Exporting South African excellence


At the 2022 Finance Indaba, three leading executives shared what makes our accountants globally adaptable.

There’s no denying that South African finance professionals have earned their stripes. High standards of professionalism coupled with volatile market conditions give South Africans a problem-solving mentality, a degree of unflappability, and a ‘can do’ attitude that makes us poised to conquer the world.

So how does South African talent measure up? Craig Sumption, finance director for Hatch Africa, told the Finance Indaba last week that he and his local team look after Africa, Europe and the Middle East and he finds that his team is on par with their international colleagues. “We’ve had seamless interaction with teams around the globe and there have been times when they train their international colleagues,” he says.

Sharon Naidoo, CA(SA) and CFO for Africa TransUnion, says that her training towards the CA(SA) designation laid a good foundation and has helped her when working with international counterparts and developing strategies to enter international markets. “The CA(SA) profession is a well thought-out degree that I worked hard for. There is a reason that 21 percent of current MDs and CEOs of JSE-listed companies are CA(SA)s,” she said.

“Learning about International Financial Reporting Standards (IRFS) prepared me so much for what I do now. Emerging market CFOs are sought after by international organisations because of what we deal with – our European counterparts are only now dealing with inflation, which has been a factor in most of our markets for a long time,” she explains.

The challenge that local accountants face may not be skill, but culture, said Nico Esterhuizen, CFO for ForAfrika. “We work in a lot of remote areas and our challenge is often understanding the cultural nuances: these exist even when you are working in African countries and a lot can be missed or misinterpreted because of that. It’s important for us to embrace cultures we are unfamiliar with and try to understand them, instead of being singular in our approach,” he explained.

Craig agreed and said communication and culture are big factors. “Even in English-speaking markets there are cultural differences, which are important to be aware of yourself, and with respect to how you are seen by your counterparts. I learnt that South Africans are seen as straightforward and direct, something I had associated with Australians, but it was useful to know, because it made me aware of the soft cultural nuances in business that you cannot take for granted.”

Nico said besides technical and soft skills, what will also determine the success of any South African in a global team is being an expert in their business. “Your job is not just to know the numbers. You need to understand your business and know it inside out so you can speak about what is happening and interact with anyone across the business. Gone are the days of finance departments working in silos: our role is integrated in every aspect of the business.”

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