CFO Dirk Viljoen on the social accord and being authentic


The seasoned finance exec made a public recording about his own transformation and empowerment journey.

Hollard Group CFO and 2022 Transformation and Empowerment Award winner Dirk Viljoen makes no bones about the fact that he is fully invested in South Africa – both professionally and personally.

“My family and I are invested and my kids are here. If we fail to get the social accord right, the future will be grim, and that is not a situation that I would like to cite,” he explains.

It is this cohesive thinking and willingness to place himself and his heritage in the spotlight that sets Dirk apart from a number of his peers.

“We started at leadership level and had some dedicated meetings only on the topic of transformation and empowerment and even what our leadership looks like. It’s very difficult to promote transformation if everyone positioning it is white and Afrikaans like me,” he explained.

The seasoned finance executive took this one step further and also went public with his own transformation and empowerment journey.

“In a public recording I spoke about my own background as an Afrikaans South African. It was optional for group executive members to participate in his employee communication campaign. I believe it is important to be authentic when we look at where we come from as South Africans and acknowledge what went wrong and also acknowledge each other,” he says.

The recording was well received as employees appreciated the genuine feedback from an executive member, although Dirk openly admits that he did have to field some light-hearted teasing about his on-screen presence.

“It is critical for us to show up, especially if we say we want to include people. It would have been remiss of me to ask people to share their stories if I was not willing to give mine,” Dirk notes.

He adds:

“I believe in the strength of inclusivity and that means I have a voice; I am in the minority and I still have a voice. Diversity includes different personalities too. We underwent a leadership journey where specific personality traits were also shared to understand how other people think. This is more to understand the diversity of thought, a diversity that goes further than race.”

Dirk comfortably notes that it is “quite easy to get caught in your own concepts” and is consciously vocal about transformation and empowerment in the organisation.

“I show how I live it. It’s one thing to advocate for inclusivity, but if your team doesn’t show it, then it doesn’t mean anything. In my context I work with professionals, most of whom have tertiary qualifications. So, the way of thinking could be similar in terms of experience at home and access to resources,” he says.

Dirk adds, “A lot of what we have tried to do in the transformation and empowerment space is to address stereotypes and unconscious bias.”

The finance leadership team is certainly multi-cultural and diverse, comprising male and female, black and white, African, Indian, English, Afrikaans and Japanese. Dirk and his team are also making sustainable inroads outside the business, focusing on transformation in the procurement space as well.

“Financial institutions have the opportunity to use assets to change the landscape of business. The short-term insurance industry broker universe is still very white. That’s an important procurement factor for products to Hollard,” he explains.

This area talks directly to procurement and supplier empowerment. “We’re making a big impact in the investment space. Procurement is very important for us, and we’ve restructured it in a way that 50 percent of our commission will go to black-owned brokers,” he says.

This is particularly noteworthy as there is a dearth of black brokers in the short-term insurance space and banks are reluctant to fund brokerages. “One of our objectives is to develop that market, so we’ve funded them through equity or loans. We currently have made significant progress in this area,” Dirk explains.

As result, Hollard has seen good results in this space. “We are empowering them so ownership can change. We have made good progress there. For example, with panel beaters we have seen real transformation. It’s not only about ‘here’s some money and get on with it’, we also support the owners to run their businesses and grow thereafter,” he says.

Dirk notes that models like these are important tools that can have a serious transformative impact on the South African market.

Another area of transformation focus is job creation, with Harambee being a stellar example of a successful youth employment accelerator.

Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator started as a Hollard-funded initiative in 2011 with the goal of securing employment for one million unemployed youth. Today, there are several large corporates supporting this initiative, and this is an example of Hollard’s approach of being a catalyst for positive change.

“In collaboration with our shareholders, we started by identifying the gap between school leavers and job seekers and realised that they didn’t know how to engage with the formal sector. Through Harambee, we were able to create a network of employers and have put the youth in touch with them. Now the government is also involved,” he says.

Dirk believes that support for education is also a key contributor to the social accord. “If somebody has the opportunity to study then that is enough. In terms of the really disadvantaged, it’s about support for the education process and by default support for the community,” he says.

Dirk concludes:

“We in the finance community have lots of opportunity to make a difference – and that extends beyond our work lives. We are the custodians of business assets.”

The fact that transformation has now become a company-wide objective, with finance keeping an eye on the metrics, is testament to Dirk’s hard work and dedication to keeping empowerment at the top of the company agenda.

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