Finance Indaba hears how to make it to the top before you’re 40

Verimark CFO Bryan Groome and other panellists shared their secrets to achieving early success.

During an Impact Session at the Finance Indaba Network, Coronation Fund Managers CFO Mary-Anne Musekiwa revealed that the most challenging time in her career was when she did a stint in Nigeria while working for a financial services company.

She recalled being very junior at the time, surrounded by colleagues who were senior and more knowledgeable about the business. She was tasked with introducing a new system in the face of a culture much different from what she knew.

She knew she had to gain the respect of her colleagues so that she could be trusted as an expert. “I learned that it is important not to walk into an organisation thinking you know it all, to take time and learn how things operate work. Only then will you be able to add real value.”

Bryan Groome, FD of Verimark (pictured), who became the youngest CFO of a JSE-listed company, said the toughest time was when he took up his first acting FD position. After his boss left, he found himself standing in just as year-end reporting was approaching, with almost double the workload overnight.

He also sat through his first board meeting with high profile individuals and had to deliver a critical investor presentation. He described it as a “sink or swim moment. Looking back, it was a great experience. I managed to prove myself despite immense pressure, and in doing that performed at the most pivotal period of my career thus far,” he said.
Finding success in the finance role of the future

Mary-Anne said the finance role is evolving into one that is far more integrated with business. “You need to understand IT, strategy and operations. It’s not just about reporting on results. You need to be an active part of the process of creating the results.”

She emphasised that delivering on finance is the baseline, but you provide a far more strategic role toward profitability and health of the business, so beyond being responsible for finance, you need a holistic skills set.

Rhett Finch, deputy CEO of King Price Insurance, advised young people with ambitions of creating a rewarding career to get into the work environment as soon as possible. “Even If you want to earn more qualifications, ideally study while working. I believe in continued professional development, and learning should be constant, whether it’s in the form of a formal degree or not,” he said.

Relationships
Rhett said a success factor in his life had been having family and friends who support him. He recommended surrounding yourself with positive, energetic, passionate, driven people, and asserted that spending time with a range of high-quality people can be as important as having a mentor or coach. Mary-Anne agreed and highlighted the importance of finding alliances both in and out of the organisation.

What I wish I knew
Bryan wished he had been more aggressive about networking in the early days, as well as more curious and less afraid to ask questions. He said he would have asked people more about what they liked doing or not, finding out what their challenges were and finding out what made them tick. “Networking is important for long-term success. Meeting someone in a relaxed setting gives you a line of entry which you can pick up later on in life,” said Bryan.

Mary-Anne said:

“There are challenges along the way. These show up in the roles you are in, in skills you need to develop and in relationships with people. I would be kinder to myself and realise that not everything is going to go according to plan every time, and I’d move on quicker.”

Responding to an audience question on not being sure of yourself, Rhett said no one has answers to everything, so it is important to be open and transparent. “Share your concerns with your team; enrol them in finding solution and seek ideas from the board.

Vulnerability creates a sense of authenticity, and when people relate to you on that level, it deepens the relationship and makes them want to follow you even more,” he said.

Bryan believes that if you are in doubt, remind yourself of past successes, and added that , “Confidence is important when leading. Even when you make mistakes, learn from them and move on.”

All the young leaders agreed that to keep on top of the pressure and expectations that come with high powered jobs, you need to find healthy ways to cope. Rhett’s advice was not to take yourself too seriously, lean on your team, build them, and have fun. Mary Anne added that having fun, delegating, and not thinking that you must do everything yourself will keep you sane.