Attending the CFO Awards makes me very proud, says Prof Ben Marx

UJ's Ben Marx has judged the CFO Awards for the past five years and reflects on this time.

Widely regarded as the prestigious ‘Oscars’ for South African CFOs, the CFO Awards started in 2014 and their credibility and eminence leans heavily on the stature of the panel of judges. Prof Ben Marx, HOD UJ Accounting, has been part of the panel since the very first Awards. We asked him to reflect on five years of CFO Awards.

How do you look back at five years of CFO Awards?
“The awards are growing exponentially from year to year in size and also in stature. In the first year, people might have frowned a bit, but the recognition of CFOs has been very important. The awards have provided awareness and given prominence to the role of the CFO as a custodian of the company.”

Why do you like to be involved?
“It is enriching. You meet interesting people and encounter different views. It is nice to be part of an esteemed awards process and it is nice to be part of the growth of it. Attending the awards function also makes me very proud. It is amazing to see all these wonderful people and realise I taught many of them. Somewhere in my life I have added a little bit to other people, which is really great to realise.”

“The awards are as good as the process and the people involved. Hopefully, I can add credibility and bring in my experience coming from a broad-based academic and practical background.”

What do you look for when judging nominees?
“I look for honesty, depth and understanding of all the aspects that are addressed in the questions. You can quickly pick up if someone is boasting or if they have a deep understanding of what they are being questioned on. What also helps the judging is looking at the industry of the nominees for some context.”

What have you learnt about CFOs?
“There are people who are very dedicated, compassionate and committed to what they do. They understand their role and where they want to go. Sometimes you do attend nominee interviews where you are disappointed. Everybody is trying to paint the best picture there is, but sometimes it is more talk than substance. You will find that in any profession or industry.”

“What really has stood out for me is that two young people who I nominated, Aarti Takoordeen (CFO JSE Limited) and Cobus Grove (former CFO Digicore), went on to win awards. It is an annoying perception that you must be 60 years old and part of the old boys’ club to be successful. Those two people are examples of CFOs who show that this is not the case. That makes me very proud.”

“What has also impressed is the growing profile of CFOs in the public sector. You can see there is honesty and commitment. That is something very important. We need a strong public sector and for that you need strong financial people. Coming across people like Ramasela Ganda (award-winner for her role as CFO of Ekurhuleni Municipality) is encouraging for me. It is a person that is committed and doing it for the right reasons.”

How do you see the future of the finance profession?
“Despite the growing role of technology and the fourth industrial revolution, you still need an element of personality, human judgement and professional scepticism. That can’t be replaced by a computer programme or AI. The CFO’s role will change to become a visionary, strategist and manager of information, but you will lose innovation and controls if you replace humans completely. Sometimes the CFO also needs to look at what is right for the greater society.”