CFO Maureen Manyama's approach to addressing a boardroom

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Wits University CFO Maureen Manyama leverages subcommittees and submissions to get the most out of the time at the boardroom table.

As executive and senior management of their organisations, one of the many stakeholders CFOs have to manage is their board members. Sometimes their engagements go well and they achieve great success for their organisations, other times CFOs have to navigate challenges unique to the boardroom.

Wits University CFO Maureen Manyama, explains that the board expects CFOs to provide strategic financial leadership within the organisation. This includes reports that outline its performance and, projections or forecasts about what the financial results are likely to be by the year-end and insights into financial risks.

“The CFO should always look for areas of continuous improvements, with an aim to introduce cost efficiencies and highlight areas of possible revenue sources. They should also come with possible mitigating actions against financial risks,” she says.

In turn, she adds, CFOs want their boards to be decisive, to probe and to focus on giving constructive criticism.

“Board members should provide actionable or practical solutions to problems, as recommendations are sometimes theoretical and not as easily applied.”

She referred to an example from a previous organisation, where external auditors wrote directly to the board with the intention to issue a disclaimer on an assets matter, bypassing the CFO and chairperson of the Audit and Risk Committee. Maureen had to go to the board and explain why the matter the external auditors had raised was a non-issue. There was a discrepancy between the AFS and Fixed Assets Register due to Capital Work – in – Progress and Investment Properties. “The auditors should have taken their time to understand how the organisation worked and the documentation we had spoke to the reconciling items.”

The board created a subcommittee that oversaw the matter and Maureen worked closely with the chairperson of the Audit and Risk Committee to help the auditors extend their scope and deploy additional team members. “No adjustment was done and we received an unqualified audit opinion,” she says, adding that “transparency, communication, commitment and dedication by the finance team is what led to the outcome.”

Recipe for boardroom success

Maureen explains that a couple of factors contribute to achieving success in the boardroom, including the quality of the documents submitted to the board, active engagement and participation by all board members and mutual respect and professionalism.

“Regular and comprehensive board evaluations are also important and should be followed by remedial plans that address areas of improvement,” she says. “It’s up to the chairperson of the board to facilitate effective discussions, manage conflict and move the board towards consensus and strategic decisions.”

She adds that a diverse and skilled board composition also contributes towards success.

Maureen’s boardroom playbook

At Wits University, Maureen leads the compilation of the boardroom agenda based on the charter. “Internally, I will know what each meeting focuses on and which subcommittee will need to consider submissions before they go to the board, including the executive management committee. I then discuss the agenda draft with the relevant subcommittee’s chairperson, as well as with my direct reports and team, so that I can get their inputs into the documents,” she explains.

“For each submission, I focus on the key messaging and the decisions required from the board. I also make sure the policy provisions are included in the submission, which makes life much easier,” Maureen says.

She adds that each submission from finance has a cover page and memo that provides more context. When it’s financial results season, Maureen and her teams also do internal dry runs of their presentations before taking it to the board.

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