Aneshree Naidoo: CFO leading the way for many bright futures ahead

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As South Africa celebrates youth month, it is important to honour the contributions and potential of young leaders. In the world of finance, Aneshree Naidoo, CFO at Webber Wentzel and recipient of the 2023 Young CFO of the Year award, has already made a significant impact in her CFO roles and the industry - from the age of 27.

Aneshree Naidoo was appointed CFO of Webber Wentzel in December 2020. Prior to this, she was the Africa CFO at Deloitte Consulting. Aneshree was also the VP (Vice President) of Finance at T-Systems South Africa from 2014 to 2016. She has held finance positions at Alexander Forbes, Avanade globally, Trustlink and was an auditor at EY.

Her qualifications include a CA(SA) and CIMA strategic level. She has a BCom from the University of Pretoria. She is also an ambassador for Africa and has enjoyed speaking at global ICT forums in Germany and New York City.

With her impressive background and forward-thinking approach, Aneshree is an inspiration to many. CFO South Africa asked her six important questions to reflect on her journey, insights, lessons and vision for the future.

1. How does it feel to be named Young CFO of the Year 2023?

It is a privilege to have received this award! I am humbled and grateful to CFO South Africa, my finance community (fellow CFO peers, colleagues, and my finance teams), exceptional directors and leaders over the years for the challenging growth experiences and most significantly, my family for their unwavering support.

2. How has your experience been as a young CFO in the industry?

It has been pioneering, rewarding and energetic in most respects. Pioneering, as I recall my first finance director role at the age of 27 years at a listed financial services company, and then a year later being invited to start up the African footprint of a global technology company in South Africa. Relevant because I am proud of the impactful and rewarding outcomes achieved over the last 14 years as a finance executive, especially in creating leadership capacity in our country, and having multiple platforms to "give back" to communities at a deeper, more meaningful level than I would otherwise have been afforded. Energetic because the experiences have been unrelenting and exciting – at least that is how I choose to approach and solve complex problems…with energy, by not giving up easily and trying to find and inspire to find the opportunity to convert problems into solutions.

3. Does your age impact the way people treat you, despite your title?

Not negatively anymore. Earlier on and thankfully in a handful of situations only, I felt that my voice and suggestions were not actively being listened to in boardrooms. An esteemed leader of mine taught me to reduce that feeling and behaviour by saying, “Anyway…” and then moving on to boldly emphasise the points I was trying to make. He told me this: “You are speaking from a position of facts with the organisation’s best interests at heart, so don't get distracted/disheartened and push on.” I am grateful that most of my professional impact has been embraced and encouraged because of my meaningful contributions rather than being minimised.

4. How do you make sure this isn't a problem for you or the business?

I call out distracting behaviours and intercept where needed, including deliberately hiring and inviting younger and older generations to contribute to strategy and execution – there’s value to be received from all age spectrums! There are marked shifts in leadership and organisational practices to embrace diverse aspects of contribution, including the diversity of age. We simply "do not know what we do not know" and sometimes need an "all hands on deck approach" if we are to navigate "unchartered" territories successfully.

5. What advice do you have for other aspiring CFOs looking to fast-track their careers too?

Do the time. Put in great effort and go the extra mile. There are no shortcuts: a strong work ethic is a winning formula. I am fortunate to have learned to work smarter using technology earlier on in my career, which has enabled me to do more at the same time.

Staying connected with people, creating diverse finance and operational teams and empowering these teams to work smarter and “think outside of the box” has been pivotal to growing careers (including mine) and the organisations I support. “Thinking outside the box” for me also means exposure to different networks and expertise to challenge and inform thinking and decisions.

Finally, it is very important to me to lead with my authentic style of growth and empathy and try to make each moment count for us all – that includes team building and having fun during the chapters of our corporate lives.

6. What comes next?

I take on additional responsibilities at my firm and will assume the co-interim COO role in addition to my CFO responsibilities at WebberWentzel this June. This extends my reach within our teams and ability to contribute further to our firm’s strategy and execution priorities, which I am excited about.

I also had the distinct honour of being one of four panellists on the eve of Mother's Day at the premiere of Africa Moms Rising by Lerato Sithole (Think and Grow Rich Africa Founder). The film is a catalyst for inspiring viewers to harness their potential and is linked closely to my passion for motivating women to strive and be the best version of themselves, for themselves.

I will extend my contributions at a global women’s event, bringing together industry leaders and innovators for insightful discussions, networking, and initiatives in Amsterdam in July. I have also been invited to speak at the World Finance Forum in New York City later this year and I look forward to being back in "The Big Apple" and lighting it up with my African perspective and contribution once more.

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