongst the best globally. This application of statistics and the level of precision attained assisted in improving tax compliance and closing tax gaps assisting SARS to respond robustly to the 2008 global financial crisis, which in turn ensured South African sustainability of the fiscal framework. SARS maintained a tax to GDP ratio exceeding 26%, comparable with leading economies, with revenue breaching R1 trillion. This offered the SA government fiscal space for debt consolidation and containment of national budget deficits. He concluded his career at SARS as the head of the Tax, Customs and Excise Institute and was overall responsible for research in fiscal economy and tax and trade statistics. With the World Bank, he initiated a reform process of the reporting on trade statistics to reflect the modernisation of the SA economy post-liberation. As a technical expert, he has represented South Africa at the BRICS, IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, and the African Bank.
He maintained a keen involvement in social activism throughout his adult life, first kindled whilst at school by the 1976 uprising against Apartheid. He assumed several leadership positions advancing the causes of the poor and marginalised. With his spouse Nadia and friends, he established a formal settlement for 300 homeless families in Kalkfontein in Kuilsrivier in the early 1990s. This led to the formation of the Kuilsrivier Residents Association (KRA), of which Prof. Carolissen was the founding chairperson. In addition to the many noteworthy community-building programs, KRA raised funds internationally to build a childcare facility, which since 1992, prepared more than 100 underprivileged children each year for school whilst also providing food and shelter. Together with alumni from Ravensmead and Florida High Schools, they founded the RUCET bursary fund in 2014. This fund has disbursed close to twenty bursaries over the preceding three-year period. He is currently serving his third term as the chairperson of the University of the Witwatersrand, an institution that has produced five Nobel laureates and a world leader in producing CEOs of international companies.
Prof. Carolissen has accumulated many prestigious international awards and has established himself as a leading fiscal authority within South Africa and a thought leader in the higher education sector.
Since August 2018. Prof Carolissen was appointed as the Administrator of the National Student Fund Aid scheme with the full powers of the board and executive management. This drastic step by the government of South Africa was in response to a complete collapse of governance that evinced itself in hundreds of thousands of students not receiving stipends for periods of up to eight months. This, in 2018, caused considerable hardship to more than half a million beneficiaries and brought the HE system to the precipice of collapse. The successful turnaround in the administration and the improved delivery of its mandate drew widespread recognition from the government and the general public. This project was cited by the president in his state the nation as a major success story for the democratic government of South Africa. An independent review submitted to the cabinet recognised the significant achievements of this intervention and the attendant stabilisation of the system, inclusive of the recommendations emanating from the administration.
On 1 March 2021, he assumed the position of Dean of the Johannesburg Business school and repositioned this institution as the leading digital business school on the African continent.