Donald Trump becomes US president: six lessons for CFOs

The historical victory of Donald Trump in the US elections has taken the world by surprise. In the next few days, weeks, months and years there will be countless analysis, debates and studies to explain why hardly anyone saw it coming. CFO South Africa Editor in Chief Joël Roerig doesn't want to wait that long and has listed six important lessons South African CFOs should learn from the property baron, tv-star and president-elect.

Photo: realdonaldtrump on Instagram. His caption: Nelson Mandela and myself had a wonderful relationship--he was a special man and will be missed.

  • Great leaders have self-belief. Fact-checkers might moan, your own colleagues might withdraw their support, the establishment might not take you seriously, but there is no recipe for success more delicious and effective as a dogged belief in what you aim to achieve.
  • Big data has its limitations. Many millions of dollars have been spent on predictive models, analysing voting patterns and forecasting what was surely going to be a victory for Hillary Clinton. But big data has one big caveat that CFOs understand like no others, as it is also a golden rule of accounting: garbage in equals garbage out.
  • Listen to the people. Political analysts and media houses deservedly receive truckloads of criticism after failing to gauge the mood in the United States, but boardrooms often suffer from a similar deadly cocktail of ignorance and arrogance. Do the facts really speak for themselves? Should past experience really inform your business model? Or should you continuously speak - literally, not through surveys - to your customers?
  • Africa is no exception. Advisors and service providers often charge CFOs a premium to assist in 'the rest of Africa', as many countries on the continent are such complicated places to do business. The US elections show that African countries are not that exceptional after all: there is a disconnect between the urban elite and the rest, tensions about refugees and xenophobia are increasing and most people don't trust the political establishment.
  • Twitter and LinkedIn do not reflect public opinion (but maybe Facebook does?). It might be an issue of less vs. more education, but the people who populate Twitter and LinkedIn with their opinions certainly don't represent the majority of voters - or consumers. Although Facebook also facilitates self-congratulatory groupthink, opinions expressed seem to be much more diverse, varied and representative. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg's data robots should call the next elections?
  • South Africa has a bad rep. But so has Donald Trump.