Dikeledi Nakene, CFO Palabora Mining Company: Resist temptation of short-term gains

Surround yourself with people that encourage you, believe in yourself and resist the temptation of lucrative offers before finishing your degree or articles. That is some of the great advice that Dikeledi Nakene, CFO at Palabora Mining Company Limited, has for young, aspiring talents in the finance world. “I was born and bred in Limpopo province in Ga- Modjadji not far from Phalaborwa and look at me now. I want to tell local people, especially village girls, that everything is possible!”

Nakene was once a simple village girl herself, she proudly states. "I always tell people that with a smile. Some of my cousins grew up in Soweto and I can see they unfortunately lack the sense of responsibility that we have grown up with in the village," she says. Nakene remembers she was at a cross roads when she was doing her articles with PwC in Polokwane. "In my final year I got the opportunity to start working for a private listed company and earn three times as much."

She now says she was 'naïve', because she seriously considered the offer. "A PwC-partner saw my talent, sat me down and asked me to stay. Eventually I chose to stay and after I did my three years articles I even stayed for another two years working for PwC." According to Nakene it was the best decision she could have made, finishing her articles and building up crucial accounting and auditing experience. For someone from a poor family, who wants to take care of his or her loved ones, this can be very tough, Nakene concedes. "I almost fell into that trap. Young black talents are sought after, but you have to resist the temptation of short-term gains and say: 'This is my path. I still need to plough.'"

After PwC, Nakene joined the Sport, Arts and Culture Department as a CFO, which she calls 'quite a challenge'. "The role of CFO within the government was very new then. The head of the department was very supportive, but it was quite an adjustment - I especially had to get used to the political element. I had to understand all the protocol issues." Nevertheless, Nakene believes the private sector can learn a thing or two from how government operates. "People tend to complain a lot about government, but what I have learnt is a very rigorous budget process. The processes that we followed and quality assurance we did, are things that I still use today. At the same time these endless processes can also be tiring."

When the opportunity came for Nakene to return to the region of her birth as a CFO, she did not hesitate. "I was the first CFO that was not appointed by the former shareholder Rio Tinto. It is a very complex business, with new challenges every day. But I would say it took me about a year to understand the dynamics, but I still learn all the time. I am very grateful, though. We have a very unique asset at Palabora, not only mining copper but also adding value to it. When I grew up, I would have never imagined being CFO here."

Copper is a very volatile commodity that has seen gigantic price fluctuations over the last decade. It makes for a good challenge, says Nakene. "You need leadership support and as a CFO you need a good finance team. You can't run around with everything, although I do run around…," she laughs. "I don't look at accounting as numbers, but as helping the organisation reach it goals. Accounting is something that gives direction to that process. You always have to be aware of your environment. Before the price of copper is set, you should know the developments and have plans in place to anticipate what happens in the market."

Nakene calls on young finance talents to listen to positive role models and advisors. "It is very important to surround yourself with the right people, who are encouraging. You also have to believe in yourself; that is very important. You need to say: 'This is who I am and I am not afraid to say it.' Sometimes we limit ourselves by not doing things… If you fail, stand up, dust yourself off. I have failed many times and made many mistakes. Every time I have learnt," says Palabora's CFO.

"My passion is village girls, because I was one myself," Nakene says. "You can come from a village and still make it. The question is how much are you prepared to do and work for it? Anybody can walk into schools and tell kids they should work hard, but it is up to people like us - who came from the same background - to get this message across. That will make more of a difference. Look at me today!"

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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