Adri Führi on thriving in a high growth environment

Group CFO at e4, Adri Führi says embracing innovation is key to cultivating success.

Adri Führi is a financial specialist with more than two decades of experience in financial services, and was appointed in 2017 as the CFO of fintech company e4. Prior to joining e4, Adri spent most of her career at Standard Bank, and she says during that time, three life-changing things happened.

In 2000 she was involved in Standard Bank’s e-commerce initiative, bluebean.com, which was burgeoning at a time when online trading was starting up. “I thrived in that business and I realised that I am best suited for high growth environments, where opportunities to apply my talents and competencies really come to the fore.”

Another pivotal experience was being part of an executive development leadership team tasked with planning how to effectively implement the financial services charter for the bank. “This experience was life-changing and made me rethink my understanding of the history of South Africa,” she says.

She says that Afrikaans youth were given a sanitised view of what was happening, by their schools, churches and even television, and being immersed in that culture meant she wasn’t aware of the disparities in South Africa.

“The charter experience exposed me to the other side, and working with a diverse group of people of varying racial backgrounds, gender, age, etc., who shared experiences and perceptions, made me realise the complexities of our society,” she says. That experience significantly shifted how she thinks about people, society and the role we can play.

Something else that changed her was being exposed to coaching. “It was an incredible experience,” she says. “I realised the impact of leadership coaching to such an extent that I underwent coaching training a few years ago to be able to coach others. I have witnessed the impact from both perspectives. It is a very valuable tool to think deeply about how your beliefs manifest and affect who you are.”

Harnessing the facets of leadership
Adri says being a CFO is a broad role, and “to succeed, multiple traits and competencies have to come into play to achieve the outcome you are looking for”. Some of the aspects of her personality she leverages are being driven, focused on reaching objectives, passionate about work, fair and having a high moral compass.

She says her leadership style has evolved. “I grew up in a world where a dictatorial management style was the norm. However, this did not align with my personality, and over time I have developed a collaborative leadership style. This has been mostly based on experience that having a diverse pool of skills, ideas and perspectives generates the best results for the organisation. Giving people an opportunity to provide solutions, also helps them grow.”

She says this really came to the fore in the last year, at the height of the Covid-19 crisis: “As a leader, I have a role to play in setting the agenda, but also to make room for the team to step up and come up with solutions.” She says it wasn’t easy, but turned out to be an exceptional opportunity to pool her team’s collective education, competencies and skills, and ignite them to resolve challenges.

Navigating dynamic environments
Adri admits that playing in high-growth environments is inherently risky and there is no guarantee of success. “It can be challenging to work in a space where the pace is fast; people are pursuing results and often want to act before assessing risk. In those high-pressure situations, it’s all about flexibility and adaptability. My role is to understand the risks and opportunities and have a firm grasp on the possible returns and potential stumbling blocks.”

It’s important to assess opportunities comprehensively and thoroughly evaluate all the potential angles, even if you have to do it quickly or under pressure, she adds.

Pursuing these demanding opportunities has led her to her proudest accomplishment, becoming a CFO. “Being a CFO wasn’t something I had set my sights on, but achieving success at that level in two different organisations has proven that I have the ability to excel in this role.”

Supporting the high growth targets at a technology company takes substantial skill and effort and Adri thrives on providing the financial guidance and support needed by an ambitious enterprise.

A champion for Upliftment
For Adri, the combined experience of being exposed to coaching and working on the financial services charter brought into sharp view the challenges many people face in being able to access opportunity. As the daughter of a teacher, she knows what a powerful conduit education is for upliftment.

“I am passionate about getting girls into technology,” she says. “The age of digital is here and technology is changing rapidly. It is problematic if we do not deal with the reality that some people are getting left behind because of a lack of access to computers and associated skills. That is an issue that will only grow in time if not addressed now.”

She says even at e4, a lot of their technology hies tend to be male, and she wants to bring more women into the fold. “Girls aren’t usually drawn to technology, because they aren’t exposed to the different types of roles, nor are they aware of the scope and ability of technology to transform systems and lives.”

She says beyond driving the organisation’s financial health, “as CFO’s we need to make decisions about spending money in a way that ensures that young people get that exposure and education in technology, which is acutely needed in disadvantaged communities.”

Whether she is redesigning financial systems or formulating socio economic strategies, Adri ensures that she always adds value in her role.

As someone who excels in building value-adding initiatives from the ground up, she is instrumental in developing e4’s strategy to look at moving girls from school, to accessing opportunities that will lead to employment, either within the e4 ecosystem or other technology organisations.

The crucial roles she has fulfilled have enabled Adri to develop much-needed skills within the technology sector where she forges ahead and assists in building a fantastic South African success story. She also oversees e4’s HR and transformation and is proud of the social empowerment initiatives that she delivers with her team.

Beyond work
Adri is a wife and mother as well as an avid traveller, and a history enthusiast who loves to immerse herself in other cultures. “I love to travel and learn about ancient cultures and experience their influence on places first-hand. When we can travel again, I have my heart set on visiting Istanbul. It appeals to me because it is a location that is culturally rich, with a deep history and interesting attractions. The East meets West aspect of Turkey is exciting and it would be wonderful to experience that.”