Landi van Staden decided to remodel the CFO role during Covid-19

As the CFO of Cape Union Mart, Landi took the opportunity to mould the role to be more people-centric.

Landi van Staden was taught to have a good work ethic from a young age. Her father, who was the only man surrounded by two daughters, a wife, a grandmother and two female dogs, never treated her differently because she was a woman. She explains that having someone that important to her treat her the same as everyone else and never say, “You’re a girl, you can’t do that,” showed her that she could do anything she set her mind to.

Her mother, who worked, studied and mothered full-time, proved that this was possible. “My mother always told me, it doesn’t matter if you are a plumber, a doctor, a hairdresser, or a CA, you need to be in a position where you can work for yourself,” Landi says. And while she certainly hadn’t planned on becoming a leader at the age of 32, her work ethic led her right to the role of CFO at Cape Union Mart.

Remodelling the CFO role
While working as a manager at KPMG, Landi was responsible for the Cape Union Mart audit, which allowed her to get to know the business and its culture. After the final audit was completed, she reached out to then CFO Jason Wright to join the company. “I told him that I felt like he needed another financial manager and I believed I would be perfect for it,” she says. Jason agreed and Landi joined the group in October 2016.

When Jason resigned, the founding family of Cape Union Mart were looking for his replacement for months, during which time Landi was responsible for babysitting the role, along with one of her colleagues. “The family has always said they wanted to appoint the best person for a role and, after I proved that I could do it during my time acting in the role, they appointed me,” she says.

Landi was appointed as CFO in April 2020, during the initial Covid-19 hard lockdown. She explains that everything she thought she knew about being a CFO was thrown out the window. “A lot of the historical expectations for the CFO role weren’t relevant anymore and I had the opportunity to mould my own profile in the business.”

For Landi, this new mould was to be more inclusive with her people. The first thing she did when she was appointed as the CFO was to ask everyone what they wanted to achieve and whether they wanted to be stretched and challenged to try new things.

“Once you’ve established what their goals are, you need to actively help your team achieve them,” she says. “With my financial managers, it’s about understanding their ambitions and whether they want to be CFOs one day. Because if they do, then I need to expose them to the business operations, let them sit in on more executive meetings, teach them how to present things, and more.”

Learning from her father, Landi explains that she has the same expectations for all of her team members. “You need to make sure that you are setting expectations for them because you believe in them and because you know that they can do it,” she says. “Once people know that you want them to develop and grow, and that you believe in their ability to do that, they do amazing things.”

She adds that she emphasises the importance of the team and the fact that no one is more important than anyone else because of their title.

Putting people first during Covid-19
Landi explains that, with Covid-19, she has had to place more focus on her team’s personal lives. “The challenges of the pandemic can be difficult for people, and we should never underestimate the emotional strain that it puts on people to go through that amount of change.”

She says that, during the pandemic, she has seen the mothers in her finance team having to take up more work when it comes to being present with their children and helping with their projects and schooling. “From a business perspective, we had to figure out how to still meet deadlines while understanding that our team members needed to be home and were going to be distracted by their children.”

Landi brought a new policy into the finance department that gave people the flexibility they needed, where they were expected to be contactable during working hours, but didn’t have to sit and watch their emails all the time.

She explains that there’s also a renewed focus for her around mental and emotional health, and acknowledging the fact that women’s mental and emotional health is linked to that of their families and children.

“I’m passionate about working with people and not making finance this place where dreams go to die, but instead where people feel valued and know that they are part of something bigger,” Landi concludes.