Talent and diversity make finance strong: Dineo Molefe, CFO T-Systems

Dineo Molefe took on the role of chief financial officer of T-Systems at the beginning of May. She oversees both the Johannesburg and Cape Town teams, with 47 people and six direct reports looking to her for guidance. She strongly believes the secret to a solid and successful team is having exceptional and talented people. In her words, a varied skills base is also very important: “You have to have a diversity of skills and backgrounds. When you have people who all think the same that doesn’t help the team. Diversity of mindset is also important. And you need people who are self-starters.” CFO South Africa caught up with Dineo to find out how the first few months have been. How are you enjoying your new role? Have you encountered any challenges since you took office? What changes have you made, if any? “It was a bit of a hit and run to start! Within finance we have Controlling, Corporate Finance, Commercial, Procurement, and Legal. The role provides a good balance between being strategically focused and being involved in operations. Our finance team is embarking on a journey to transform itself and to be more of a business partner, so that we play our role in being an enabler to business and not a stumbling block.”

"One of the important things I've done was to streamline functions and roles, and place people where they will add the most value. I also made some structural changes to the team, which were taken well by everyone involved. I was careful to ensure that the changes still allow people to enjoy growth in their roles."

What role do you think the CFO should play in strategy development and formulation?
"Finance plays a significant role in strategy development. For example, in a situation where the business portfolio is concentrated on two or three major clients or market or industries, as a CFO, this is something of concern. You want to see that there is a strategy to address the issue of portfolio risk balancing and having an appropriate spread. Also, you want to ensure that the implementation plan is achievable and addresses the right issues."

"If you're the CFO of a company that is acquiring businesses, you need to ensure that any businesses you are acquiring are, and will continue to be, profitable; bring synergy opportunities and can your boost cash generation ability. In addition, if you are taking on a business that you don't necessarily have immediate capacity to run from the current skills pool, various measures need to be put in place to be able to manage that."

How do you see the role of the future-ready CFO? What do you think CFOs most need to do in order to prepare for this?
"The role is becoming more forward looking as opposed to backward looking. Advisory capacity is now more and more expected, and of course the need to be more commercially oriented is increasing. CFOs are expected to manage resource allocation in terms of use of available capital and investing money in areas of the business where most return will be yielded. Assisting the business in identifying and managing risks and opportunities is also quite important."

"As a CFO, you have to be involved in, understand and contribute to all areas of the business. Looking ahead, CFOs must spend a lot of time on operations and keeping current with business drivers."

What do you think is key to building a strong team?
"You have to have a diversity of skills and backgrounds. When you have people who all think the same that doesn't help the team. Diversity of mindset is also important. And you need people who are self-starters. I enjoy being able to pick my own team members."

What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
"Qualifying as a CA! I achieved a group directorship at a young age - 32. The things I did in that space in terms of putting finance in a different league and value add I'm quite proud of. Also, working with women initiatives in the workplace. This is something that I really enjoy and feel passionate about. I am a member of the International Women's Forum (IWF), a global community, and have been for two years. Members get nominated and write a motivation for acceptance onto the IWF, which the local South African board reviews. So it's quite an accolade."

What, in your profession, are you most passionate about, or most interested in?
"Women's initiatives, mentoring, transformation and skills development. I think it's important to get more women in senior roles in the workplace, and I like to see people grow in their careers and jobs. If I'm working with a team, there has to be evidence of growth. That's something I always want to see."

"I have a mentor myself - a few actually. My approach to mentoring is holistic. I have work/career mentors and also life mentors on a personal level. I do it because I don't have all the answers and I don't know everything."

"The people who mentor me are people who've been where I am now and have experiences that can help me to do better. They help to shape my thinking and aid my decision-making. They are able to advise in a way I wouldn't come up with on my own. I think it's beneficial for both because I think everybody wants to give something back - and mentoring is about giving back. It's also a learning opportunity for the mentor - a reflection opportunity. I'm not only taking as the mentee, I'm also giving."

How do you ensure your own continuous improvement?
"I read and continue to learn. For now, learning for me is more focused on leadership than technical skills."

Where would you like to see yourself in five or ten years' time?
"I like the CFO role. I want to continue to grow and add value in the space I'm in now. And I'll hopefully continue to mentor other people and contribute to their growth as well.