Woolworths Group FD Reeza Isaacs was named CFO of the Year 2016 during a spectacular CFO Awards Conference and Gala Dinner at the Summer Place in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Our senior editor Toni Muir jotted down quotes throughout the evening and we have used the best ones to recap the amazing event, dubbed the Oscars of South Africa's finance profession by many CFOs.
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- View photo album: CFO Awards 2016, 12 May 2016.
- Keynote Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu - Courage required of CFOs
- Press release - Woolworths CFO Reeza Isaacs named CFO of the Year 2016
- Master Class - changing perceptions in an uncertain world
It was all glitz and glamour the moment CFOs and other business leaders entered the Summer Place for a night of learning and celebration with the crème de la crème of the country's finance leaders. Whirlwind speaker and entrepreneur Vusi Thembekwayo kicked off the night with a warm welcome, proving his trademark sharp sense of humour and sharp insight into business and the South African society.
The conference consisted of a master class, with inspirational speakers like former World Champion Baseball coach Brian Farley, international leadership expert Keith Coats and Vusi himself providing insight into ways to build winning cultures and sustainable leadership. CFOs Jo Pohl (Telesure) and Nishant Saxena (Cipla) then discussed the theme with CEOs Deon Viljoen (Alexander Forbes) and Jannie Serfontein (Eqstra), both former CFOs. Simultaneously, six round tables took place on various topics like strategy, team performance and Africa expansion.
After some awesome entertainment by Swing City, the 250 guests moved into the spectacularly decorated dining room for the awards ceremony and gala dinner. CFO South Africa MD Graham Fehrsen, the man responsible for the incredible night, was beaming from ear to ear when he said his thankyous and Vusi then introduced the keynote speaker Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu, Chancellor of the University of Pretoria. As first black CA his life story continues to be a massive inspiration to most in the finance community.
Under the eyes of his wife Hazel, Prof Nkuhlu enthralled the CFOs with a sketch of the landscape that finance leaders have to operate in in 2016 and going forward. He called on the attending CFOs to "show courage" in times of persistent market volatility and rapid technological change.
"The CFO and his or her team should be a respected centre of excellence that is trusted for intellectual honesty, sound processes and transparency." - Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu
For the first time ever at the CFO Awards, two Lifetime Achievement Awards were then handed out, the first one going to CFO of the Year 2014 Simon Ridley, who retired as Standard Bank FD earlier this month. As Simon was unwinding on a motor bike in Namibia, the award was accepted by Luvuyo Masinda, CFO Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB), with Vusi joking that transformation definitely seemed on the right track.
"I’m sure Simon has interacted with a lot of people across the room here. He won one of the first CFO awards ever. There are a lot of us in this room who have worked with Simon as CFOs over the years. I’m sure he would be proud to receive this. We are certainly proud as the Standard Bank team to be here and to receive this award." - Luvuyo Masinda, Standard Bank
The second lifetime achievement award went to former Remgro CFO Leon Crouse, who retired a few months ago. Crouse has had an amazing career, being involved in the startup fase of both Richemont and Vodacom. He was visibly moved by the recognition.
"This is a cherry on the cake at the end of my career. My advice to anybody building their career is to keep things simple, always do the right thing and surround yourself with people who share your values. Always be passionate about compliance, governance and risk management. Work hard and have fun and you will have a very rewarding career." - Leon Crouse, retired CFO Remgro
SizweNtsalubaGobodo CEO Victor Sekese, who has served on the panel of judges ever since thew inaugural CFO Awards in 2014, then came on stage to present the Compliance & Governance award, which was won by Walter Leonhardt of ABI, the softdrinks division of SAB and the country's largest distributor of Coca-Cola. Walter celebrated the award with a excited 'Yeehaw!'
"SizweNtsalubaGobodo is proud to be associated with CFO SA and the annual CFO SA awards. When I walked in somebody said this is a wonderful occasion, it’s the Oscars of the CFO world. Compliance and governance are the cornerstone of a business or organisation. An organisation that is weak in this area faces a serious threat to its sustainability. If you compromise compliance you won’t survive as a business into the future. The nominees have demonstrated that you can maintain the highest levels of governance and compliance and still be strategic and successful in what you do." - Victor Sekese, SizweNtsalubaGobodo
"Thank you very much for the recognition. The words Prof Nkuhlu said earlier about how seriously we all need to take governance and compliance got me thinking. I work for an organisation where fast and furious is sometimes quite sexy. There’s lots of things happening all the time and we take compliance and governance seriously. I thank you very much for this recognition." - Walter Leonhardt, ABI
"Sometimes you feel unloved in the accounting profession. You cover the backside of the CEO and no one says thank you. It’s nice to be acknowledged. I agree this is the Oscar of the CFOs. Prof Nkuhlu, your words were very inspiring and important. We have to ensure we as CFOs get intimately involved in strategy, because that’s where it’s going to go wrong. You can count all the numbers you want to, but if you’re on the wrong side of strategy, you‘ll make the wrong decisions. Can I encourage the CFOs to comply with audits and do our fiduciary audits in terms of legislation, but don’t ignore the strategy. Also, please mentor the youngsters who are coming from university. It’s up to us to mentor these youngsters; we have a responsibility. They will be our future leaders." - Osman Arbee, Imperial
Osman was back on stage straight after to receive his second prize of the evening, the High Performance Team Award, handed out by last year's Young CFO of the Year Brett Tromp, who joked that a great finance team is a team where everybody counts.
"I’ll just share one bit of advice one of my previous CFOs gave me, he said, the one thing you must do is always hire people that are smarter than yourself. Don’t limit your team to your level. If we do that as finance people and always encourage greater minds and skills we’ll always produce great teams." - Brett Tromp, Discovery Health
Old Mutual Corporate MD Clement Chinaka then came on stage to present the Transformation & Empowerment Award. It was won by Woolworths FD Reeza Isaacs, who was in Australia for board meetings at subsidiary David Jones. The award was accepted by Zaid Manjra, group head of planning & reporting at Woolworths.
"Transformation should not start from the head, that’s when it becomes just a scorecard-chasing exercise. Transformation should start from the heart. That way you are doing it for the right reasons and actually achieve much more. Corporates are also citizens and must ask themselves if they are behaving like good citizens to take SA forward." - Clement Chinaka, Old Mutual
Walter Leonhardt was back on stage after that to receive his second award of the evening, this time around for Finance Transformation. It was handed out by Thomson Reuters Africa CFO Sharon Horsten, who looked stunning.
"It is becoming increasingly important for CFOs today to have access to the right information to make the right decisions. The winner tonight is someone who has been through a massive transformation process to create a finance function that is finance and service oriented and also future-driven." - Sharon Horsten, Thomson Reuters
"I have to give credit to an absolutely awesome finance team in ABI. There are two thoughts that come up when I think about the journey we’ve gone through: engagement and continuous improvement. We can’t do something if we don’t take our employees along with us. And we’ve never arrived. There is always a better tomorrow." - Walter Leonhardt, ABI
Oracle's country MD Kholiwe Makhohliso then handed out the Finance & Technology Award to AngloGold Ashanti CFO Christine Ramon, who was joined at the awards by her three CA-siblings: Justine Mazzocco (exco member Deloittee), Veran Kathan (CFO Vodacom Business Africa) and Mark Kathan (CFO AECI), the latter also a nominee for the CFO Awards in 2015 and 2016.
"It is that time where you need to think in terms of the new outlook of this disruptive nature we are in, where the finance and the technology come together to ensure you are driving the business growth and models that are going to drive innovation." - Kholiwe Makhohliso, Oracle
"I would like to thank CFO South Africa and the sponsors for this event. Just being recognised as CFOs is great, along with the fact that we are making an impact in the business community." - Christine Ramon, AngloGold Ashanti
"We believe in the growth potential and the people of this continent. We are resolute in bringing to light that Africa achieves its potential. To have the courage to help the organisation to grow amidst difficult headwinds, and the courage to stop when people are growing too fast." - Luvuyo Masinda, Standard Bank
"I’m passionate about this continent. Many thanks to the panel of judges and CFO South Africa." - Bikash Prasad, Olam International
Then it was dinner time! CFO who had studied the menu has already been salivating over the prospect of making acquaintance with the grilled beef fillet with creamy mushroom and thyme sauce with roast garlic mash potato and mini vegetable, feta and tomato bake or the stuffed chicken breast with sundried tomato, feta and rosemar dressed with a mustard sauce, garlic mash potato and vegetables - carefully prepared by celebrity chef Franz de Waal.
Last year's CFO of the Year Deon Viljoen then spoke warmly about the role of the CFO Awards in recognising finance leaders and as a member of the 2016 judging panel he gave some great insight into the painstaking judging process, providing the massive credibility that the awards have today.
After dinner it was a huge moment of glory for Dumisani Dlamini, the CFO who changed the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) around. He was called to the stage twice and received the Young CFO of the Year Award (for finance leaders aged 40 or below) from former winner Aarti Takoordeen (JSE Limited) and the Public Sector of the Year Award from KPMG's Edson Magondo.
"At first I had no idea what this CFO award meant, when I was nominated in 2014 and won the Young CFO of the Year Award. From then to today I understand the impact of an award such as this, as I started getting a lot of messages form people who said they were inspired. Thank you CFO South Africa, for hosting such an event that is so prestigious that we’ve come to love and appreciate it so much." - Aarti Takoordeen, JSE Limited
"To god be the glory. I don’t even have a speech, this is so unexpected. I’d like to thank CFO South Africa for providing an opportunity for us to learn and grown. I’d like to thank the judges for this wonderful honour. I remember being a little boy from the dusty areas of KwaZulu-Natal, then moving to Johannesburg, then into this space. This is to say to every black child, girl or boy, you can make it! This goes to all CFOs in government who are under political pressure or are in a difficult environment - this is for you!"
"I stand here to appreciate and underscore the important role that public sector CFOs play in all of our lives. Public sector CFOs are giants with no accolades to their credit. They stand between social stability and chaos. They are unseen and unheard and all they do is grind away so that there are viable, budgetable solutions to the many challenges facing our democracy."
"KPMG chose to partner with CFO South Africa, and in particular I chose to support the public sector CFO programme, because I’ve spent a significant part of my life working alongside this corps of CFOs and DGs. We did this in the knowledge that through your interventions and sharing of insights and experience you will together move towards best practice in areas of common challenge. Public sector CFOs: I stand here to say to you, stand tall. Through these awards we just want to say you are important to all of us. Stand tall, your work is important to all of us. Stand tall because DGs, CEOs, city managers, they all stand on your shoulders. Without you, their work will become near-impossible. Today we say: stand tall and, as professor Nkuhlu said, have courage, because you are a key pillar of our democracy. You work under the full glare of public scrutiny to make our lives better. Thank you public sector CFOs." - Edson Magondo, KPMG
Highlight of the evening was of course the handing out of the CFO of the Year Award, handed out by KPMG South Africa chairman Ahmed Jaffer. It was accepted on behalf of Reeza Isaacs by Zaid Manjra, group head of planning & reporting at Woolworths. Isaacs was attending board meetings of David Jones, the Australian retailer that was acquired by Woolworths in 2014.
"The CFO has the need to evolve. In addition to data analytics, I believe in the next five to seven years those successful CFOs will be those who’ve become technologists. As a forward-looking CFO, you need to look at all functions to develop cutting-edge financial optimisation to drive growth of companies. All our nominees tonight demonstrate all of these things." - Ahmed Jaffer, KPMG
"I think this is an opportune time to say the award for Reeza Isaacs is completely and utterly deserved. Thank you to CFO South Africa and to this organisation. I think this really gives recognition to lots of hard work and effort that goes into making the brand of the CFO something that everyone needs to aspire to." - Zaid Manjra, Woolworths
Before announcing dessert, Vusi gave his last two cents.
"It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come, and the country we are today. I’m proud to partner with CFO South Africa. Even though the narrative that makes its way to the media is doom and gloom, there are shining lights…" - Vusi Thembekwayo
"Fire is an interesting thing. It’s what shows us that human beings have a remarkable capacity of learning and sharing. I can see a cave man with two stones in his hand, maybe he makes a mistake, but then he sees sparks flying. At some point he learns how to make fire. He then shares that knowledge. That sharing, learning, took us out of the cave, into Summer Place. That’s the best way for me to say that the CFO community is about learning and sharing and making mistakes, and sharing your mistakes, so you can see some new sparks. I hope you will light a few fires with you and carry the flame of CFO knowledge."