Nice girls do get the corner office, says CFO Lindiwe Mzaidume

Lindiwe believes she is living proof that you don’t have to be mean to lead effectively.

What kind of personality does a CFO need to be successful? For a long time, this is a question that has nagged at American Tower Corporation (ATC) South Africa CFO Lindiwe Mzaidume. Bubbly, amiable and always smiling, Lindiwe thought she would need to adopt a ruthless persona like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada in order to be a successful CFO.

However, a conversation with her mentor (who is a retired ATC CFO) helped her realise that she only had to be herself to be successful. When she had mentioned that she wanted to be like him in her approach to work, he told her that she should never want to be like him, or anyone else for that matter.

Her preoccupation with her personality also almost stopped her from pursuing a career in accounting. “I enjoyed accounting because it was difficult, and I like challenging things. But I felt like my personality did not really suit the accounting personality, which is why I spent a lot of time exploring what else was out there,” she laughs. And that’s why she majored in both accounting and information systems.

After completing her undergraduate degree, she pursued a postgraduate degree in marketing before returning to accounting. “And it was during my time in the accounting field that I realised you can’t really box accountants in terms of personality. I actually think my warm and bubbly personality helps me in my work.”

Seeing the bigger picture
Lindiwe has been with ATC for a decade, starting her tenure with them as a financial manager when the company was starting its operations in South Africa. “The CFO who I reported to was really focused on the strategy, so he allowed me to find my way as a manager and grow in the role. It was exciting,” she says.

However, Lindiwe was ambitious and, after four years in the role, she was hungry for a new opportunity. This was exactly what she got when she was offered the chance to set up a finance department for ATC Nigeria, and she didn’t hesitate. She relocated to Lagos with her young son for a year. “The experience in Nigeria was unparalleled – it was brilliant. I was involved in all aspects of the department, from recruitment to putting reporting lines in place,” she says.

Once the department had been set up, the group appointed a CFO for the region and Lindiwe was appointed into an advisory role, which gave her the opportunity to work with an executive team and to present to stakeholders about the department’s performance. “I learnt how to put frameworks into place and how to look at the bigger picture,” she explains. “Learning about all these different aspects helped me mature, and prepared for my current role.”

Ready for yet another opportunity, Lindiwe came back to South Africa and worked in a similar role in the Business Process sector of the business, which gave her further exposure to different markets. And in 2017, she was promoted to CFO of ATC South Africa. “It can be very stressful at times, but I am enjoying it,” she says.

She explains that she appreciates having joined ATC at its beginning and still being with the organisation, watching it grow. “I am proud that I am contributing to the decisions that are influencing that growth.”

Introducing flexibility to working hours
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Lindiwe says that there was a running joke in the office about the finance team working from home. “We never thought it would happen. We were set up for it because everyone has a laptop and a dongle but traditionally finance teams are office-based and always together.”

Working from home she says has introduced new challenges in the form of ways of working and allowing people flextime to juggle family commitments and work. “At ATC most of the executive team are women, and most of us have very young children. Maybe because of that it was easier for us to understand one another’s challenges during the hard lockdown and the months that followed.

“But as a company, we are output driven so it was not such a big learning curve. And we found that a lot of the men also faced challenges and needed flexible hours because of their children. So, it was about giving people the flexibility and trusting that they would meet their mandates.”