Boipelo Lekubo embracing the evolving CFO role

Harmony Gold FD Boipelo Lekubo shares her enthusiasm for the direction the CFO role is taking.

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“The role of CFO is shifting to what is referred to as a Chief Value Officer, the focus being more about the value you enable the organisation to realise beyond your typical financial duties,” explains Harmony Gold FD Boipelo Lekubo.

She says it has become a broader, multifaceted function, involving more complex conversations. “Previously, discussions with investors centred around the financials in the business, and now we are seeing matters such as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), a topical issue, being front and centre of the questions being asked. Investors want to know what you’re doing regarding safety, the environment, your impact on the community you operate in and the people who work for you. Issues of governance are also higher on the agenda,” she explains.

Boipelo asserts that before, CFOs were mostly a support to the CEO, but now there is a more collaborative approach, as opposed to only stepping in when it’s a numbers question. “The perspective of a Chief Value Officer appeals to me because it incorporates all the various facets of the business and not just the financial aspects, which is quite backward looking; the opportunity is to now drive the agenda for the future.”

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Keeping yourself current
Boipelo is embracing the profession’s developments and says addressing shifts such as digitisation or future of work are exciting realities. “The beauty of being a CA(SA) is that the designation requires continuous development, so growing and learning is part of the journey.”

Currently enrolled in an Executive MBA programme, Boipelo says being part of a collective that brings together people from other industries and disciplines is powerful. “Pooling all of that knowledge and differing perspectives gives you an awareness of developments in other sectors, markets and disciplines, and you can pick up a lot of insights that you can use in your own space, so that exposure is valuable.”

She says as a CFO, she is invited to many seminars, courses and opportunities to grow and she takes advantage of the ones she thinks will add the most value to her and the organisation.

Values-driven success
The top three values Boipelo lives by are connectivity, accountability and honesty. For her, connectivity is in the way she relatesto, interacts with, and treats people. Accountability applies to her work, but also how she comes across and how that impacts those around her. Honesty is related to integrity, and says that’s crucial given that she works in a finance role.

“These values don’t stop at work, but apply in all aspects of my life. What I think is most effective about these values is how practical, yet powerful they are.”

A recent lived experience when connectivity came into play was during the Covid-19 lockdown period. “When the mines had to shut down and we had to send our workers home, there was a lot of anxiety. We had to deliberate and debate very heavy, pivotal issues behind a laptop screen. We came up with a lot of solutions, many of which were elaborate in nature. The way we were connected allowed us to get through that period effectively, even though we were apart.”

The strength of connectivity was proven by the fact that the company achieved so much: “Apart from maintaining operations in the midst of the pandemic, we successfully completed the acquisition of the Mponeng mine and Mine Waste Solutions from AngloGold Ashanti Limited, raised capital, and had successful shareholder meetings, all on the back of the strong individual and collective connections we had made.”

She says in the last year, she also leaned heavily on the honesty and integrity elements. “When you’re all at home, you have to trust that others will deliver and demonstrate accountability. Letting go requires a deep trust in your colleagues, which you need in order to succeed during tough times,” she says.

Leading with agility
Boipelo describes her leadership style as situational leadership. “It's not a one-size-fits-all, but one rooted in flexibility and agility. It works for me because people and situations are different and as a leader you have to be able to adjust your leadership style depending on the circumstances at that time,” she says.

She says in the last year, “The way I led was different than previously. I had to be more mindful of the fact that people have other responsibilities and some were having a tougher time as a result of the pandemic.” She says it’s important to lead according to what the organisation and the people around you need at that time, rather than rigidly following a prescribed set of steps.

She reflects that her style has evolved over time and is underpinned by a pursuit for authentic leadership. “That starts with how you are leading yourself. For me, it is reflecting on how I am coming across; whether I am authentic in my actions and understanding my impact on situations and others.”

She says leaders need to help people understand where they fit into the bigger picture, “At the end of the day, strategy is all about how the different pieces fit together and work collectively. To succeed, you need to help people make sense of their role and how they impact the entire system.”

Approach to challenges and high-pressure situations
“When faced with a tough question or situation, I go into the acronym STOP,” says Boipelo, “ ‘S’ stands for Stop, the ‘T’ is to take a deep breath, ‘O’ is to observe what is happening around you, take stock of what you are thinking and feeling in that moment, and the ‘P’ is proceed. This mantra is simple but powerful, and it has served me so well.”

Using this tool, she says nine times out of 10 she reacts differently than if she had just gone headlong into something or reacted without pausing. “I have found it powerful at work, where the immediate reaction is to leap into action, or try and address a complex situation before fully understanding it.”

She adds that in addition to STOP, “Not knowing everything is also okay. In fact, I have found that taking the time to ask, consult, engage and gather different perspectives is usually where the best answer lies.”

She also reminds herself of something someone told her, “That when you’re under pressure, give yourself a high five because it means you’re about to learn something new. So, just thinking about words such as “pressure” differently and putting a new spin on them can help diffuse the uncomfortableness you may be feeling in a challenging or high-pressure situation.”

She says that as a leader, you also have to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. “Having that time away allows you to come back with fresh eyes and renewed energy to tackle whatever comes next.”

Defining success
Boipelo says she likes to think of success as having an impact.

She says along her journey, she has leaned on sponsors and coaches as sounding boards and one way she is keen to make an impact is by giving back. “I would like to start mentoring aspiring black youth because when I look back, the transition between high school, varsity and working is such a crucial time. Often young people make decisions without realising how far-reaching they are. I would like to impact someone’s life by supporting them on their journey.”

She says that there is also value in failure because it shows that you have tried, and in trying, there is learning. “I failed my first board exam, and it was a huge deal not having ever failed academically before, but it taught me to keep at it and life took a more positive turn. Failure is the flipside of success if you look for the lessons in it,” she says.