New mom and newly appointed Mars SA CFO Sasha Brown is excited about what comes next.
Sasha Brown was born into a family of finance professionals: her father was a financial director, and her mother was a bookkeeper, and they now own a business together. Sasha now finds herself following in her parents’ footsteps, with a young family of her own and a brand new CFO title.
Taking on the new
In December 2021, Sasha’s life changed completely. One day, she was being interviewed for the role of CFO for Mars Southern Africa, and four days later she was in the hospital about to give birth to her daughter, Alice.
“When it happens, it happens very quickly,” she says.
Alice arrived two months premature, but the timing was almost perfect. “It worked out well, because I was able to return from maternity leave and transition back into the business for a few months before taking on the CFO role head-on”.
The company appointed an interim CFO until Sasha was ready to take on the role.
“When we did the interview, I was still sceptical and unsure whether I could do it,” Sasha admits. “Functionally, there’s not much that changes, but there is more focus on people management and strategy that is both exciting and intimidating.”
Now, two months into the role, however, she feels ready to take on the new responsibilities that come with it. “People management can be challenging, but I am really passionate about developing the team because I’ve had such great leaders in the past that have inspired me and driven my development.”
One example is former CFO and 2021 CFO Awards nominee Sam Hopwood. “He was a great coach and leader,” Sasha explains. “He helped me elevate my thinking, as well as present myself at a senior level. He advocated for me, but also taught me how to advocate for myself and develop my own brand.”
An exciting industry
Sasha has been with Mars South Africa for the last five years and explains that she loves the industry she’s in. “In finance, it’s sometimes difficult to see how you’re making a difference and where you’re adding value in a tangible way,” she says.
She adds that, because of the business partnering finance role, you get to see that impact when you’re working in the FMCG industry. “The fact that I can go into a store and see our products on display and watch consumers transact has made a difference to how I see the impact from all departments coming together."
Sasha explains that it all boils down to earnings.
“If you’re able to create value for your company through earnings, then that is one giant step towards being a successful business. Being part of that is exciting for me.”
Keeping consumers happy
That excitement partly comes from helping the organisation navigate the various challenges it’s currently facing. “We operate in a volatile country and we’re seeing our currency plummet,” Sasha says. “Because Mars South Africa imports a lot of its products, we will experience a setback from the currency exposure.”
The country’s economy has also been further plagued by inflation spiking to high levels this year, which means that companies like Mars have to increase their prices in order to protect its earnings and value creation. “The challenge here lies in how we can balance it without losing consumers."
Sasha explains that Mars has had to find other levers to absorb the impact of inflation. Some examples are sourcing changes, simplification and focusing on ROI.
Putting family first
Sasha explains that first and foremost she is still a family person, and spending time with her growing family remains important. “I have a husband, Gordon, who I adore, and Alice, who’s one and a half years old now. She has stolen my heart and transformed our little family unit. We also have two cats and two dogs, and we love going for walks in the park together as a family.”
As a woman CFO with a family, Sasha sees this as an opportunity to also inspire other women in finance to set their sights on leadership positions.
“I want to prove that as women, we can deliver exceptional results in these roles and at the same time have a happy family life.”
Mars has given her the opportunity to do that with its hybrid work-from-home policy, which she says has had a really positive impact on her work-life balance. “It allows me to see my daughter even during working hours, and I often pop out of my office when she wakes up from a nap to give her a hug or have a quick meal with her.”
Sasha adds that she can also watch Alice play outside from her desk, concluding that all of this helps her keep up the balancing act.