5 ways to become a better CFO

The role of the CFO is as challenging as they come, encompassing a host of responsibilities, so the distilled wisdom of those who have been through the quagmire can be an invaluable asset. Whether you are an experienced CFO or have designs on the position, the following tips from our interviews with seasoned executives will help you to succeed in your endeavours:

Gain a global perspective

British American Tobacco CFO Wayne Beifus took the opportunity early on his career to work in markets as diverse as the UK and the South Pacific, benefitting immeasurably from the experience. The network of contacts he gained created new opportunities and he has a fine-tuned cultural sensitivity that has stood him in good stead when dealing with tricky situations over the years.

"It is something I'd encourage young South African CAs to do. There are many opportunities to work overseas. Of course, we want those skills to come back, but a few years' stint can really open doors."

Don't rest on your laurels

Jabulani Dlamuka has been a revelation as the CFO of uShaka Marine World, increasing revenue by 20% and cutting costs by 5% overall. and attributes part of his success to always thinking one step ahead and never allowing complacency to set in.

"You cannot be relaxed. You need to be a creative thinker, innovative and flexible. At the same time, you need to understand the market you're operating in. The industry is quite flexible, so if you're not increasing your pace you'll get left behind."

Don't berate yourself for things beyond your control

Lonmin CFO Barrie van der Merwe has been through many trials in the troubled waters of the mining sector but his resilience is testament to his positive mindset and a focus on learning from mistakes.

"Finance can provide many enablers to ensure we are proactive and achieve business success. We must first understand that events happens which involve many players and many factors, most of which are outside of a company's control. Sometimes it's near impossible to plan for things like this but we can certainly learn from them and take active steps to prevent such events from happening again."

Be Mr/Ms Reliable

Liberty Health's youngest-ever CFO Philip Timberlake has achieved great things in his relatively short career by building a solid track record of delivering the good whenever he has been called upon and taking the initiative.

"Dependability carries a huge premium in the workplace - and it is often as simple as putting your hand up, volunteering for additional responsibilities or initiating improvements, and then following through on those commitments."

Hone your communication skills

Philip sees communication as a cornerstone of success as a CFO and stresses the need to be an effective communicator, in terms of expressing ideas and listening to others.

"Within our economy of knowledge, ideas are currency. Of course, to understand, we need to listen, engage and be prepared to let go of our own ideas."