Mentoring is an enabling activity, says Deloitte Consulting CFO Aneshree Naidoo
"Make it count. Everything I do should be positively impactful. I feel there should be a theme of constant improvement, whether that's for yourself, the business or the people around you," says Aneshree Naidoo, CFO at Deloitte Consulting. Aneshree believes strongly in the power of mentoring and peer-to-peer learning and encourages aspiring and seasoned professionals to snatch up every chance they get to grow their knowledge base and skills. "I've rolled out mentoring programmes in organisations I’ve been a part of. These programmes were initially afforded to women as part of specific diversity initiatives and then to all interested. I believe in inclusive mentoring." How did you come to pursue a career in the finance industry? "It's a simple story. I enjoyed Science and Maths at school. My career choice initially was to pursue chemical engineering. One holiday I had the opportunity to do vacation work at a well-known plant. On site, I didn't take to the daily wear of heavy boots, jumpsuits and goggles. I then tried vacation work at Ernst Young. I enjoyed it thoroughly – the client interaction, how numbers told a story. I learnt that I could use numbers to make really big, bold decisions – and I took to the corporate, professional attire. My passion for Accounting and Maths came together and I decided to become a chartered accountant." Who were or are your mentors? "I've had mentors within the group of companies I've worked for but not directly in the company I was employed at. At Avanade, I was fortunate to have a professional coach and mentor based in the UK. It is enabling to have a mentor. As you grow into various roles, you need somebody to playback ideas or challenges. I extracted value from mentoring experiences where my mentor was in a different role, industry or even company from me as the experience supplemented my skills." How important is it for leaders in the finance industry to meet peers? "It's essential. Personal interactions are energising, especially when you hear peers experiencing similar challenges to you. It's encouraging to learn of solutions that are working for others and even discover opportunities to partner in business. We’re getting better at connecting more in SA." What are your career goals? "My career goal centres on creating leadership capacity within our country. I'm driven by purposeful roles and I’m now more about supporting education, training and/or mentoring initiatives in our country rather than progressing the ‘corporate ladder’ or being defined by a job title. I am passionate about education, positively influencing it at a very early stage in a deep and significant way, enabling more South Africans to be brand ambassadors for our country and lifting SA’s global contributions." What do you most enjoy about working in finance? "I love the picture or story that gets created through numbers and that I have the ability to influence and create that story. I love that diverse people, complex processes, relationships and overall many moving parts come together in the form of financial results. I enjoy connecting these various moving parts to tell the financial story and propose and steer financial and operational excellence." What do you most enjoy about the CFO role? What do you dislike about it? "I enjoy the challenge of growing companies, especially in our current economic climate which presents new learning and evolving opportunities for business. I enjoy understanding business levers and driving change to improve business performance. There’s a new problem to solve every day. What I dislike most is when custodians of business allow self-interest to override sound business decisions. I have a fiduciary responsibility and a bigger purpose, so I challenge those behaviours." You joined Deloitte Consulting in March. What has it been like so far? "It's been going well. There are immediate operational finance topics I am steering across Africa and with the broader firm and I’ve gone through our budget and year-end process already. I’m learning about the broad array of professional services offered by Deloitte Consulting, not to mention the exciting M&A activities. I’m also the Lead Committee sponsor for Deloitte Women in Leadership Consulting, which is progressive." Prior to this you were at T-Systems South Africa. What did you achieve while there? "T-Systems is a large technology company. My notable achievements were bringing about marked efficiencies and increased effectiveness of the finance team. I strengthened team skills through hiring qualified professionals and introduced strong commercial themes of finance enabling business growth. Through innovative deal shaping and pricing, pro-active support for our internal and external customers and introducing a theme of ‘Finance gets Loud’, I brought about a cultural team change for the better. I am proud of the strong 2015 results posted, which included milestone profitability achievements. I also drove the M&A strategy. It was an exciting journey to unlock new revenue streams with different partners in the market." You are young and yet you've enjoyed great success in your career thus far. How does this make you feel, and what has been key to your success? "I'm proud, I'm excited and I’m mostly humbled. Success is not finite to me; it's continuous and evolving. I’m always energised to explore the next level. I constantly try to displace myself so I create space for new leadership capacity."
"The rich diversity of my life in SA is my foundation of success. I thank my parents for affording me the opportunity to live this culturally beautiful life. I work hard, smart and surround myself with people that are optimistic, know more or different than I do and are supportive. The art of mentorship and people that 'lift' others and want to do more to improve our country are key ingredients. When all's said and done, I feel lucky for and appreciate the unwavering support of my husband, and my brother's smart advice on almost anything."
What is the toughest business decision you've ever had to make?
"My ethical and values system is very strong. For that reason, opting away from business that does not align to my values is easier for me but sometimes not desirable for other colleagues in a company because we are all hungry for new business. Standing firm on a decision that you know is right is hard to do when others in your team do not agree with you."
What has been the greatest challenge you've faced in your career?
"My greatest challenge was passing Board 1. I had an attempted hijacking on the morning of Board 1 exam, which distracted my focus from the exam for a little while. I chose to absorb myself in my audit client and the annual excitement of their year-end and neglected my studies. I then realised that I could overcome that hijacking nightmare by passing my exam. I did and board 2 was a breeze."
What would you peg as your greatest achievement?
"I have a personal and career overlap here. I get very excited when business performance has improved and I can report progress on risk mitigation for example but I believe the style in which one does that is the greatest achievement. My style is simple and inclusive: building stronger finance teams, transforming operating models, using technology to move organisations forward. There's a balancing art of my profession: be effective at the office but still get out there and make an impact."
When, in your career, have you been the proudest?
"In May 2015, I was invited to speak at a CIO conference in Wall Street, New York City. It was extremely scary for me and I was very nervous but it went well. I did a good job and was incredibly proud because I was an ambassador for Africa at the event."
Do you enjoy public speaking?
"I enjoy it. I'm still nervous each time and it takes a lot of preparation, but I put my heart and soul in it and it turns out well in the end. I am going to take this area of my career to the next level in the near future."
Mentoring is one of your hobbies. Tell us a little about your efforts here.
"Mentoring is an enabling activity. A lot of value can be extracted and I think every person should have the opportunity to benefit from it. I started out being a mentee. I started to feel and see the benefits, so I volunteered as a mentor in Ernst Young's NextGen programme, which works with university students. Since then, I've rolled out mentoring programmes in all organisations I was apart of. I also mentor aspiring finance professionals that request career direction."
What drives you?
"This expression, 'Make it count'. I try to do positive, impactful things and build by continuous improvement. It's addictive to learn. Once I finish something, I have a great sense of accomplishment and then an adrenaline rush to do more. I've experienced amazing growth and fulfilment in my life because I try to make each day count. I encourage others to do the same."
What do you do when you're not working? How do you relax?
"Work-life integration is at a different level these days. Even when socialising with friends, I find there's an element of 'shop talk'. I love catching up with my family and friends - it's always an energising, learning experience for me that sometimes involves trying a new restaurant or brainstorming our next charity drive. My favourite is spending time with my husband; he challenges me and inspires me. We travel a lot and enjoy discovering the latest apps."