FD Tinyiko Sihlangu is a big-picture thinker

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Tinyiko Sihlangu has always been interested in understanding the entire workings of an organisation, not just the finances, and reveals how this helps her to add greater strategic value as the FD of Royal Bafokeng Holdings.

Understanding a business as a whole and delivering work that adds value has been key to Tinyiko Sihlangu’s career. It has even informed her approach to life and studies, which she has put to good use in her current role as financial director of Royal Bafokeng Holdings.

“While it’s not a big company from a size perspective, it’s big in asset value,” she says, explaining that she recently completed the Harvard General Management Programme (GMP), which has helped her understand how different parts of the business interact with finance for impactful value creation.

The course helped her broaden her knowledge of the inner workings of disciplines such as marketing and strategy roles, and how the various parts of a business integrate in a way that makes a difference. “I realised that you don't need to be the expert in everything. You just have to hire the right people who are experts in those areas, and have the vision of how the various parts fit together into a cohesive whole.”

Tinyiko adds that it’s vital that this perspective filters across the business. to everybody.

“People need to know where they fit into the bigger picture. Everyone on my team needs to understand why what they do matters.”

She explains that a big part of the Harvard GMP focused on how you build an organisation where people understand the purpose and value proposition of what the company does. “This is something I’ve always been passionate about and focused on.”

Finding her niche

Having a knack for making different parts of a business work together efficiently, Tinyiko says she almost became an engineer after school. “I had an accounting teacher who wanted me to go into numbers and a science teacher who wanted me to pursue engineering. They were both great inspirations to me at school, but ultimately the numbers got me more excited than the physics.”

Watching results presentations sealed the deal for Tinyiko when the time came to make a choice. She says that, at the end of one of these presentations, an auditor from PwC stood up and verified the numbers.

“I wanted to be like them [auditors], because everybody trusted them.”

And so, after completing her studies, she joined PwC as an articled clerk. However, she quickly realised that while auditing is an important part of the business, strategy is “the heartbeat of the company” that pulls a business together. Tinyiko moved to MTN and found that she enjoyed financial reporting much more, as she got to see how the entire group fitted together.

During her academic articles, she was exposed to tax and decided to start her master’s degree in taxation. “I really enjoyed the research side of distilling legislation into something understandable,” she explains.

At the same time, she was trying to pass her second board exam. She was tempted to quit her master’s so she could prioritise her CA qualification. “My husband, who was also doing his articles at that time, took me to dinner on the UJ campus in between classes. “He encouraged me and said I had come so far; I may as well finish both the master’s and board exam.” This is testament of Tinyiko’s tenacity and seeing things through to completion.

So, Tinyiko juggled her studies with life and her career and managed to find the time to succeed in all of them. She explains that her husband has been very supportive, which also helps her in her role as a mom and her work commitments. “And because he is also a CA, he understands what I am going through and can be a good sounding board when I need one.”

Providing learning opportunities

Tinyiko is also passionate about ensuring that people have the opportunity to learn. “I want to upskill young people,” she explains. “I started a CA training programme and a bursary scheme focused on improving the finance teams and skills in the organisation, because there are not enough youngsters studying accounting anymore.”

She adds: “The greatest joy is seeing someone from when they were in matric through to getting a bursary and joining the workforce.”

Another priority for Tinyiko is being able to use her finance skills for good, and she is uniquely positioned to do that at Royal Bafokeng Holdings because of its involvement in enabling community development. “It’s very rewarding when you start seeing the impact you have on the community by doing something as simple as enabling the payment of a dividend that facilitates the building of roads, schools and other infrastructure.”

Prioritising what’s important

Tinyiko has taken all her experiences to heart and shows up at the office as a consistent, relatable and authentic leader. She also ensures that she creates a safe space in the workplace, in which her people trust her.

“I think the worst thing you can have is a situation where everybody knows what’s wrong, and then they’re too scared to tell you.”

This attitude translates into her home life. When Tinyiko is working, she’s at work, but when she gets home, her family has her full attention and is her priority. “My son is growing up quickly. This is my window of opportunity to spend as much time with him as I can before he doesn’t need me to take care of him anymore.”

She shares this ethos with her team too. When they are in the middle of a big audit, she will tell them to focus on the one thing that is important to them, which could be going for a run or having dinner with the family, to help them stay motivated. This method helps Tinyiko ensure that work doesn’t steal who she is, because she consciously makes time to be herself and prioritise the things that make her happy.

 

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