Mpho explains how she was recognised as a leader for EWSETA, despite her youth.
Mpho Mookapele was appointed as the CFO of the Energy & Water SETA (EWSETA) in 2016. Two years into the role, she was promoted to acting CEO along with her CFO responsibilities, and in 2020, she stepped into the CEO role permanently. However, this fast-tracked career move hadn’t been part of her plan when she joined the company.
“Initially I wanted to serve in the CFO role for about five years and follow my passion, which is to strategise,” Mpho revealed during a CFO South Africa podcast, sponsored by Sage. “Two years later, I found myself leading the strategy of the organisation as the CEO.”
When she joined EWSETA, Mpho’s responsibilities weren’t specific to the CFO. “As the CFO, I was exposed to the entire business, from operations to marketing to ICT and even the cleaning facilities,” she explained. This exposure assisted her in understanding the business as a whole, and has contributed greatly to her current role as CEO. “If I hadn’t served as the CFO, I don’t think I would have had a head start as a CEO.”
Asked whether there was one specific moment as the CFO that set her apart for the CEO role, Mpho said she believes it was during one of her presentations to the board. “I was providing clarity with regards to where the organisation was and my passion for strategy fused with the financial aspects, which I think is where I was recognised as a potential leader.” She added that it was also her ability to bring the entire business on board from a finance perspective when it came to the strategy.
“I’ve always had to prove myself, even as a trainee and a manager,” Mpho said. “But in that experience, I have learned to appreciate the fact that I am capable and gifted, despite my age, and that I can equally contribute in a room that is full of older executives.”
As the CFO of EWSETA, Mpho was the youngest amongst the executives. But instead of being intimidated by them, she learned from them. “I learned not to hold back and to accept that I was bringing something to the table.”
When she was appointed to the CEO role, the realities of her experience gap in executive leadership was glaring. “But I used it to my advantage and identified the areas of self development,” Mpho said. It was during this time that she came to the realisation that, even though she is young, she has worked hard and that her labour and passion have paid off.
In some instances, Mpho’s youth has paid off. “I bring a different perspective into the room by breaking away from the norm and bringing up improvement,” she said. One example is where she questioned the business model of the organisation and, as a result, EWSETA’s leadership is reevaluating it and is in the process of an organisational design review.
You can find out more about Mpho’s formula for success in the latest CFO South Africa podcast, where she and King Price Insurance deputy CEO Rhett Finch talk about the challenges and opportunities of being young leaders.