Going from CFO to CEO requires more than being good at finances

CFOs have to immerse themselves in how their company works in order for them to become good CEOs.

The journey from being a CFO to becoming a CEO of a company involves more than just being good with finances, conference attendees heard at this year’s Finance Indaba. T-Systems managing director Dineo Molefe told a room full of CFOs that if they want to run companies they need to stop thinking just about numbers but understand the industry they’re working in and how the business operates on a day-to-day basis. 

“Finance professionals have to change their attitude and mindset and behave as if they are MDs,” explained Molefe. “That means that if you work for a company that sells products, you have to know the products and get involved in the process of how that product is sold.”

Joe Ndala, managing director of Aecom, who took part in the same panel, shares Molefe’s sentiments, and added that if CFOs understand the business as well as its finances, people respect them more. Throughout his career as a CFO, Ndala has always made sure that he is not just comfortable in his own corner, but that he gets involved in other departments and learns how they work.

While the decision to become a CEO wasn’t planned for Ndala, Molefe knew that she wanted to become one by the age of 32 and worked tirelessly to achieve that goal. According to Molefe everything starts with a decision, which is knowing where you want to be in life and planning towards achieving that goal. 

Both Ndala and Molefe’s journeys to becoming has not been without challenges. Ndala had to learn to not just be cooped up in the office working with numbers, but to go out to meet clients and socialise, because building relationships with shareholders, stakeholders and other business owners is essential to running a successful business.

Molefe added:

“As an introvert I had to learn to step out of that and engage with people, but at the same time regroup to my quietness and think about how to use what I’ve learnt from others for the good of the company.”