Glorious 2017 CFO Awards: the sky is the limit for financial excellence

Vodacom's CFO Till Streichert was the big winner at the 2017 CFO Awards, taking home the title of CFO of the Year and adding the coveted Strategy Execution and Finance Transformation awards to his collection for good measure. The annual glamorous celebration of excellence in the finance profession was the biggest, best and brightest edition of the event to date, as the crème de la crème of the country's finance leaders gathered at the stunning Summer Place in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.

In the past three years, Till Streichert has done some incredible turnaround work at Vodacom Group, both in terms application of technology, cost cutting and building a strategy that makes the telecoms giant future-ready. The German national was visibly moved after receiving the award from Deloitte Southern Africa CEO Lwazi Bam and - with the best and most powerful CFOs and FDs in attendance - reflected on the role of finance leaders.

"What fascinates me about finance is that the sky is the limit. You can do pretty much anything you want. You are in charge of looking at the accounts, you are a finance steward, you look at strategy and are deeply involved in the business, and can create new things. In all of this, it's about passion. That passion I share with a fantastic team that I've got in South Africa and in the African market that we work in. This award goes to all of them." - Till Streichert, Vodacom

A few minutes earlier, Ramasela Ganda had been named Public Sector CFO of the Year, for her amazing and progressive work at Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. She was handed the award by Deloitte's deputy CEO Sihlalo Jordan, who first heaped praise on the CFO Awards event and reminded the gathered leaders about the important role of their colleagues in the public sector.

"We are extremely privileged as Deloitte to be associated with CFO South Africa and the CFO Awards. I think you'll all agree with me that because of the times we are living in in this country, being a public sector CFO is a tough job; they are responsible for R1.5 trillion of our money, spending it and directing it." - Sihlalo Jordan, Deloitte

A delighted Ramasela, who has recently made career moved to the private sector at Barloworld, then asked for a moment to remember public sector CFOs all over the country who have lost their lives because of their efforts to fulfil their jobs ethically and with dedication.

"Being a CFO in the public sector is such a tough job. I'd like to dedicate this award to all public servants in our country who serve us diligently and with honesty. There are many of them that we as South Africans don't know about. We only know about some who are in the newspapers for the wrong reasons." - Ramasela Ganda, former CFO Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality

Glitz, glamour and palpable anticipation had dominated the early parts of the event, not before the irrepressible global speaker Vusi Thembekwayo brought the finance leaders back to reality during the hard-hitting masterclass about race and transformation.

The evening then assumed a lighter tone, as many CFOs and business leaders reconnected over drinks and the fabulously delicious dinner prepared by top chef Franz de Waal. Comedian Nik Rabinowitz was the incredibly well-prepared host for the awards ceremony and he pulled no punches, having the attendees in stitches more often than not with his punchy jokes and jibes.

The first award of the evening - after some delicious starters - was the Governance & Compliance Award, handed out by Victor Sekese, the vivacious SizweNtsalubaGobodo CEO who has been part of the panel of judges for the CFO Awards since the inaugural event in 2014. Winner was Nishan Samujh, the soft-spoken and well-respected finance boss of Investec, who passed the plaudits on to his team, of which a selection was present at the CFO Awards.

"It's a great pleasure for us to be participating in the CFO Awards. It's an annual event that we look forward to. It's also a pleasure for us to sponsor the governance award. We believe that for organisations and companies to succeed it takes a good strategy, but strategy is nothing if not overseen by governance; and not just box-ticking, but governance from the heart." - Victor Sekese, SizweNtsalubaGobodo

Next up was RMB CFO Markos Davias to hand out the Strategy Execution Award, the first of three prizes that would be scooped by Vodacom's Till Streichert.

"It's a great honour to be attending the CFO awards this year and celebrating the achievements of all. Being seated among the top financial minds of the country is a great privilege. As strategies continue to evolve around many things, including technology, efficient strategy execution is critical for C-suite. We can all learn a lot about strategy execution from tonight's winners." - Markos Davias, RMB

"It's a real privilege for me. In a way I'm a traveller, a guest of this country, for a couple of years. I'm particularly proud of being part of this community, so thank you and good luck to all the other winners." - Till Streichert, Vodacom

Michael Page MD Nathan Byrne then came on stage to present the High Performance Team Award, which went to Nishant Saxena, who has managed to put Cipla Sub-Saharan Africa on an exciting growth trajectory.

"This award is all about outstanding team management and teamwork, which is what we look for in talent management. I've been with Michael Page for 17 years across four continents. South Africa has one of the greatest pools of financial talent across the globe. Hats off to South Africa!" - Nathan Byrne, Michael Page

President and CEO of Sasol, Bongani Nqwababa, then came on stage to hand out the Transformation & Empowerment Award. Himself a winner of a CFO Award for his tenure of CFO at Anglo American Platinum, he swiftly set the scene in a short speech before handing out the award to Transnet CFO Garry Pita, igniting jubilation among Transnet finance staff that was present during the evening.

"We come from a history of institutionalised prejudice and segregation. However, research has shown that diversity of thought and experiences adds tremendous value to business. To quote Colin Powell, successful CEOs are unapologetic about three things: 1, providing everyone with the resources and opportunities; 2, providing the best employees with the best rewards; and 3, ensuring that poor performers are shown the door. The challenge for all of us is to embrace transformation and empowerment so we can influence the future positively." - Bongani Nqwababa, Sasol

"I can just imagine the joke after this - the white guy comes and gets the transformation award. Thank you, this is a great honour. We feel that we need to drive localisation and industrialisation to the extent that we can become world beaters as South Africans. I am very proud of this. It's a team effort." - Garry Pita, Transnet

A scrumptious dinner was then served, while CFOs mingled and prominent leaders like SAICA CEO Terence Nombembe caught up with old friends. The evening then proceeded with the ceremony for the Finance Transformation Award, handed out by Kamal Patel of Thomson Reuters. It turned out to be the "second coming" of Till Streichert, as MC Nik Rabinowitz joked.

"Things like big data and analytics, blockchain and robotics are having an increased impact on the finance function, and disruption is here to stay. Transformation means turning the CFO's role on its head and comes with many challenges." - Kamal Patel, Thomson Reuters

Oracle's Derek Bose then handed out the Finance & Technology Award to Omnia CFO Wayne Koonin, who was already beaming after he had concluded one of the biggest acquisitions in the company's history the very same morning.

"I'd like to thank CFO South Africa. We think this is a great initiative and a great organisation. It's good to see so many of the important people in finance networking and getting to know you better. At Oracle, we believe that technology is a key part of the CFO job. We believe CFOs use our technology and technology in general to enhance what they do. If we dig deep into the really good projects, we find really good CFOs." Derek Bose, Oracle

"Wow. I don't know what to say. I'm really honoured. Thank you to the CFO community and all the support I've had. This award is not about me. It's about the incredible team that sits behind me and has been with me for many years, and which followed an incredible journey to transform Omnia. This award goes out to my team." Wayne Koonin, Omnia

Standard Bank's CIB CFO Luvuyo Masinda then handed the Moving into Africa Award to Debbie Ransby, who has done some impressive work - particularly in Egypt - for pharmaceutical firm Takeda. Ransby was beaming with joy and pride as she accepted the award.

"Thank you to the CFO team for another wonderful event and for creating this wonderful community of CFOs and for creating this platform. We thank the nominees tonight for their determination. The CFO is a role that has become much more exciting over the last few years, but which has increased in complexity. In no way is this more evident that being an effective CFO and trying to grow in this wonderful continent of ours; from managing risk to effectively managing cash flows in environments and countries where there are shortages in liquidity, while remaining abreast of all the changes." - Luvuyo Masinda, Standard Bank

"To CFO South Africa, thank you for this amazing recognition. It truly was unexpected. They say working in Africa is not for sissies and that is true. It's been the most challenging part of my career so far." - Debbie Ransby, Takeda

Nishant Saxena was then back on stage to receive the Young CFO of the Year Award from Nkonki CEO Mitesh Patel.

"These nominees for the young CFO of the year have broken the stereotype that older is wiser. I've worked with some of these nominees and you can see the talent. You've got a great responsibility on your hands. These guys have an important role to play in transformation and in leadership." - Mitesh Patel, Nkonki

"Wow. Last year, former winner Aarti Takoordeen [CFO JSE Limited] told us that Young CFO of the Year is the award that carries the most bragging rights. Since then I've had my eye on it. This means a lot. I've just turned 40. I told myself if I don't win it now, I'll have to fake my age." - Nishant Saxena, Cipla SSA