Dining with Accenture's global CFO expert David Axson

An impressive selection of South African CFOs came together in the evening of Thursday 11 June 2015 to discuss volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) with David Axson, the global CFO Strategies expert of management consulting firm Accenture. During a copious dinner at the Saxon Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg, Axson shared his vision, insight and inspiration with finance leaders of companies like Allianz, Standard Bank, Business Connexion, Neotel, Primedia, Barclays Africa and Nedbank.

It was a privilege for CFO South Africa to host Axson, the MD for Strategy, Finance & Enterprise Performance at Accenture. He authored a number of books on Performance Managament, is a well-known public speaker across the world and has worked with 250 companies in more than 40 countries. "The CFO job," he told his South African dinner audience, "continues to be both exciting and unpredictable".

The dinner was all about VUCA, a term that originates from military vocabulary but is increasingly permeating the CFO world. "The world is becoming increasingly complex and professionals have to focus on less detail and more scenario planning," Axson said. "We're moving into a world of driver-based finance where the Chief Financial Officer not only has to focus on the impact of technology, but on how best to use that technology in an increasingly volatile environment."

VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It is a term that originates from the military, but it is increasingly permeating the CFO world.

During the dinner in the beautiful wine cellar, the CFOs shared ideas, stories and knowledge and discussed finding ways of becoming more effective when operating in a VUCA world. Axson acknowledged the challenges finance leaders face. "The days of having long lead times, with high level information are over. What we're finding is that the modern day CFO spends less time arguing about a billion dollar transactions and more on how to save on $100,000."

At some point the conversation shifted towards how the millennial generation, defined as people born between 1980 and 2000, is having a different outlook on the world of work. "Unlike our generation, which was brought up with a very different mind-set, many of the people born in this generation consider three years spent at a job to be a career".

Axson told the CFOs that working at an investment bank used to be the most popular thing to do in the United States. "Until Google came along, it changed the culture. I also see Uber as a major disruptive force to the job market, as well as the higher education, sector," he said. "When Uber needed analytical skills it simply raided one of our local universities. The company does not just bring disruption to the transport sector, it has a collateral impact on other sectors which has been remarkable to see and difficult to predict."

"The CFO job continues to be both exciting and unpredictable" - David Axson, Accenture

Acquiring and retaining talent became a major talking point for the Finance chiefs. A CFO working in the IT sector remarked that banks simply have deeper pockets when it comes to hiring people in South Africa. "Given that we're all fighting for the same pool, it's a struggle to keep those talented individuals. We've also experienced a problem when it comes to encouraging people from diverse skills to perform cross functions. We'd like to encourage finance personnel to work in operations, in very much the same way as sales and marketing work alongside one another."

An executive working for a telecoms company pointed to the differences between a Chartered Accounting professional in South Africa compared to the United Kingdom. "In the United Kingdom, when I wrote my accounting board exam, I shared a class with people who had backgrounds in History and Art and what surprised me is how much value that brought to some of the discussions around problem solving. What I found was that because they didn't come from a traditional Finance background they often brought in a lot more curiosity to the conversation and a different way of looking at the scenario".

The evening was moderated by CFO South Africa manager Graham Fehrsen, who will reflect on the inspiring discussion in an article that will go online on this website during the course of next week.

The attending CFOs were:

  • Anbann Chetti (CFO Corporate Banking at Nedbank)
  • August Van Heerden (CFO Retail & Business Banking Africa at Barclays Africa)
  • Chris Patricios (CFO Primedia)
  • Kobus Gertenbach (CFO Premier FMCG)
  • Will Kent (CFO Transactional Products and Services, Corporate & Investment Banking Standard Bank)
  • Steven Whiley (CFO Neotel)
  • Greg Field (Director: Corporate & Finance Nissan South Africa)
  • Mikateko Tshetshe (Finance Director SC Johnson and Son)
  • Nichola Dewar (CFO: Postbank SAPO)
  • Lawrence Weitzman (Group CFO Business Connexion Group Limited)
  • Jessogan Chetty (Chief Financial Officer: Schools at ADvTECH)
  • Dominique Erlank (CFO RBB Barclays Africa)
  • Sunil Ramkillawan (Financial Director Thebe Oil & Gas and Thebe Mining Resources)
  • Sean Doherty (CFO Investement Banking Standard Bank)
  • Luvuyo Masinda (Deputy CFO CIB Standard Bank)
  • Kevin Barnes (CFO Africa Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality Africa)

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