Meet six CFOs who took the career path less travelled to their roles

Seismologists, chemists, engineers... These CFOs haven't always served in finance.

Not all CFOs come from a long tenure in finance - starting their careers with articles and working their way up from accountant to financial manager to CFO. CFO South Afrca introduces you to some of the CFOs whose careers certainly didn’t start in the finance department. 

If anyone should be able to judge the benefits of hiring outside the box, it is Standard Bank FD Arno Daehnke

Arno studied mechanical engineering and specialised in earthquakes. Thanks to his mathematical models that interrogate how shocks move through rocks, Arno also became one of South Africa’s leading seismologists. He was even awarded the prestigious Rocha medal, the annual global recognition for the best doctoral thesis in rock mechanics, in 1999. 

In an interview with CFO South Africa, Arno said that he still loves it. “There are two types of seismologists: the ones that look at earthquakes from a mathematical angle and the ones that look from a geological angle. I worked with applied mathematics, developing models to understand how shock waves move through different layers. I received a bursary from the CSIR, spent ten years there and also did my PhD, looking at how fractures run through rocks.” 

MTN CFO Ralph Mupita and Wipro Technologies CFO Kiran Kumar were both engineers before they stepped into the finance industry. 

From 1996 to 1999 Ralph was an engineer at Haw & Inglis Civil Engineering

He joined Old Mutual in 2001 and served in various director roles before becoming its CEO of emerging markets. In 2017 he joined MTN as CFO. 

Read more: Ralph Mupita MTN CFO nominated for CFO Awards 2019

Kiran received a B.Com degree in accounting and finance in 1997, but continued to study in the direction of computer science. 

He has served as an software engineer for companies like XIPHIAS Software, k4t and Wipro Technologies, where he was appointed as financial controller in 2012. He was also briefly a Java programmer for Auritas

In 2015 he became a senior consultant at Wipro Technologies and in 2016 he was appointed as head of finance. 

Read more: Interview: Kiran Kumar Wipro Technologies

Curro Holdings CFO Bernardt van der Linde worked as a financial writer at Finweek for two year after completing his articles. He then joined PSG and embarked on his finance career. 

Read more: The rise and rise of Curro CFO Bernardt van der Linde explains

Ipsos CFO Shan Vorster received her National Diploma in analytical chemistry from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and started her career as an analytical chemist for PetroSA. After a year, she became the industrial chemist for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. In 1998 she became the regional accountant for Hollard Insurance, which ended up being her gateway into finance. 

Read more: CFO profile Shan Vorster 

MMI Holdings CFO Risto Ketola describes his journey towards becoming a CFO as an “unusual one”. 

He started out in “quite a traditional actuarial manner” – first in life insurance product development, then involved in structured products or derivatives, followed by asset-liability modelling. 

He then made a change and became a sell-side equity analyst, and he spent 15 years analysing insurance companies, which he told CFO South Africa, gave him an excellent view of the broader insurance industry and also enabled him to develop a broad network of contacts across the industry.

He hadn’t really considered becoming a CFO as his intended outcome, and only really started to think about the possibility a few months before getting appointed to his current position. But he says that his actuarial background has benefited him significantly in his current role. 

“The actuarial syllabus is obviously a broad one that includes at least basic courses in accounting, economics, finance, law, strategy and marketing, so it shares a lot of fundamentals with going the CA route,” he says. “Obviously the more advanced courses on accounting and finance are replaced with mathematics and statistics, but at least the basics are there.”

Read more: MMI Holdings Risto Ketola