Finance Indaba Conversations explores maximising impact of learning from mentors

Finance professionals shared how learning and mentorship can be a catalyst for success.

Finance leaders discussed the benefits of mentorship and why it is important to embrace continuous learning in the current environment we live in at a Finance Indaba Conversation on lifelong learning.

The session was sponsored by iOCO/EOH and joined by its chief commercial officer Ziaad Suleman, who said that while technology is a disruption to many environments, it is a necessity. He said that as organisations are increasingly adapting to new ways of working, agility is important, since man and machine have to increasingly work together.

He emphasised that upskilling is needed in order for finance professionals to manage systems, understand and interpret data, and have the proper business acumen to apply the data. “When thinking about how you mentor, do business and utilise technology to deliver better process optimisation and deliver better business outcomes, you have to make sure your people are in congruence with technological trends,” he noted.

The ins and outs of mentorship
MTN CFO Dineo Molefe said that mentorship is important for finance professionals because mentorship is a process that facilitates growth and maturation as we continue to develop in our careers and lives. She shared that she has personally benefited from having mentors, explaining that, “You don’t only need to grow your technical abilities on the job, you need resilience and to deepen your emotional stamina because as you grow in your career, you need to be able to handle a growing range of challenges.”

Pieter de Wit, Afrimat FD, said that the mentee should be the one who drives the relationship. He pointed out that when the mentee has a clear idea of where they want to go in future, it makes it easier for the mentor to provide the right type of guidance and give feedback and advice that aligns with that broader vision.

He says that having various mentors and coaches is beneficial because they give you multiple perspectives and getting that broader understanding helps in the long run.

Dineo agreed, saying that the mentee needs to be proactive, ask questions, drive themselves to learn, take the initiative to find time in the mentor’s diary and show up well. “As a mentor, when you have a really keen mentee who shows that they are serious, you want to help them succeed even more, so you invest more in the relationship too.”

Looking at the subject from the mentor’s side, Tencent SA chief innovation officer Tramayne Monaghan said mentor-mentee relationships require an investment of time and effort to be truly meaningful. He says he has developed his own framework of selecting who he thinks he can help as a mentor. The first criterion is that there is an alignment in terms of skill sets, and that the person be a self-starter, because he excels at bringing out the best in people who are already ambitious.

Lifelong learning and future finance skills
The leaders said that they are looking for a dynamic set of skills when they hire people. Tramayne pointed out that the world is changing fast and the only way for finance professionals to be ahead is to learn within and beyond the field.

He said that he prefers to hire a generalist who can think on their feet and solve problems, over a specialist – because that the world is more dynamic and leaders need people who can do multiple things and solve problems from different angles. He says that it is something he lives by as well, and when he was a finance manager he was curious to know more about digital marketing and signed up for a class. “With that understanding I could now ask pertinent questions of service providers and trust them more deeply, because I understand their world.”

Pieter’s take was that professionals will need to be generalists in future, but he believed that they would still need a solid base for a start and could add on more functions to that foundation. He said, “It’s an already competitive environment, so to be employable you need to know more than the basics. In order to have that competitive advantage, finance people should strive to understand the business and industry they are in. To really add value, you need to understand the core business drivers’ processes, and factors that make the business tick, and with that understanding you can deliver top value.”

Dineo agreed and asserted that finance doesn’t only need finance professionals. She said that for her, basics are important but she is looking for people who are keen to learn and engage laterally, who want to understand the business holistically and then drive value in that space. She said that in her view, “Finance is supposed to unlock value and not just tell us about past performance. To be able to strategic and influence what the company does next, we need data analysts, data scientists and other people with technology skills to formulate the full picture.”

Finding the edge of being human
Tramayne added that while computers can be taught to do one thing incredibly well, humans still have the edge of being able to do multiple things really well and combine seemingly obscure things together.

He said that we continuously build our edge through lifelong learning. He offered a real-world example of someone in his innovation team wanting to learn how to code an autonomous car, even though the company has no plans to be in that space. He explained that it was an acceptable learning opportunity because learning for the sake of learning is often a good thing: “Stretching your mind to new ideas and constructs helps you think laterally. The expansion of the mind doesn’t have to be in your current space or an attribute of your job right now to be powerful.”

Ziaad said mentorship is a two-way street. “It’s about finding the right fit. The relationship should be built on the right values such as trust, constructive discussion and being open to hearing the other person out, and having the maturity to accept criticism in a constructive way.”