Providing authentic leadership with a sense of purpose

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Metropolitan Retail CFO Etienne le Roux shares how he has married his passion with his leadership style.

Stepping into the CFO’s role of a 120-year-old organisation at the age of 31 was a daunting task, but I knew I had to be authentic and curious in order to truly understand the organisation and its people. As Craig Groeschel said: “People will rather follow a leader that is always real than one that is always right.”

One of the lessons I learnt early in my career was that a one-size-fits-all leadership style would not be effective. In the CFO role, I have to engage a wide and diverse audience compared to a more specialist audience in the past. In order to make the engagement most meaningful, I have had to learn to tailor my leadership approach to be most effective to the relevant audiences.

To do this, I had to learn how to communicate as simply as possible by speaking to the things that are within the control of my audience and can influence the business for good. Using metaphors to explain concepts that are not well known has been very useful in breaking down information to help achieve the right outcomes.

Similarly, when it came to leading my finance teams, I needed to ensure that I got to know them and understood their motivations. Really knowing what goes on in their lives also helps me to understand the ups and downs they are going through. I found that tailoring my leadership style to these aspects has helped to create trust and to find opportunities for developing my team members.

A motivational leader
After joining Metropolitan my first realisation was that we were doing too many things all at once, and we needed to identify what were the most critical aspects to get right for the organisation to move forward. As a team we spent a lot of time to fully understand the key drivers of success for our business. Subsequently we spent time to make sure we could simplify this into concepts that could be understood at the coal face.

The key focus was to drive the right activities rather than driving outputs. We could achieve outputs, but if this was not derived in the correct way it could be costly to the business.
The second theme was to create real-time metrics to help identify whether there is traction and progress on these activities. We spent a lot of time developing various analytical tools and other reports to enable especially our sales teams. In the end our sales teams now have almost a real-time view of how they are doing against their key performance areas.

A leader of the future
The most challenging part of my journey in the last couple of years has been to balance the business of today and the business of tomorrow, most notably from an investment perspective. Trends in technology, changes in consumer preference and different generations of clients make this balancing act complex.

Stabilising current revenue sources through investment and renewal while investing in how the business could look in future, all while providing sensible shareholder outcomes is a challenge.

Finance professionals tend to think in binary i.e., black and white. This kind of thinking needs to be overcome and unlearnt and you need to be able to lean into uncertainty, while also being able to accept that some projects will fail, while others will deliver 10x returns. This was a key mind shift to make. The ability to be able to identify soon enough whether things are trending in the wrong direction and to take corrective action is critical.

We also must be careful about just accepting that digital will create cost efficiencies... Challenge these key assumptions carefully and take into consideration the cost of running technology once developed. Other learnings include the over-estimation of digital adoption, which then results in some cost savings not realised as old channels need to be kept intact.

At Metropolitan we have invested in digital in both the business of today as well as the business of tomorrow. In our core business (business of today) we are gradually moving towards a paperless environment and have made a lot of progress in digitising our business processes. One must, however, be careful about assuming that all customers will adopt immediately and need to bring your clients and employees along on this journey.

The use of Robotic Process Automation to remove manual repetitive tasks has been a significant benefit to our business. We have automated many back-office processes such as bank account validation, and claim payment verifications and as a result, this has impacted the efficacy with which we can serve our clients and also results in fewer manual errors. This, in turn, has improved our turnaround time and client satisfaction and it also enables our employees to spend time on more impactful and meaningful work. We are also starting to see some cost savings emerging from these projects, which contributes to the bottom line.

A leader at home
When appointed to the CFO role I had a young family. This requires one to find some form of balance between life and work. As a father of four young kids aged seven and younger, the CFO role and finding time to recharge was a challenge. Being an introvert, the constant engagement with people was not something that came naturally, and I realised that I needed to find time to recharge. At first prioritising self-care felt selfish, but I soon realised that if I did not prioritise recharging, I would get depleted and would not be able to give my best version of myself to my family.

One of the shifts I realised I needed to make was to measure balance over a long time period. In my situation, I would hardly be able to achieve balance over one day and even over a week in some cases (for example travelling for work a whole week). Being intentional about finding balance over a longer period helped me to live with less guilt and more with a sense of fulfilment.

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