As the only graduate in her family, Nadia Patel sees herself as an outlier

Now the FP&A and treasury lead at Genpact, Nadia has always chased bigger dreams.

Coming from a conservative background, Nadia Patel is one of the only women in her family with a degree. “I have around 27 first cousins and out of those, I am the first to have a degree. Going to university and obtaining your degree is quite unusual in my family,” she says.

After passing her board exams on the first attempt, Nadia headed off to a post at Deloitte’s London offices. She describes her overseas experience as a paradigm shift that changed her way of thinking and how she perceived the world, but she also relished the opportunity to soak in what the rest of the world had to offer.

On her return to South Africa, Nadia was persuaded to stay on at Deloitte, which she did for another six years. She worked on the largest audit clients, such as Imperial Logistics, Barloworld, Microsoft, and Mitsui, at a senior management level. Overseeing such large accounts piqued her interest in entering the corporate world, and she later joined Imperial Logistics.

It didn’t take long for Nadia to make an impression at Imperial, as she was quickly promoted to CFO of an operating company within the Imperial Group.

The transition
Nadia says she was delighted to receive an offer from Massmart as part of the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team, which resonated with her, as it was in line with her ambition to join an entrepreneurial retail company. “I always wanted to be in the retail space and I loved my time there,” she says. “I was lucky, as rather than being focused on the historical information, I was focused on the strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting.”

When Massmart went through its transformation journey, it partnered transactional processing elements of the finance function with Genpact, which is a global professional services firm focused on delivering digital transformation.

This was Nadia’s big break and she was selected to head up the whole transition of the Massmart FP&A and Treasury functions to Genpact. “I love being part of Genpact as it is truly a global company,” she says.

The transition means Nadia is now much closer to the fintech space. She has recently been given the responsibility of digitally transforming the operations using an AI platform. “This is particularly exciting for me. Being close to this revolutionary technology is inspiring, she says. “This transition has been one of the most exciting and fun experiences of my career.”

She says Genpact’s purpose, “the relentless pursuit of a world that works better for people”, resonates deeply with her. “After all, the cornerstone of my career journey has been to do meaningful work, identifying root causes to problems, identifying solutions, implementing solutions and this is where I made a difference. I love to challenge the status quo, and transforming processes is at the heart of my role.”

Overcoming challenges
Nadia’s journey has not been without its challenges, but she sees these as an opportunity for self-reflection.

“During my career, I’ve had two children, been through a divorce and got remarried,” she says. “These experiences taught me how to believe in myself, and realise my true capabilities and strengths. I am happy I came out of those experiences as a better person.”

Adventurous spirit
Nadia has quite the adventurous spirit and enjoys travelling. She’s spent some time in Palestine and has even found herself immersed in the natural habitat of silverback gorillas in Rwanda.

“Travelling really brings joy to me and it has also made me realise how there is so much more out there to learn and explore. I also enjoy bringing my little ones along,” she says.

The future
Nadia describes the “new normal” brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic as a true test of one’s resilience, and the transition to working remotely as a significant adjustment.

She points out, however, that it has advantages. “I definitely think there is better work-life integration, which is much healthier, and I don't have to sit through three hours of traffic like I used to.”

Nadia is also passionate about gender equality, and her main mission now and in the future is to promote a more diverse workplace, as she believes a diverse team has so much more to offer than one that is not. “My dream and vision is to have a diverse team, and I am confident that I have the necessary strength to ensure this in the workplace,” she says.