Open communication makes for efficient teams says Sphere CFO Ushana Amichand

Ushana Amichand reflects on her learnings about trust during her stint as a relatively young CFO.

Durban born and bred Ushana Amichand spent five months in the US as part of her articles, which made her reconsider her options when she returned home. She wanted to explore what the rest of the world had to offer her.

Ushana never thought that exploring what the world had to offer would see her land a role as CFO at a young age, however. After completing her articles, she was recruited by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) as an accountant. Eighteen months after she joined them, the CFO resigned to move to a front office role, and she was promoted to CFO of the Private Equity Division.

“Holding that title as young as I was at that time, was quite daunting, but a great opportunity for me to learn from my peers, seniors, as well as my team. I was also exposed to the expertise and experience of other executives across the bank.,” she says.

With very limited experience, Ushana had to learn on the job. But she was also trusted to do what she needed to do, to be honest about the times when she didn’t know what she was doing – and to ask for the right guidance. This was a significant lesson on the importance of trust for her.

Ushana had spent some time overseas during her second year in university, when she was one of seven students from South Africa who were selected to go on a leadership programme in Cyprus, sponsored by PWC, and this exposure would unknowingly prepare her to fill some big shoes at a young age.

She says her mistakes taught her to trust her instincts more, to be more courageous and to be more open – especially as a young woman who had just entered the corporate world – without the fear of being judged.

She’s currently CFO at Sphere Holdings. She joined the company in 2012 as she was drawn to a smaller environment with greater flexibility and opportunity to add value. She is in charge of finance, operations, human resources, information technology, and risk, and is able to put her experience in transactional and operational processes to good use.

Ushana is authentic as authentic can be and what you see is what you get. “I try to show up in my truth with my team, peers and seniors, just as I show up with my family,” she says.

She and her team are currently working from home: she heads up a very small team at Sphere and explains how it can sometimes be quite difficult to stay connected with a small group of people, as you lose out on the proximity of physical relationships and interactions that you find in the office.

“We have virtual check-ins, and, on some days, you do get the sense that people aren’t really feeling up to it. As a leader, it does take quite a bit of courage to acknowledge that and ask your staff to share what’s really on their minds.”

Ushana has realised that this allows them to process whatever’s going on in their minds, and they can then go back to work and be more efficient. She says this is a very important exercise, especially as people are dealing with a lot of emotional and mental baggage during this time. “As leaders we must remember to be human first,” she notes.

To de-stress, Ushana tries to maintain a routine that includes running, a little bit of yoga, reading, meditation and cooking with her children.

She also encourages young women who would like to follow in her footsteps to do it for the right reasons. “I think pursuing the CA route is really about being mentally fit and knowing exactly what it is that you want. Chasing money or the title usually ends up becoming a disaster. When you do it for the wrong reasons, you ultimately find yourself stuck in a job you really don’t like or want, so remember to be true to you!” she says.