CFO Awards 2015: as it happened (with all the quotes!)


Alexander Forbes CFO Deon Viljoen was named CFO of the Year 2015 last night during an incredibly successful CFO Conference and Gala Dinner at the Summer Place in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Our dynamic reporter Ebrahim Moolla roamed the event and jotted down quotes throughout the evening. I included the best ones in this recap of the event.

Call him program director, MC, the event's chairman or simply Vusi, the dynamic public speaker and entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo proved to be a force of nature, who enthralled the gathered business leaders with his insights and sense of humour. At 16h30 he opened the event by introducing Melle Eijckelhoff, CFO South Africa cofounder and the driving force behind all our CFO peer-to-peer events, including our annual flagship event - the CFO Awards.

"If I look around and try to add up the years of CFO experience that is gathered here, it is truly mindblowing" - Melle Eijckelhoff, MD of CFO South Africa

The Conference consisted of a Master Class by 'lifehacker' Martijn Aslander, who challenged a CFO panel of Kevin Johnson (Howden Africa), Ronel van Dijk (Spur Group) and Anees Mayet (Oracle) to prepare for big, structural changes in the global business environment. Ebrahim took notes here as well, so we'll have a write-up online next week. Simultaneously, 5 round tables took place on various topics like strategy, team performance and Africa expansion. Many CFOs who had not been to a CFO South Africa event before told me afterwards they now started seeing the incredible value that our peer-to-peer platform has to offer to CFOs.

Before the gathering moved to the tastefully decorated tables, governance doyen Professor Mervyn King held a short, entertaining keynote speech about the shifting demands on CFOs. Businesses need to move from "silo thinking to integrated thinking" and from "short-term capitalism to sustainable capitalism", said King, who has written various internationally-renowned reports on corporate governance. The professor also commended CFO South Africa for bringing CFOs together: "As CFOs you need a peer advisory group and now you have that," he told the gathered CFOs.

"Compliance is not a mindless operation. This was never the intention of the King Commission. It about rolling up your sleeves and delivering - performance, not conformance." - Professor Mervyn King,

Once all the CFOs were seated, Professor King was on stage again, this time to present the first award, the Compliance & Governance Award. Winner was Cobus Grove, a meticulous IFRS-expert, who did an incredible job turning the flailing company Digicore around by implementing change management and sound compliance and governance. Just one detail of the mammoth task Grove performed: he had to restate all the financial statements of the previous 14 years. Grove was delighted with the award, which came as a big surprise to him.

"Compliance is crucial. The key principles need to be applied throughout the entity." - Cobus Grove, CFO at Digicore

Victor Sekese (CEO of SizweNtsalubaGobodo) then presented the Strategy Execution Award, which was won by Transnet CFO Anoj Singh, who was the only absent award winner last night. Singh had been called to parliament at the eleventh hour, so he had a valid excuse.

"A lot is demanded of the modern CFO. Gone are the days when finance professionals were merely technocrats. CFOs are expected to be business partners who contribute to strategic development and implementation." - Victor Sekese, CEO of SizweNtsalubaGobodo

Edward Kieswetter, CEO at retirement fund administrator Alexander Forbes, then handed the High Performance Team Award to the visibly delighted Brett Tromp of Discovery Health. Brett has been a staunch supporter of CFO South Africa from the beginning, so it was nice to see his dynamic and steadfast approach at Discovery Health was rewarded by the panel of judges.

"A CFO was once asked why the company was spending so much on people - they could leave, after all. He replied: 'What if we don't and they stay?'" - Edward Kieswetter, Group Chief Executive of Alexander Forbes

Imraan Soomra (Oceana) then received the Transformation & Empowerment Award. Africa's largest fishing company has a particularly impressive trust scheme, that has changed the lives of many employees and their families.

"Let me be philosophical for a moment. This country is great, but a lot of work needs to be done so that this room [of CFOs] is more representative of the demographics of this country." - Imraan Soomra, Oceana

Professor Ben Marx, Vice-Chairperson Accountancy Department of Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences of the University of Johannesburg, then gave the Finance Transformation Award to Sasol CFO Bongani Nqwababa, for his tremendous work in his previous CFO job at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).

"The CFO is a dynamic role. He or she has got to balance the books, while being strategic to meet goals and both mentor and transform the finance team." - Prof. Ben Marx

"I have a passion to make finance relevant for business, to give people the tools and make them accountable in order to put the business in a better place." - Bongani Nqwababa, CFO at Sasol

Colin Brown, CFO of Super Group and recipient of two awards in 2014, didn't leave empty handed this year as he won the Finance & Technology Award for his incredible hands on application of IT during the turnaround at the company.

"I'm surprised and happy. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the blood, sweat and tears of my colleagues at Super Group. IT is a big part of my life." - Colin Brown, Super Group

Burkina Faso-born Delphine Maïdou, CEO of risk insurer Allianz in Africa, then handed the Moving into Africa Award to Greg Davis, the vibrant, young Africa CFO at Standard Bank. It's definitely worth reading Davis' take on the key principles for doing business in Africa.

"One thing is key to moving into Africa: understand that SA is one of 54 countries on the continent. We need to ask how we can bring best practices from the country into the rest of Africa." - Delphine Maïdou, CEO at Allianz GCS Africa

"It isn't so frightening north of the Limpopo. There are huge opportunities and huge talent. This award is for the finance team we built across the continent. We hope that other companies will join us in venturing into Africa." - Greg Davis, Standard Bank Africa

It was then up to Simon Ridley, Standard Bank's Group FD and last year's inaugural winner of the CFO of the Year Award to give some perspective on the CFO role. He also went out of his way to praise CFO South Africa and the events our organisation puts together to help CFOs share knowledge and network.

"What makes a difference, above all, is communication - the art of making the complex simple. These days, when go through CVs, I am more impressed by a distinction in English than one in Accounting. You need to be intensely curious and bust myths, while still being a cheerleader for your colleagues." Simon Ridley, Group FD at Standard Bank

Claudelle von Eck, CEO of The Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa, then presented the second award of the evening to Discovery Health's Brett Tromp, this time the Young CFO of the Year Award for CFOs of 40 and younger. Brett is 39, but he surely wasn't the only young CFO to be celebrated with Cobus Grove, Imraan Soomra, Greg Davis all in their 30s.

"CFOs must see their purpose as beyond the self and use their power to make positive contributions to society." - Claudelle von Eck, CEO at IIA(SA)

"Young people need to make a difference. I love this country and my profession and want to play a part in its transformation. Discovery gives me a platform to do this." - Brett Tromp, CFO at Discovery Health

Auditor General Thembekile Kimi Makwetu then announced that the Public CFO of the Year 2015 is - just like last year - Anoj Singh, the impressive CFO of Transnet.

"What is common to all the nominees is the ability to urge caution on a slippery slope, so we don't all end up screaming 'Fire!' in a burning theatre. Public CFOs aim to give all of us a better chance for a better future." - Thembekile Kimi Makwetu, Auditor General

Finally, Trevor Hoole, the new CEO of our principal sponsor KPMG, had the honour to hand the CFO of the Year Award to a visibly surprised Deon Viljoen, who thanked his team, his CEO and his family for their support during his successful tenure at Alexander Forbes.

"Leadership can't be taught. A leader needs to develop people, keeping it simple and putting people on the 'right bus' in the 'right seats', building trust, while communicating and being visible." - Trevor Hoole, CEO at KPMG Southern Africa

"In life, there are two types of challenges: those you voluntarily take on and those you inherit. Both are inspiring, but come from different parts of your being. You pick up wisdom from those who work for you and those who work with you." - Deon Viljoen, CFO at Alexander Forbes and CFO of the Year 2015

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