From the judges: 2021 CFO Awards nominees exhibit grit and resilience

With the 2021 CFO Awards just around the corner, the judges have cast their votes for this year’s CFO of the Year.

CFO South Africa is excited to be hosting the country’s leading finance professionals at the 2021 CFO Awards, which will be taking place at a glittering event at the Polo Lounge in Inanda on 17 November (the event will comply with all Covid-19 restrictions at the time).

Known as the “Oscars of South Africa’s finance profession” and the highlight of the country’s finance calendar, the CFO Awards recognises CFOs from organisations across South Africa and awards them for outstanding performance and leadership.

After intensive, two-hour-long virtual interviews that dived into the leading finance executives’ way of work, the judging panel has meticulously examined each interview to determine who will be the next CFO of the Year.

CFO South Africa asked the judges what some of the qualities were that stood out for them this year, and the nominees’ ability to navigate a crisis and innovate came to the fore.

“I think it’s fair to say that I am always impressed with the quality of the CFOs we have in our country,” says Webber Wentzel senior partner Christo Els. “What often stands out for me is the excitement and genuine commitment the best CFOs have for their businesses.”

He explains that a great CFO never sees their role in the narrow financial space, but gets involved in all the strategic initiatives that drive the business forward.

New to the judging panel, Institute of Risk Management South Africa CEO and former ACCA South Africa head Pat Semenya says a good CFO is not just a ‘numbers person’, but that they have a deep understanding of business and current affairs that impact on business today, “coupled with a strong will to ensure that they are always doing the right thing by upholding the ethical and professional standards”.

Brave Inflexions founder and former Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa CEO Claudelle von Eck agrees that the CFO should not just be a numbers person, but that they should be “ensuring true transformation where everyone feels included, values and that their voice is heard”.

Navigating challenging environments
After what has been a very challenging year with South Africa experiencing its third wave of Covid-19, as well as the civil unrest in July, the CFO Awards judges were all impressed with the resilience the CFOs had shown while navigating these difficult environments.

“During the last year, navigating through the challenges presented by Covid-19 were firmly at the forefront of the CFO’s responsibilities,” Christo says. “I was impressed how they responded to the challenges, showing the usual South African grit and resilience, and the manner in which they assisted in steering their businesses through the crisis, not only ensuring they survive, but for some, also thrive.”

In looking for the next CFO of the year, Deloitte Africa audit partner Kevin Black explains that he was looking for CFOs who played a pivotal role in both the design and execution of strategy and how they were able to support their businesses in being agile during these difficult times. “I was impressed by the many CFOs who managed to respond quickly to the difficult environment in 2020 and 2021. They managed to adapt strategy and look for opportunities in the crisis in order to recover quickly,” he says.

Pat adds that “in the unpredictable times we live in, perspective on risk is one of the traits that really shone through this year”.

Discovery Health CFO, Young CFO of the Year 2015 Award and High-Performance Team Award 2015 winner Brett Tromp said that he was impressed by the optimism that CFOs have for the future and the coming together of businesses and communities to beat the pandemic while preserving jobs.

Christo agrees, saying that the contributions CFOs made beyond their businesses, in the broader communities they operate and serve customers in, also stood out for him.

Adopting technology
In a world where Covid-19 has rapidly sped up the adoption of technology, Kevin was also impressed with CFOs who could demonstrate how they were using technology to drive competitive advantage as well as efficiencies while remaining connected to the people in their teams.

Pat also believes that technology is central to how the world moves. “It was interesting to learn from our nominees about how they optimised the use of technology, and the impact it had on their leadership and people skills.”

Former Vodacom and Remgro CFO, and CFO Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 winner Leon Crouse says that most of the nominees were at the forefront of “implementing new software technology for data exploitation to better understand important drivers of the company”, which helps them to strategise during difficult times like we have had.

Claudelle adds that the CFOs had shown a “level of maturity of how data analytics is used and the insights presented to the business”.

Lastly, Department of Accountancy at the University of Johannesburg chairman Ben Marx adds that the CFOs have all shown “innovation in a changing world to survive and prosper”.

Pat explains that “this innovation and willingness to try new things and take calculated risks to grow and improve an organisation's financial position” was what made all the nominees exceptional.

The 2021 CFO of the Year winner will be decided by the following judges:

Aarti Takoordeen, JSE CFO and Young CFO of the Year Award 2014 winner
Ben Marx, chairman at the Department of Accountancy at the University of Johannesburg
Brett Tromp, CFO Discovery Health, Young CFO of the Year 2015 and High-Performance Team Award 2015 winner
Christine Ramon, CFO AngloGold Ashanti and CFO of the Year 2018 winner
Christo Els, senior partner Webber Wentzel
Claudelle von Eck, founder of Brave Inflexions and former CEO The Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa
Herman Bosman, CEO RMB Holdings and RMI Holdings
Kevin Black, audit partner Deloitte Africa
Leon Crouse, former CFO Remgro and Vodacom, and CFO Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 winner
Pat Semenya, former ACCA South Africa head
Ramasela Ganda, executive head of business services Barloworld Equipment and Public Sector CFO of the Year 2017 winner
Victor Sekese, CEO SNG Grant Thornton