CFOs shared how they found the courage to lead through the pandemic at a Finance Indaba Conversation.
At a Finance Indaba conversation themed “Courage Under Fire”, sponsored by Workday, CFOs discussed how they overcame challenges throughout the pandemic.
Edward Bass, Workday’s global account executive, said that the Workday story is very aligned to helping customers come out of the pandemic a lot stronger. He shared some of the things that motivate Workday and the reason they are where they are today.
“What we have learnt throughout the years by talking to our prospective customers and listening to them, is that there are two things that we really need to achieve within a financial management environment,” he said.
“One is to take care of the business – but we need to do that in a way that is faster and more effective. So we strive to get information in and out of the system very quickly by using the same solution that managers are using.”
Edward said the second is to be intentional about listening to people. “We try and create a frictionless finance environment, so that you can automate as much as possible and be able to spend less time assembling the numbers, and much more time working with the business and being a true business partner with them,” he said.
He told the finance community that there is a different way of doing things and it is much more focused on the business, with finance at the centre of driving the culture shift, decision-making and doing that by enablement around the data.
Power of information
Edward highlighted that people can be incredibly courageous if they have the information, plans, and ability to replan, rescore, and course-correct as they go.
“You can be much more courageous if you have access to that than if you are blind to the information,” he noted. “Another thing that is worth noting is that people are at the heart of businesses, and you can’t just work with finance without thinking about the people.”
Nopasika Lila, CFO at Barloworld, shared that the shift has been standard for everyone during the pandemic: “What has shifted from a work perspective, is that the shift has been away from the core of finance, back to basics, and into the greatest of assets being the people.
“From a personal space perspective, there’s been looking at the real learning under fire, under extreme change – just making sure that one remains abreast with everything that’s happening.
Nopasika shared that the pandemic had tested everyone in ways they had never been tested before. But she said for her that’s an opportunity, because each and every individual gets to experience and explore opportunities about themselves, family, work, even in the workspace itself.
“If there was any change at work, it was always structured, steady, and planned. The pandemic did not allow us to plan. This time, it was about having the courage to trust your intuition, about courage, and about giving support to your team members. The shift came with being adaptable to a number of things in life, even working remotely.”
Adri Fuhri, CFO at e4, said when Covid-19 started she lost a lot of sleep, worrying that if she did things wrong, or didn’t make the right decisions from a financial perspective, people’s livelihoods and families might be adversely affected.
“I’ve never been one really to focus on being part of conversations or reading up about things because of the type of set-up that I usually operate in. But what I found during the pandemic is that talking to other people and listening to them sharing ideas in forums, whether it be CFO forums or Osaka forums, really became so valuable,” she said. “Because in isolation, we only know what we know, but if we work together and we listen to each other, we can learn so much from each other, and come up with new ideas.”
“On the personal front, it was also a bit of a challenge: my daughter started at a new school just at the beginning of the pandemic, and she’s an only child. So it was extremely hard for her, because she had not forged any relationships, really, and my husband just started a new job. And when he was meant to fly off to the UK, the borders were closed. As a family, that was a big challenge for us.”
But Adri’s daughter was the saving grace in the midst of all the stress: she came up with an idea that every Saturday the family should dress up for a theme evening, and have some family fun together. “That became the centre of our lockdown excitement,” Adri said.
Cell C CFO Zaf Mahomed said black swan events like Covid-19 are not unusual, even though they are fairly disruptive both professionally and personally. “I think the beauty of humanity is that we find a way to cope with these things. Yes, there are mental and wellbeing issues, but the reality is that this is not really new in itself,” he explained.
He shared that at Cell C they just had started on the path of reinventing and reimagining their business model and had already been in the throes of that when the pandemic hit. “And so Covid-19 was an opportunity for us to re-evaluate whether we were on the right path. From a professional perspective, everybody looked at the CFO because cash flow is king. And most businesses were in trouble: there was unemployment with businesses closing down.
“What Covid-19 told us is that we were on the right path and that we chose the right strategy and we had time to execute it,” he said.
“So, I think, yes, courage comes from having the courage of your convictions that you’re doing the right things. It also comes from the courage to say, yes, this is a problem, but we see the opportunity,” he concluded.