14 going on 40: CFO Johann Steyn shares his leadership journey

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Johann Steyn started his first business at the age of 14. Today he is the CFO of Bridgement.

Entrepreneur, gamer, and petrolhead, Johann Steyn, CFO of Bridgement, had an early introduction to the world of work and startups when he founded his first business – DS Live SA, a stage lighting and sound business – at the age of 14, with some seed funding from his dad.

The company designed and imported some of the country’s first DMX LED stage lights and had the pleasure of doing lighting for several famous acts, including international award winning deejay and producer David Guetta, and local acts such as The Parlotones and pop star Kurt Darren.

Through this, his love of entrepreneurship grew, sending him into the world of business – initially with accounting qualifications at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), cum laude, before doing his honours, articles and later placing in the top 10 in the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Board Exam.

As if that wasn’t enough, the high school Dux scholar has subsequently learnt how to code in different languages and sits on several boards, including as a board member on the committee for ITC Examco at SAICA.

All these achievements and successes have come from a determined work ethic, an innate need to see things through to the end, and a slightly competitive nature. It surprised us to hear that Johann felt unsure of his direction in life during his schooling years. “I specifically remember that in school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I’ve always been very interested in business,” he says. Knowing this, he applied his logical mind to the issue and started researching careers.

A career day at UJ, along with doing his own homework, led him to make the decision that finance would be his starting point. “Then I decided, even though I love the theory and I’m technically strong, I want to do something more.” This is why, at his current role at Bridgement, he is also directly involved in the non-financial side of the business, such as sales, automation, and AI.

For Johann, starting his own business helped him in his dual role of CFO and CRO at Bridgement, a fintech company that helps other businesses grow. Having had his own experience in running a small company, he understands the challenges.

“Bridgement has a passion for small businesses in South Africa. The waywe’re going to grow South Africa, and get South Africa to the next level, is by investing into small businesses. And that’s exactly what we do: we assist those businesses with the funding they require.”

More than finance
After his articles at PwC (including a year of academic articles at UJ), Johann remained at PwC in an audit assistant role, and later became a senior manager, where he led various accounts and projects listed on international stock exchanges. During this time, he also co-founded Brand Capital Properties, a property investment business, which is still growing strongly.

After leaving PwC, Johan decided to gain more commercial experience and joined the VAT IT Group, moving up to CRO quickly. At the time, he was the youngest exco member. In 2021, Johann took up his current role as CFO and CRO at Bridgement.

“In today’s age, I think it is very important to upskill and be multi-disciplined, especially in smaller businesses. That is why I learned to code and am also involved in the non-financial side of our business,” says Johann, who has been nominated for SAICA’s top 35 under 35.

Bridgement assists businesses with funding in under 24 hours and has, since inception, disbursed nearly R1 billion into the South African small business sector, indirectly sustaining more than 11,000 jobs. “I’m proud to be able to do that as part of my job,” he says.

As for sound and stage, Johann still loves the company he started at 14. “I don't foresee any plans to close that business anytime soon. It’s my baby and I hope it will run forever.”

A love for learning
Being a CA alone wasn’t enough for Johann, so he learnt how to code, moving into the world of Microsoft SQL, DAX and Salesforce, and has enrolled for even more certifications such as Microsoft Business Intelligence. “I hate doing something more than once if it can be automated, and so I learned that skill. I would rather spend time building a system that deals with these repetitive tasks. This is what unlocks a lot of time in my day-to-day life and allows me to get involved with other parts of the business.

“An example of this is that our entire month-end reporting at Bridgement is automated. Journals are posted automatically, payments are automatically loaded, automatic recons are done and management reports are automatically generated.”

With such a busy day, Johann is also quick to point out that family comes first, including making certain he can drop his daughter off at school every morning. This helps him achieve a work/life balance to ensure that he is always grounded. “At Bridgement, we firmly believe in a flexible work environment that acknowledges individual needs and supports better work-life balance. I think this is very important.”

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