Meet Deloitte's new CFO Africa: Jen McDonald
"It's been a hectic few months," says Deloitte's new CFO Africa, Jen McDonald
By Toni Muir
“My time is a constant juggle between managing day-to-day finance matters, month-end and compliance reporting, and the finance teams, which comprise over 150 people across Africa, and balancing this with the various strategic and investment projects I am working on,” says the newly appointed Deloitte CFO Africa, Jen McDonald. “A large portion of my time is also dedicated to driving the Finance 2020 strategy in support of the Africa Firm 2020 strategy, and managing a number of finance and IT transformation projects.
Prior to taking on the role as CFO Africa, Jen was CFO Southern Africa for 18 months. The Africa role builds neatly onto the previous, she says: “My focus was only on four countries within the Southern Africa region – South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique. The Southern Africa role was the grounding I needed for the Africa role, and many of the projects that have been executed in recent months were incubated during my time as CFO Southern Africa.”
What makes a great CFO? “When you reach CFO level, the assumption is that all CFOs are technically competent, so for me, the differentiator is leadership. Great CFOs are good leaders who are able to successfully lead the execution of a vision or strategy.”
Getting into it
Jen says her primary focus for the first few months has been driving the firm’s Africa Finance 2020 strategy, which she explains is underpinned by eight key focus areas that ultimately support Deloitte operating as a fully integrated firm across 14 countries in east, west, southern and central Africa. “We are a recently integrated member firm across Africa, and therefore a large focus is on alignment and integration of systems, processes, reporting and finance operations,” she says.
Some of the things that have been executed to completion or started since Jen took over, include the implementation of a new Finance Shared Service Centre under a new finance operating model in South Africa, which went live in two waves on 24 October and 14 November 2017, and a new finance call logging system to support the Centre. “This Centre will support the whole of Africa once common systems are in place,” she explains, adding that the process to establish the Centre also involved some restructuring.
Jen and her team also launched a new finance website in October, rolled out numerous automated and digitised reporting solutions to support the business, implemented common models and target key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure business performance, and supported securing investment funding from the global member firm to invest in Africa over the coming seven years. She started a further two projects, though both are still in progress: evaluating the firm’s debt and capital structuring across the continent, which includes the setting up of a centralised treasury function for Africa, and implementing common IT platforms, including an ERP system, across all regions.
Jen has worked for Deloitte her entire career – 11 years – working her way up the career ladder, to where she is now. She believes that four things in particular have helped her on her journey: passion, excellence, learning and relationships. She elaborates: “Firstly, be passionate about what you do, and you will be recognised for the positive energy that you bring to any role. Secondly, pursue and deliver excellence always, as that becomes the backbone of your reputation. Thirdly, and importantly, have a learning attitude – I have always pursued roles that have allowed me to stretch myself, grow and learn more. Lastly, build strong relationships – align yourself with mentors who you can learn from, and build strong personal relationships with your leaders, and the people who work with you and for you.”
An important lesson learnt: “One of the most important lessons is to trust and empower those who work for you. Nine times out of ten, if you do this right, they will share in your passion and rise to the occasion. In a leadership role, this is critical and makes a huge difference to the impact that you can make.”
Asked what has kept her so loyal over the years, Jen replies: “I’m very passionate about Deloitte; you could say my blood is green. I’ve worked for Deloitte in South Africa and abroad in Australia in both client-facing and internal roles, and there are many things that keep me loyal, including the people I work with, and the culture, values and principles of the firm, which align with my own, as well as the opportunities for career and personal growth that have been afforded to me. The Deloitte purpose statement for our 2020 strategy is ‘To make an impact that matters’, and the firm empowers its employees to make an impact that matters to their clients, their communities and to each other. In all the roles I have played at Deloitte, I have felt empowered to do just that.”
An accidental accountant
Interestingly, accounting was not one of the subjects that Jen studied at school. “I was very passionate about ballet dancing as a young girl, which I pursued very seriously for 18 years. However, I was also strong academically, especially in science and maths. Career councillors advised me to pursue actuarial science or chemical engineering. I remember at one point telling my father that all I knew was that I did not want to be an accountant. Funny how things pan out, as that changed in my matric year when I made some friends pursuing careers as chartered accountants, which completely changed my perception and influenced me to follow that path for myself. I’ve never looked back and love what I do.”
Jen is married to Bryan and has two young children, Emma and Charlotte, aged four and two. How does she manage to juggle a demanding career with being a wife and mom? “It’s always a challenge and probably never perfect,” she laughs. “I have a good support infrastructure and ensure that I spend quality focused time with my family. I love my work and believe that it makes me a better mom and role model for my girls. I like running and going to gym, as well as spending time with family and friends on weekends. Travelling has always been a passion. I also have a bit of a flair for party planning – I recently planned a unicorn magic party for my girls in September – and I enjoy home décor – my home was featured in SA Homeowner magazine in 2016, which was pretty cool.”
Asked where she sees herself five years from now, Jen says, having just reached this milestone, she hasn’t thought too deeply yet about what is next. “I would like to bed down and add significant value in my current role first, and I believe when the time is right, new or other opportunities will present themselves.”