Finance Indaba Conversation explores how mentorship amplifies power and potential

Panellists discussed the value of being a mentor and a mentee, and how it’s a two-way street.

An inspiring Finance Indaba Conversation entitled ‘How mentors made me, and how I pay it forward’ was hosted by CFO SA’s community manager, Brian Chivere, and featured panellists Deon Fredericks, Famous Brands Group CFO, Mikateko Tshetshe, Unilever’s vice-president of finance in Africa, and CJ Kujenga, Ascendis Health Group CFO.

The interactive Conversation was enabled in partnership with. Richard Southey, head of cash management at Absa Group, introduced the session by saying that Absa has come out of a three-year period of internal focus, which was precipitated by the financial institution’s separation from Barclays. He added that Absa’s CFO SA sponsorship forms a significant part of the bank becoming more externally focused by connecting with the finance community.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to understand what’s top of mind among CFOs, and get involved with conversations,” said Richard.

Richard added that, along with forging connection, Absa places significant focus on building talent. He shared that, throughout his career, mentors have helped him look at the world in different ways and manage relationships and changing environments.

“It’s absolutely vital to grow South Africa’s talent,” said Richard. “We live in a fascinating country, but we require so many skills; mentorship is about building each other’s careers, for both mentors and mentees.”
A personal journey requires effort from both parties

The session kicked off with the question, “What is mentorship?” For Mikateko, it’s an exchange of shared insights and advice, and it’s about coming together by making the time to connect. Most importantly, it’s a relationship built on a foundation of trust and mutual understanding.

“Conversations can lean into sensitive and confidential content, so you need to trust each other, and trust is developed over time. It’s also a two-way relationship, and it’s a personal journey that requires effort from both parties.”

CJ added that, for mentorship to be successful, mentees need to be vulnerable and open to the process, and self-awareness is critical. For CJ, mentorship is meant to challenge people and shift comfort zones, and self-awareness is critical.

“Mentees need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so that they know where they need support,” added CJ. “I’ve had mentees who expect you to do all the work; meet me halfway, and help me understand the growth that’s required.”

For Deon, mentorship prepares people for learning and co-operation. The key is to start early, and to understand that mentorship is a continuous process.

“We don’t need other people to make the same mistakes we’ve made,” said Deon. “We also don’t want to keep information to ourselves: with social media everything is already out there. We live in a world of information-sharing, and mentorship fits into that.”

Managing expectations
Mentorship can be incredibly rewarding for mentors and mentees alike, but it’s important not to burn out, especially in a pressurised space like finance. Deon emphasised that it’s critical that the mentor wants to be involved, and that the mentee wants to be mentored. “On a regular basis you’ll need to determine what you are achieving and to set that up in expectations,” said Deon. “It’s so important to take time out to ask, ‘Is this actually working?’”

CJ added that, while she’s a big believer in mentorship – and she’s had people in her life who have been instrumental in helping forge her career path – as a mentor, it’s easy to take on too much. “I’ve often been the only Black female in executive management, and I used to get a lot of requests to mentor, and I got burnt out,” said CJ.

“The relationship is emotional, and you have to give of yourself; I can’t be dispassionate and removed. I stopped mentoring for a couple of years, but I learnt I need to be selective about mentees and define the relationship: sometimes it can be a short duration, sometimes longer. I’m still passionate about it but I find there are different ways of mentoring, and being mentored, so I can give of my best.”

Never too old to learn
For CJ, we will always need mentors, as we never stop learning. Mentorship is particularly valuable during any kind of career shift, and it doesn’t have to be restricted to one person, either. “Different elements will need different people; take time to understand yourself and what you need. You want to learn from different people, even different industries. You can’t be a clone of someone – I’ve tried!”

“I’ve had different people in my life for different reasons,” added Mikateko. “It depends on what the need is at the time. I’ve had formal and informal mentoring relationships, short- and long-term. One of my first mentors is still in my life; I can pick up the phone and chat to her.

“Due to my curiosity about digital, I’m also currently involved in reverse mentorship with a couple of people. It’s more structured and time bound, and in certain cases those relationships will end once the objectives have been met.”

For Deon, it’s important to play a mentoring role, but we can all learn from each other, especially from younger colleagues. “We’re all adapting to technology to do things differently: we have new personal development areas, our strengths change, new challenges emerge. We can learn from people on the shop floor, and we have to make sure they’re part of the shift,” said Deon. “We’re never too old to learn.”

As seen in the chat
Nelisiwe Ngomane, Symrise: “I had one mentor/mentee relationship that didn’t work because I realised that my mentor was not the kind of person I wanted to be like, based on how she treated other people in the organisation.”

Joy Sykes, Digital Industries: “Mentoring and coaching is facilitated through a forum of problem-solving for the future. The role of being a mentor is a privilege and fulfilling. It is important to acknowledge the reciprocal role the mentee plays in the relationship, as self-discovery is unlocked in the process. You’re never too experienced or too old to learn from others.”