Deloitte's Aneshree Naidoo on integrating motherhood, wellness and leadership during a pandemic

Deloitte Consulting Africa CFO Aneshree Naidoo returned to work from maternity leave during Covid-19.

For Deloitte Consulting Africa CFO Aneshree Naidoo, 2020 is an evolutionary year. Having concluded 2019 on maternity leave, Aneshree re-joined the workforce mid-January and only just before Covid-19 hit South Africa and a national lockdown was declared on 27 March. She says that having to suddenly deal with the significant impact of the virus from a work perspective and then considering the personal impact on families and on the home-front was challenging. 

Returning to work amid Covid-19

After maternity leave, Aneshree returned to an office environment that was gearing up and excited about a much-anticipated move to Deloitte’s new headquarters in Waterfall, but also at a time when Covid-19 was starting to be relevant globally and a possible lockdown loomed for South Africa.  

Fast-forward nearly 120 days since lockdown at the time of the interview with CFO Magazine, and Aneshree has established a schedule that enables and supports both professional and personal dimensions. On the work front, Aneshree, along with her leadership team, is responsible for building the finance portfolio of Deloitte Consulting Africa. This is a priority-one area for the team after having responded quickly and successfully to tangible Covid-19 business impacts. She is also focused on lifting the quality and speed of reporting in the business, following on from a successful S4Hana ERP implementation in the previous year. 

“My team is instrumental in supporting and steering our Africa-wide strategy,” Aneshree says. “I enable and mobilise my teams in an unambiguous way so that they successfully execute on short and medium-term projects, thereby growing their experience base and organisational reach.”

Navigating new business challenges and opportunities

Aneshree says that forecasting in general is a challenge in an ever-changing trading climate, but that Covid-19 has made it a lot more difficult due to the inherent uncertainties of a global pandemic. “A current observation is that there are longer client deal conversion periods as some clients require time to rebound from the impact of Covid-19 and other economic challenges before committing to the next transformation project.” 

However, she believes that this also presents an opportunity for Deloitte to support its clients in navigating through the current challenges and show value in transforming now. As an example, implementing or enhancing digital solutions aids the recovery process in a time where virtual work is the norm. “For our finance teams, we are seizing the opportunity to get closer to our deal teams, understand the changing forecasting landscape and sensitise for these changing assumptions in our financial projections and activity.” 

Leading in times of crisis

Working with numbers has always been exciting for Aneshree. “I developed a passion for numbers from a young age by playing with toys like number blocks, the abacus and the ‘magic cube’,” she says. “I did well in maths competitions and was also exposed to entrepreneurship from primary school days through cake sales and ‘DIY and sell’ projects.” 

She ended up choosing to study accounting for financial and logistical reasons and was afforded a full bursary to embark on her CA journey at the University of Pretoria. 

But, for Aneshree, the real magic of her role as CFO lies in the people aspect of what she does.

“I always say if you lead with courage and empathy and have people at the heart of your business, the numbers usually work themselves out,” she says. “And leadership style is so important, especially during these unprecedented times.”

The strategic aspects of her role include supporting geographical considerations for Deloitte Consulting, engaging with stakeholders across the firm on various business matters and ultimately steering Deloitte Consulting Africa to grow profitably each year. 

Stakeholder connections remain key, especially while working remotely.  

“My role is to lead the finance team and support the firm’s initiates in any way I can.” 

Life before and after Sonali’s birth

Before Aneshree fell pregnant with her daughter, Sonali, she loved to travel the world with her husband, Soneil. “I enjoy learning about other geographies and being exposed to different cultures; the food, music, people,” she says. “I also love to learn about work ways adopted globally and in turn share our SA best practices at global forums.”

Travelling is not on the cards currently due to the travel ban in South Africa, but this does not stop her family from making the most of watching travel and food shows and perusing their travel pictures and videos. Soneil and Aneshree were delighted to have a safe and sound way to introduce baby Sonali to the world outside of home. 

“The last few months have indeed been evolutionary,” she says. “In response to these changing times, my husband and I have re-established support structures so that we can focus on work, dedicate time for wellness and maximise family time. I also try to come back to the simple things in life, like taking in the outdoors and breathing fresh air.” 

From the moment Aneshree was pregnant, she voiced to Sonali to be “strong, bold, smart and kind”. She continues to tell Sonali these words on a regular basis and now Sonali is starting to recognise the words and smiles broadly. 

She explains that it’s these affirmations that can help Sonali live her best life. “Strong is not about being only physically strong, but mentally as well. Bold is being courageous enough to deal with challenges and try new things. Smart is not just intellectual ability but combined with kindness to co-create for the new and better”. 

Aneshree’s first “children” are her two chows, Simba and Nala. “Soneil and I have had them since we got married, ten years ago.” Since Sonali came along, Simba and Nala have developed protective and compassionate streaks and on most warm afternoons, you’ll find us all playing together in the garden. 

Supporting children outside of family

Aneshree and her team at Deloitte support initiatives at children’s homes. “We are mostly working moms in the team and we understand and appreciate what is required to raise children. We take every opportunity to support youth projects, be it in the form of donations or historically, time spent with children, nurses and house-mothers at the homes. I am proud of and inspired by my team – we try to give back to the community as much as we can and with heart. “

In her personal capacity, Aneshree also supports various youth care homes. “Visiting children’s homes was part of my childhood. My aunt has dedicated her life to supporting youth care facilities and so I would go to her on weekends and school holidays. I saw first-hand some of the trauma and hardships children face from an early age. It is heart-breaking!” 

Aneshree also started mentoring during her articles and subsequently signed up to a global mentoring platform. It gave her both the opportunity to mentor and be mentored. “My focus is primarily on accelerating the careers of women. I am passionate about women putting their hands up to change things up and charter new territories. The time is now.”

Looking forward

Looking five years into the future, Aneshree’s first response to where she sees herself was jokingly “chasing after a five-year-old”. 

Aneshree is a multinational CFO for more than a decade and says she enjoys leading finance and operation teams within large organisations. “I thrive in the consulting and technology space,” she adds. “I’m embracing the ‘build’ action going forward…I plan to build on my experience and focus deeper on building successful teams, building up financial results, building up our economy coming out of this pandemic and extending community build programmes.”

I’m also deeply grateful for family moments. “I look forward to growing with and learning from Sonali and also the exciting new tech stuff Soneil will teach me about over the next 20 years and beyond together… who knows, maybe I will enlighten him on a thing or two in this area…”  

In reflecting on the blessing of family, Aneshree urges everyone to stay safe and well as we overcome the pandemic together.