Celebrating success with future-ready finance professionals

The 14th of June 2016 marked a first for CFO South Africa as MD Graham Fehrsen hosted a lively dinner with finance leaders in Durban at the impeccable Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga. Although the bright lights of KwaZulu-Natal may not be quite those of Gauteng, the province is home to a number of significant multinationals and leading corporates. This dinner attracted finance professionals from Olam, Tiger Brands, Mondi, Illovo Sugar and ARB Holdings.

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Pictured right, CFO South Africa's Graham Fehrsen and Olam's Bikash Prasad, winner of this year's Moving into Africa Award.

The topic for this dinner was "The future-ready CFO", in line with a host of similarly titled events scheduled for the second half of 2016. CFO Award winner Bikash Prasad of Olam, who won this year's Moving into Africa Award, was first to share his thoughts on what it takes for a CFO to be future-ready. His thoughts on a particular product that Olam used to completely automate financial close created an intense debate about the future of accounting and AI.

There was general consensus that foresight across the business and, in particular, beyond the finance function, is essential to being a future-ready CFO. For the finance professionals around the table, leaving your desk and getting to the heart of operations, as well as talking to the people who drive the business, was deemed a critical part of developing foresight.

CFOs themselves need to lead the way and keep up their own learning and development. If you aren't prepared to set the example, you can't expect team members to follow.

At an organisational level the participants agreed that CFOs and the finance function more generally are well placed to be agents of change, testing new ideas and helping the organisation look forward, given the evolution of the function and the surge in tools and technology to help with this challenge.

The most experienced CFO in the room offered a note of caution: "Being future-ready and driving the business forward is important but finance professionals should not forget their core function and responsibility. No business can afford to have a finance function that doesn't get the basics right."

The small group enjoyed an exceptional meal while conversation flowed and, as is often the case with smaller gatherings of finance professionals at CFO South Africa events, veered towards more personal questions around family and careers. What was particularly interesting was the reflection on parenting, which is perhaps one of the greatest "future-ready" tests anyone can face. You're never fully prepared regardless of the preparation, and being open and committed are keys to success.

The evening concluded with all present agreeing that opportunities to learn and network in peer-to-peer environments were few and far between. CFO South Africa will certainly be back in Durban in the near future.

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