How three of SA's top young CFOs landed in their C-suite positions

It's about being technologically adept, having a strong and nurturing support system.

Landing an executive-level job can take years of hard work and sacrifices – especially if that position is in the C-suite.

These three individuals not only made it to the top rungs of their organisations, but they also managed to land chief financial officer roles at large companies before they turned 40. 
 
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Finance Indaba Africa last week Wednesday, there was a common thread in these young CFOs’ journeys to the top; they are technologically adept, giving them an advantage over their older colleagues. 

Nakedi Ramaphakela

Nakedi is the CFO of investment holding company Masimong Group. She started her career in 2009 as a trainee accountant at PwC. Nakedi was with Royal Bafokeng Holdings since 2012, serving as group reporting manager and group finance manager before her appointment as finance director in 2016. Nakedi has been nominated for the 2019 CFO Awards
 
Q: What do you bring to the table that older CFOs don’t bring?

A: I feel like I have three layers; I am young, black and female. It was quite a challenge to work in a boardroom because of these layers and I didn’t have much experience. But as a young CFO, I think it’s about bringing in a different perspective. We think and see things differently, and are exposed to different things.

Changes in technology and disruptions it brings to finance come easy to us. It is part of our DNA and that is something we can bring to work functions. Coming from finance, I always brought technology solutions to older board members to cut certain processes such as having 12 finance people doing management accounts to two people – within three days instead of 15 days. 

Q. Who supported you through the process of building your career?

A. The foundation of everything I do is my family. My family has always been there. 

As I moved up in my career, I also had leaders that guided me. But you have to deliver in the workplace; it is not enough for you to say that you have a sponsor. There were two occasions at Royal Bafokeng where CFOs had resigned and there was an opportunity for me to step in on an acting basis. I proved to myself and other colleagues that I can do the job.  

I also kept the former (Royal Bafokeng) CFOs as mentors. Whenever I faced challenges, I could always pick up the phone and call them because it is important to build a support network.  Mentoring is important because some young CFOs don’t have much experience in stakeholder engagement or having softer skills. 

Gideon Joubert

Gideon is the CFO of FirstRand’s Rest of Africa unit. He started his career at PwC in 2006, where he was an articled clerk. He has since held senior roles including the banking and capital markets manager of PwC and CFO of Rand Merchant Bank’s investment banking unit. 

Q. What do you bring to the table that older CFOs don’t bring?

A.  With the development of technology, I bring a different perspective. I also bring that hunger and energy that a more experienced CFO may lack. Being young means that I have not experienced many full cycles in banking; the historical good and bad times. But this means that I have to learn, read, invest to ensure I understand of the industry deeply.

Q. Who supported you through the process of building your career?

A.  In all of my jobs, I had a strong sponsor. But you don’t get a sponsor by just walking into an organisation. You get a sponsor from working very hard and being a person who can solve problems. You must embrace challenges and solve problems that others cannot. This will enable you to build a brand for yourself. At PwC, I had a strong sponsor by being involved in bigger engagements, and at RMB, I involved myself in big projects, which opened career opportunities for me. 

You need to prove yourself in your current job because when you apply for your next job, the recruiter will call your former boss and ask about your character. Whatever you do today, make sure you do it extremely well. 

Rui Morais

Rui is the CFO of Dis-Chem Pharmacies. He started his career in 2006 as an assurance manager at EY.  He then moved into the retail sector in 2011, where was appointed as group financial executive at Dis-Chem and later became CFO.  In 2018, he took home three CFO Awards including Young CFO of the Year.

Q. What do you bring to the table that older CFOs don’t bring?

A. I think experience can be defined differently. I started school when I was very young, and I was not able to speak English because I’m Portuguese. I always battled with this concept of experience. It was only when I entered the working world that I realised that experience is perceived as doing something for several years. I think experience is about having an in-depth understanding of your industry. 

I try to force experience on myself; meaning that I always try to understand my industry and I move away from the traditional reporting CFO role to become a problem solver. The finance profession needs to teach certain theories, but we need to acknowledge that theories are now available digitally or we can use service providers for difficult theoretical stuff. 

Q. Who supported you through the process of building your career?

A. You have to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter how much support you have; you have to accept that there will be difficult tasks thrown your way, being told that you are too young and cannot do it. It is natural for people to say such things. 

You need to be a believer in yourself. If you start doubting yourself then it won’t matter what kind of support structures you have. People you work for must believe in you because the journey is tough.