Three young CFOs shared their experiences and tips with a captivated and interactive online audience.
CFO South Africa’s launch webinar event kicked off with the fitting subject of “Become a CFO before the age of 40”. Registrants flocked online to learn from three leading young CFOs: Tsu Mhlanga, Italtile executive director: group finance, Bryan Groome, Verimark CFO, and Shabeer Khan, Department of Trade and Industry CFO.
CFO South Africa community manager John Deane welcomed the audience, excited to launch the first in the series of CFO South Africa webinars. “It’s great to have you all here on this auspicious occasion as we explore new ways to interact with and deliver value for our community in unusual times,” he said.
While the CFOs delivered insightful anecdotes and advice from their own history, what made the webinar so valuable was the interaction with the attendees. Questions were posed in the chat by the audience and answered by the CFOs, who were delighted to share their experience of their own career paths with others still finding their way.
The CFOs started by outlining their entrees into the world of finance, with Bryan saying that he had always been good with numbers, so he studied accounting at school and then a B.Com accounting was a natural progression.
Tsu said she was destined to become a doctor or an accountant, but when as a child she ran screaming from a delivery room, it was clear that finance was the route for her. Shabeer said that his father was a teacher and instilled in him a sense of appreciation for education. As he was good at maths, finance was the avenue he chose to pursue.
Both Tsu and Bryan found that they benefited from having worked in smaller companies, which gave them the ability to gain a lot of experience of all aspects of the business, before ultimately being appointed to their roles as CFOs of listed companies. Shabeer, on the other hand, has had a committed path in the public sector – a position he took up after spending some time at the Auditor-General, because he is committed to public service.
When discussing the challenges faced as young CFOs, Shabeer highlighted the importance of sponsorship. “When I started as the CFO of the DTI, the minister came to me and asked how we could move my department from being successful to being excellent. How could we move towards securing a clean audit, and what did I need from him? I said I just needed his support in driving a clean audit for the department. I said, ‘I will put in the strategy, I just need that leadership from you.’ Because I had the minister behind me in pushing that clean audit strategy, it made a huge difference to improving financial management, discipline and service delivery in the department.”
Bryan also said that he was “My CEO blew my trumpet, which made it easier for everyone to accept me in that position, to buy into me, and ultimately accept that I was a part of the company.” But he added that to get them to buy into his appointment, he felt he had to produce results, “and quickly”. “You have few opportunities to prove yourself, so take advantage and make the most of them. You have to prove that you are the best person in that position for your company.”
Tsu confessed to being concerned that established staff members might think of her as a “whippersnapper”. “What I’ve found helpful is respecting the fact that they have been there for years. I come in with the attitude or spirit that I wish to tap into their experience, asking how they got to where they are today. I’ve seen how if you frame questions like that, people are much more inclined to share, and accept you in your role.”
Asked for one piece of closing advice for the audience, Shabeer urged them to “network, network, network!”
Bryan said that while you can keep your eyes on the CFO prize, “don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, get involved in everything, ask questions. The more you know the better. That will position you to move forward.”
And Tsu concluded with: “Never compromise on your values as a person. Also, stay the course. Resilience will stand you in good stead. It’s not easy, but the rewards far outweigh the pain you have to go through. Lastly, I agree that it’s all about relationships. Always treat everyone as you wish to be treated. Our journey on this Earth is not taken alone; relationships give spice to life, so be intentional about relationships. You won’t regret it.”
Questions that weren’t answered in the webinar, due to time constraints, will be responded to in future articles, after engagement with the CFOs.
You can sign up for other exciting webinars coming up soon at CFO.co.za/events.