Discovery Health Medical Scheme CFO Joy Malete says that her rapid career progression has been the result of “divine orchestration”. Just 34, her success is rooted in curiosity, talent, and a true passion for what she does.
From a lawyer to an engineer, Joy Malete’s early career aspirations had nothing to do with finance. Yet during high school she had a discussion with friends about lucrative careers and chartered accountancy, which she’d never heard much about, was mentioned. “In the latter part of Grade 11, I thought, maybe I should explore this career choice. I started researching it, got top marks in my commercial subjects, and decided to apply for that line of study. I’ve never regretted my decision.”
Joy’s faith has had a lot to do with her conviction that she followed the right path despite the unexpected direction it took and the challenges she faced along the way.
“The Christian in me believes it was by design. I call getting to this point divine orchestration.”
Over the years, Joy is grateful to have worked under managers who have offered her opportunities. “They saw so much potential in me,” she says. “When I stepped out of articles into the corporate working environment starting out as a financial accountant, you ask questions, because you’re curious. Then someone actually sees something in you because of your curiosity.” Such recognition served as the launching pad for her career.
Success is about good leadership, having an environment that is conducive to one’s career growth and realising that you as an individual are in charge of your own career development within such an environment, says Joy. “Throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to have good leaders, who have allowed me to spread my wings, and have given me opportunities where if someone else would probably think, ’you’re too young to lead a team at this age.’ But I had the opportunity, and also the mentorship, to actually excel.”
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Joy says her mentors have also helped guide her through the challenges she’s inevitably navigated. “I’ve made mistakes,” she admits. “Just over a year and a half after I joined Stanlib as a financial accountant, I was promoted to financial manager. The last time I had supervised people was during articles, which was just as an auditor in charge, but now I had to be responsible for people’s KPIs.”
As an innately technical person, navigating this aspect of her new role was a challenge. “Being technical was my core strength, but the leadership – the softer skills – for me, was lacking; that ability to have direct conversations and to understand that you, to a large degree, are responsible for someone else’s career development.”
Managing that responsibility came with trial and error, she says. “Fortunately, I’ve always had good leadership and mentors who would guide me along the way.”
It’s been about identifying the gaps and establishing how to close them. Such leaders have encouraged Joy to take part in leadership programmes to develop and enhance her people management skills to ensure she has both the technical and the people skills required by those who fill leadership positions.
Looking to move out of the multinational payments space, Joy happened to receive an unexpected call regarding a CFO role at Discovery Health Medical Scheme.
“I thought I was not ready for that role,” she says. “You start getting this imposter syndrome, and the spec, I thought, was not entirely where I was at that time.” Yet after praying about it, Joy realised she had nothing to lose and that all she’d done up to that point had prepared her for this moment.
“My current boss saw my potential and my ability not only to find myself in that role, but to contribute meaningfully with the skills that I had,” she says, reflecting on bagging her first CFO role. Sitting in the “hot” seat in her first audit committee meeting was daunting, but Joy embraced the challenge. “It has been an amazing learning and growth period for me,” she says.
Joy has immersed herself in the medical schemes industry, balancing risks and gaining an innate understanding of the importance of medical care. “It’s a great opportunity, because you get to see all the innovation from birth, and you get to understand some of the challenges in the industry,” she says.
“As an outsider, there’s always a complaint around the cost of medical aid. Yet once you’re in there, you really appreciate how much effort goes into ensuring that the member is at the centre of all you do, while also figuring out which levers to pull in order to not harm the scheme. It’s about balancing the long-term sustainability needs of the scheme with affordability for its members.” Joy also points to the insufficient regulation in the healthcare industry, which poses a significant challenge in striking this balance.
Tackling such challenges requires a great deal of skill from different individuals, Joy explains. “Ensuring you have all the right people in the room, driving those kinds of conversations is key. It requires a great deal of collaboration between various parties in ensuring that you are putting together an effective proposal before your board of trustees.”
A continuous learning journey
Being a CFO of a leading medical scheme naturally comes with pressures, yet Joy says these are often self-imposed. You’re not just thinking about yourself, she adds, but also the person who hired you, because your failures and successes are theirs too. While she’s aware of her youth, Joy says it’s something she’s never been judged for. “I came into an environment where there was a level of respect in my capabilities, and that was never questioned.”
Nevertheless, Joy says she has at times felt internal pressures. “I had a conversation with my mentor when I joined this industry. It was quite daunting at first and I knew I was either going to sink or swim. It’s a continuous learning journey and the one thing he said to me was, ’don’t be afraid of being vulnerable about what you don’t know’.”
Being able to admit when you don’t know something and to ask questions of the right people is important, especially in this very complex medical schemes environment, she says. “You have a team of executives who are specialists in their field, just as I’m a specialist in my field. So, there has to be that level of trust in our capabilities and specialities.”
Whenever Joy is feeling overwhelmed, she grabs her headphones and hits the gym – a highly effective de-stressor. For Joy, another favourite way to unwind is through travelling. “I love visiting different countries and exploring different cultures. Yet, of all the places I’ve been, South Africa remains my favourite place.” Having a solid support structure at home and at work also helps her to cope with a demanding, but immensely rewarding job, she adds.
This Visionary CFO Series interview is sponsored by A2X.