Empathetic CFOs, taking a people-first approach to finance


Olivia Serithi, Casper Troskie and Nerissa Jalim reveal the true value of a people-oriented approach.

Olivia Serithi (pictured), who had always wanted to work in medicine, landed her dream job as CFO of pharmaceutical company Allergan Pharmaceuticals South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Olivia decided to take a people-first approach in order to connect and realign her team. “A few weeks into the job, I spent time with each team member to learn about their perspectives, frustrations, areas for growth, opportunities, and potential changes,” she says.

“I looked at the finance team structure. We are a very lean team, but we had the support of a shared services centre in Ireland. I told my team to look at their roles and what could potentially be automated or moved to the shared services centre. The changes emanating from this exercise resulted in additional capacity being created, which allowed us to focus on our core objectives.”

Olivia says the aim of her realignment was to elevate the team and take them from just being a finance team to a strategic partner in the business. “We developed tailor-made development plans for each team member in order to play on each of their strengths and developed any shortcomings with the ultimate goal of ensuring that we become more customer-centric and a business partner to Commercial.”

Read more: CFO Olivia Serithi says medicine is in her blood

Focused connection
According to Old Mutual CFO Casper Troskie, the realities of Covid-19 necessitate that leaders check in on their teams. Because we’ve all been affected by the pandemic in some way, he explains, it’s difficult to separate what we’re dealing with from our work. Connecting with people and allowing them to share their stories about how the pandemic has affected them is therefore critical.

“In my role you can’t divorce how you’re feeling from what’s happening around you. I’ve seen the impact on my team: we had quite a few people who contracted Covid-19. I am fortunate that none of my immediate family members have been impacted, however team members have experienced loss. It has been a very difficult time for all of us. People are struggling to cope, resulting in sometimes very emotional meetings,” he said.

“The people aspect has been massive, and we had to step up as leaders to do more work in deliberately checking in with people. This has had a positive impact and we have seen an improvement in engagement scores with staff,” he noted.

Read more: Casper Troskie believes people need focused connection in times of change

A selfless leader
Despite having a full plate as a CFO, Cargo CarriersNerissa Jalim takes time out of her already hectic schedule to lend a helping hand at a Gauteng NPO. Since 2008, Nerissa Jalim has volunteered at the Little Eden Society in Edenvale, Gauteng. Little Eden is a charitable organisation that offers specialised care to adults and children with intellectual disabilities.

She is a true example of living a life of service to others, and she derives greater satisfaction from assisting those in need. “Little Eden is very close to my heart,” she says. “The adults and children have profound learning disabilities. Unlike most of us, their functionality in society is limite,d hence they need special care, and it breaks my heart to see this,” says Nerissa.

Read more: Serving others is what drives Nerissa Jalim

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