Lisa Cherry is the FD Heidelberg Graphic Systems needs right now

As a millennial, her sense of calm about remote working is helping her team to cope and thrive.

Millennials are a misunderstood generation, often berated for their attachment to technology and disregard for authority. Lisa Cherry turns this perception on its head; resourceful, thoughtful and intelligent, she is a trailblazer looking for opportunities to contribute and grow. 

The child of two working parents, Cherry understood the value of work and self-sufficiency at a young age, having seen the benefits of having two productive parents. Born and raised in Johannesburg, she excelled in maths and accounting so a career in finance was a good option and in her estimation, “offered a high probability of secure employment and stability,” which was a pretty solid calculation as it has led her to her current position as financial director of Heidelberg Graphic Systems, a press manufacturer.

As a leader, Cherry recognises the power of developing herself before trying to guide anyone else. Personal growth is something she is deeply committed to and says, “I believe no real change can be achieved without developing yourself, evolving your knowledge and rising to new challenges.” This entails consuming thought-provoking, intelligent content through audio books, TED talks, online courses and platforms such as LinkedIn Learning. Her appetite for learning drives her to seek knowledge in smart but powerful ways, “I use little pockets of time throughout my day to digest new ideas. For instance, I usually listen to an audio book when I am getting dressed and preparing for work,” she explains. 

Stimulating her mind with material ranging from non-fiction to thought leadership and trend pieces from CIMA where she earned her Chartered Management Accountant qualification, keeps her engaged and connected to bold ideas. “I also attend events such as the Finance Indaba. Last year there was a lot of thought-provoking conversation, speakers sharing ideas on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. I love experiences which help keep me up to date and on the cusp of new developments and trends in the industry.” 

Coming of age at a time of unrelenting change has engendered a fiercely inquiring, learning spirit in her. This involves personal initiative and taking on challenges – attributes that have proven to be  particularly helpful in helping navigate the challenges 2020 has thrown our way. 

Just over six months ago, she stepped into her current role, following senior leadership positions at Tarsus Distribution and Motus Africa. She recalls, “When I came into the position, it had been vacant for a few months, on top of that, the company opted to bring me in instead of appointing internally. Not only was I an outsider, I was young and female in a role that had always been occupied by a man.”

She found a team that had lost its cohesion and getting everyone on one page turned out to be difficult. Gelling with the team was especially tough, “I often felt discouraged, especially in the early days when the lack of camaraderie was glaring. It felt like all the things I tried to bring the team together weren’t working, but as time went on, things slowly started to shift.” She recalls. She pulled the team together by reaching out to create individual relationships and show that she was not there to threaten anyone. Just as the team was finding its rhythm and things were stitching together, the whole world was turned on its head by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, her ability to deal with uncertainty has been a huge advantage to her and her team. Huge dexterity, not having a fear of change and comfort with technology have proven to be powerful assets. 

For instance, preparing the team to work remotely has been a shift that some colleagues had reservations about. But, the flipside has been that it is a great opportunity to use her talent and confidence to guide hesitant employees towards working in new ways. She shares that, “When it became clear that we would have to work from home during the lockdown, a colleague, who happens to my mother’s age was anxious about working at home, away from the team and in an environment she had operated in for decades. So I sat down with her, laid out how things would work and assured her that she would have the support she needs to deliver.”  Her sense of calm and control were helpful in setting a confident tone.

Even though the scenarios currently unfolding have no blueprint, she uses her usual approach to challenges, “By staying calm, evaluating the facts as they currently sit, but also being aware of the fluidity of circumstances and not being rigid to one solution or way of doing things.” 

Ten years into her career, it has exceeded her expectations and she attributes her fast rise up the ladder to being willing to go the extra mile, taking on extra responsibilities and leaning into new opportunities to learn. 

The combination of being a curious thinker as well as a continuous learner is not important to just her, but is a value she encourages in her team because developing new skills and knowledge tends to increase personal performance and competence. “I think leading by example is important, and I hope that modelling the value of learning can inspire others to develop themselves. I am currently looking forward to attending a leadership development programme recommended by my CEO, who said that it was a game changer for him.”

This current period requires that she not only help her team and stay connected, but is well aware of the danger that lies in not carving out space to think and breathe. “Disconnecting in such a connected world is already difficult, but will probably be even more intense as we work from home and the line between personal time and work becomes even more blurred.” 

In addition to fertilising her mind with cutting edge ideas, she is committed to keeping her body healthy and maintaining her relationships. “As a dedicated person, I run the risk of work completely consuming my life, but I have learned to dial back and prioritised my personal time, fitting in things like gym and going for walks with my dogs, which I treasure.”

A newly wed of a year and a half, Cherry values time with her husband and appreciates the balance having a partner brings into her life. She is also an avid animal lover and relishes any opportunity to go on long walks with four-legged friends.

As the world we know it remains in limbo, she intends to still lead her team remotely, but will also find time to indulge in a pastime she has neglected. “I love baking, but haven’t always had time to do it.” She approaches this activity with the same sparkle and curiosity that she brings to everything she cares about, “I look forward to exploring my more creative side, playing around with unexpected, experimental dishes ingredients like avocado chocolate mousse and other unusual combinations.”