Rebecca Pole unpacks how her first few weeks as the VP of finance: South Africa for Dimension Data are going and reveals what excites her most about the new role – and it’s not only the numbers.
They say music and maths go hand in hand – for Rebecca Pole, this has been true her entire life, just not the way you might think. “My first set of letters were not BCom or CA(SA), it was AmusA (Associate of Music, Australia),” the violinist says jokingly.
However, Rebecca’s music career never took her further than an associate diploma in music performance and violin, because when she was presented a scholarship to go study after school, the university didn’t have a music programme. She ended up pursuing a career in finance instead. “I don’t regret it, and music has followed me throughout my life,” she adds.
She taught music throughout university and her articles, which helped her pay her way through life at the time. When the time came for Rebecca to consider her secondment post her articles at PwC, a lot of the preferred locations, like Europe and America, were not taking any because they were dealing with the early stages of the financial crisis. Her mentor, who was South African, suggested his home country.
When she moved to South Africa, Rebecca used music as a means of meeting people and occupying her time while she was growing her career. “I went to a few orchestral rehearsals, but because of how structured orchestras are with set rehearsal times and concert dates, it was too much of a time commitment for me to maintain, and I wanted a bit more ownership over something,” she explains. “I picked out a few people from the orchestra and asked them to start a quartet with me. It ran for a good three or four years before I stepped away, but I think they’re still going today.”
Rebecca put the violin away once her career became more demanding and her family started growing. After completing her articles and serving as an associate director at PwC South Africa, she was appointed the group general manager of finance for Barloworld, where she stayed for three years.
In 2020, she became the FD at Nextec, which is where her passion for the technology industry was sparked.
“I really like working in the tech space: it’s innovative, it’s dynamic and it’s never the same. That kind of industry is exciting.”
After three more years with Nextec, the time came for Rebecca to find her next challenge again. “I’ll stay somewhere as long as I feel I’m adding value,” she says. “The minute I become an intermediary between my team and the exec I know my team are ready, I’ve done my job well and I can move on.”
She explains that, while debits and credits are essential to any finance executive’s role, it’s not what motivates her to get up in the morning. “It’s more how we get there that gets me excited, because at the end of the day, the finances are the output of everything that happens around you.”
When thinking about her future, Rebecca first reflected on some of the companies she’s worked with, especially during her 14 year’s experience as an auditor. “There is so much we can do with our capital, and often the assumption is that if you have limited resources, those opportunities become less. I wanted to be part of an organisation that had access to capital in the form of investments and could bring global best practices, but that also must work with limited resources, like we have in South Africa, to make that happen. Dimension Data and NTT ticked all the boxes.”
Having only joined in January 2024, she is still trying to engage with the business to understand the operational strategy. “You can’t hope to understand what’s going on by just looking at the numbers, you have to understand what happens on the ‘ground’ and convert that into a financial strategy in order to make sure everyone is singing the same tune,” she explains.
Rebecca’s first step is to get out in the field and see how it all gets done, as well as meet the people who do the work. “I will be visiting our new NTT Johannesburg 1 Data Center. From the outside it’s a big black box with humming servers, but walking the DC and understanding how this translates to customer value and a financial number is what makes it interesting.”
She adds that, in the tech space there are tangible things, like building data centres, managing tech services and platforms and implementing applications and other technologies. “The biggest challenge for me is trying to get past the tech lingo and find a way to convert this to value. Not just the number, but what the value is that our products and services bring to our customers.”
Learning and connecting with her team in a hybrid world
“The tech space is very equipped to facilitate remote working, however skills and relationships takes longer, and in my experience it takes longer to build a tight-knit cultures. Because things are changing so often, you need to be constantly challenged by the people and the tech around you, and at the same time band together to innovate and solve problems. There’s a lot of benefits to being together in a room.”
In the more senior ranks of her team, Rebecca has individuals with more than 20 years experience with the group, and who have worked all over the globe. “Part of my role will be harnessing all of that experience and integrating it with my own approach.”
She believes her collaborative leadership is exactly what she needs to make this happen.
“Coming into a new organisation, you need to be able to lean on your team and learn from their insights.”
She adds that it’s not only the technology that makes Dimension Data special. “People don’t stay in an organisation because of the tech they have access to, they stay because of the people they work with and how the ethos of the company fits into their values. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the organisation and I can probably count on one hand the number of people I’ve met with less than two years tenure.”
Rebecca explains that, during her articles, she was experiencing a frustrating situation with a manager and someone said: “Take note of all the things that frustrate you of the leaders that you have worked with and make a point of ensuring that when you are in that position one day, you don’t bring those to the fore.”
This advice has stayed with her throughout her career, and the one thing Rebecca avoids at all costs is being an arrogant leader.
Now that Rebecca has some free time (her new commute to work is only seven minutes after all), she has finally picked up her violin again too after 10 years of not playing. “I tried to open my violin case over the holidays, but my bows’ hair has disintegrated, so I need to fix them before I can try again,” she says.
At home in her new home country
In the meantime, Rebecca spends as much time as she can with her eight- and ten-year-old children, and her South African husband. They met and dated in her home country, Australia, while she was still doing her articles, but when he returned to his home country, she was too reluctant to go with him at the time.
After her secondment also brought her to the country, Rebecca got in touch with him again and learned to love the place he called home so much that she now calls it home too.