Raisibe Morathi: Set yourself a goal and you'll probably achieve it

Whether she's running Nedbank Group finance or a marathon, Raisibe Morathi gets the job done.

Raisibe Morathi describes herself as “fortunate” to have achieved what she has, but her career tells a different story – one of hard work, focus and perseverance. When CFO South Africa asked her what personality trait got her where she is today, she said that she “takes well to challenges”.

She then shared a story to highlight what she meant:

“I work hard, but believe that you’re not complete if you don’t focus on fitness as well. My sister persuaded me to get into running, and I was working my way up from five kilometres to 10 kilometres, when my daughter, who is a very good runner, decided she wanted to run the Two Oceans Marathon half-marathon with her father.”

Registrations for the race had already closed but Raisibe was able to call in a favour through her relationship with Old Mutual, and she entered her husband and daughter in the face. This was in November. In December, with the race looming large, four months away, Raisibe’s husband pulled out, saying he wasn’t fit enough, and there wasn’t enough time to train.

“But I’d worked so hard to get that registration. So I thought, OK, I’ll do it. Now remember, I’d only ever completed a 10km run, and this is now December. So I started training. I did my first 21km in January, knowing I had to get my time down to three hours. I didn’t make it. I did another two 21km and still didn’t manage three hours. I knew that I had a very big risk of being cut off in the Two Oceans. But I showed up on the day, and I made it to the finish. And I went back the next year.”

She adds that when she finishes, you can tell that the overall race is about to finish. “I am like a tortoise, coming up from behind. Anyone who finishes after me must be in very bad condition.”

Although she missed the Two Oceans this year because of the Nedbank roadshow, she remains committed to her fitness routine. She wakes up at 5am to go to the gym or run on the road. “I just love it. For me one of the interesting things in life is that if you set yourself a goal and your mind is focused on reaching that goal, you probably will reach it.”
 
Growing up focused
This has been a theme in Raisibe’s life. She comes from a family of five girls, raised by a single mother after their father passed away. She describes her mother as “lovely”. “Losing your father when you are five years old is not a nice experience, but I didn’t grow up feeling that something was missing from my life. My mother had a strong personality and she was a teacher, so she inspired us with education. She studied for most of her life.”

Raisibe says that one of her life lessons came from how her mother balanced work and raising a family. “Raising a family isn’t an excuse for not being busy. Her attitude helped me when I was raising children and focusing on my career. I knew I could do both because she had.”

Growing up in Polokwane, Raisibe completed high school in four years instead of five. “I was very fortunate. I listened to my teachers. So they thought I was ready to do Grade 10 without doing Grade 9, and I coped very well.”

However, when her teachers wanted her to focus on science subjects, Raisibe stopped listening. “I kept running to accounting. I liked the accounting teachers. There was a teacher who had worked in Joburg and then come back to Polokwane and teach. He was so clever, and I wanted to be just as clever. I had an affinity with accounting and commerce subjects.”

The teacher explained to her that she could express her interests professionally by becoming a chartered accountant. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to be it.”

After completing matric, she went on to the University of Venda – a choice driven by financial constraints. “There wasn’t enough money to put us all through tertiary education and the University of Venda was cheaper and relatively close to home.”Under the apartheid government, black universities were not allowed to accredit CA courses, and when Raisibe applied to do her CTA, she found that none of the accredited universities would accept her degree. So she had to enrol in Wits to redo part of her degree before she could do articles.

“It was very difficult to accept that. I had just passed successfully and now I had to redo some of my degree. It felt like an enormous challenge, and I did it under protest, but I am very glad I did it. It very quickly gave me a level of maturity. It added to my determination. I knew I could do something else and not be a CA, but because I wanted it so badly, I kept working at it.”

Gaining experience
After completing articles, she joined Nedbank Investment Bank as a trainee, and then spent a while moving around in the banking industry – gaining exposure to structured finance, corporate finance and private equity.

“In that initial period of my career, I moved around quite a bit, which I am not proud of. When you are young, you are impatient and you want to grow. If someone phoned with a job opportunity, I took it. But you can compromise your internal growth by doing this, you lose experience in the vertical.”

She then moved out of the private sector and in to the Investment Development Corporation (IDC) where she finally did settle down for seven and a half years. “After 18 months, I got into executive management. This was in 2001 or 2002, so I have had the privilege by now that most of my career has been in executive management roles.”

At the IDC, she enjoyed the broad experience of working in many different sectors. She also worked on many projects on an ad hoc basis with government, and ended up becoming an economic advisor to Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka between 2006 and 2007, as a secondment by the IDC while still retaining some of the responsibilities at the IDC.

While her time at the IDC provided many opportunities for growth, the political complexities of dealing with government left Raisibe “seriously tired of anything to do with work. It was all just too much. So I took a sabbatical for four months.”

She was then approached by Sanlam in 2008, where she was already a non-executive director, to join them. “They already knew me, so I didn’t have to sit in an interview and talk about strengths and weaknesses. I took the role.”

This required that she move to Cape Town with her family, which initially seemed possible. But then it turned out that her husband couldn’t leave his job. So she ended up with the children in Cape Town while he flew up and down to be with them. “It wasn’t working,” Raisibe says.
 
Joining the green bank
In 2009, she received a call from Nedbank that changed everything. “We started a conversation around the CFO role. Sanlam’s presence in Joburg is very small. I loved my time and learnt a lot from Johan van Zyl and witnessed their transformation journey. It was tough to come to the conclusion that I was going back to Joburg, but it was the right thing to do for my family.”

She says that although it was the same city and the same view, starting a new role was not without its challenges.

“My advice to people who change employers frequently is not to underestimate the investment you require to get to know people and how things work in a particular environment. Technical knowledge aside, fitting into an ecosystem requires a very deliberate effort. I was at Sanlam for 18 months, and then I came here just as I was learning how people work, how to do proper Afrikaans greetings. It was quite a stressful transitional period.”

Raisibe wasn’t the only one experiencing a transition. She arrived at Nedbank in a period of great upheaval. “The banking sector was changing globally, and I had to arrive and lead from the top, which is not as easy as it would have been for someone coming from internal. I was somewhat fortunate in that I came into a business unit that was very stable. And the CEO Mike Brown, who was just taking over in his role, was very supportive.”

She says that she approaches this integration by being humble and asking lots of questions. “I am not scared or shy to say that I don’t know. And if you ask people a question, it’s actually quite overwhelming how keen and open they are to sharing. And if in that conversation, you identify that you have a similar hobby, or attend the same church, or that you both like chocolate in the afternoon, that’s how you get to be part of an establishment.”

She adds that the people-centric Nedbank culture also helped to ease the transition. “All companies will tell you the same, but the amount of effort that Nedbank has put in over the many years, investing in things like team cohesion, measuring happiness, unhappiness and entropy, and going the extra mile in addressing all those things, really makes a difference. The culture is one of the best out of any of the places that I have worked at. It is very consciously people orientated.”
 
Depth at Nedbank
This marks her tenth year at Nedbank and she’s still not resting on her laurels. “We have 6,000 people in this campus, and 32,000 across the business. We operate in different countries and I still have a lot to learn. When I joined Nedbank, I had 500-odd people in my cluster. Now I have 1,100.”

She says that her portfolio includes finance and shared services. Finance, becoming ever more efficient, isn’t a huge contributor to the growth of her team size, but delivering no less than 37 different types of group services for all the organisations within Nedbank requires ever more staff members. 

“Everyone who works at Nedbank – every one of the 32,000 people who work here – get something from me somehow.”

When asked, she says that she has enjoyed a number of successes in the finance space. “Every year from the start of my time here until now, we’ve received at least two or three financial reporting awards. This year, three were very prestigious, bringing the cumulative reporting awards to 30 by December 2018.”

A cousin even told Raisibe that during their third year at UCT, they did a case study on one of Raisibe’s successes relating to Nedbank’s philosophy around integrated reporting and how it’s blended into the business. “Reporting has changed quite a lot. There have been a lot of learnings. For every challenge, there are also lessons on how to do things differently going forward.”

She says she is also proud that Nedbank lives up to its colour. She says:

“We were the first company in South Africa to build a green building. Ever since then, we have built more and more of those – so many that I’ve actually lost count now. We’ve been true to our colour and true to our philosophy of sustainability since long before it became fashionable.”

Another big change that’s happened on her watch has been the evolution of 43 different IT systems running across finance, procurement and HR into one SAP system, in a project aptly titled “43 to 1”.

“It wasn’t without complications, but we did it on budget and on time. The biggest thing when you change systems that include critical things like reporting is that you might have delays or mis-statements, but we didn’t have any of those where it mattered. It was a great learning experience.”

Last year, she’s had to deal with a massive project to unwind Nedbank’s post-retirement medical aid liability, involving actuaries, lawyers, accountants and the HR department, and overseen by two board sub-committees in the bank. And as we interviewed her towards the end of 2018, she was in the final stages of winding up the last leg of the separation from Old Mutual, which involved the buying out of small shareholders with less than 100 shares, offering them market prices plus a 5 percent premium.

She says that the growth in the bank has been phenomenal – growing from a client base of four million in 2010 to eight million today, and from a market capitalisation of R60 billion to R130 billion. Earnings grew from R2.6 billion to around R12 billion.

She copes with all this change and turmoil with the same approach she did the Two Oceans half-marathon. “I take a deep breath whenever I come across something that’s difficult, because I won’t know until I try,” she says.

A community project
Raisibe believes she is a “community project”. “I am who I am because of others around me who support me.”

She says that she is aware that she was given opportunities in a world where these have not been accessible to many people.

“The world will truly change when these opportunities are accessible to more people. I am sure that in Nedbank’s executive meetings, my colleagues are tired of my voice saying, ‘What about women? What about people from underprivileged backgrounds?’ It’s probably not common for CFOs who are all about the bottom line. But for me, diversity is beneficial for everybody because we learn from different perspectives.”

She is a patron of the Women’s Forum at Nedbank. “We are focused on increasing awareness about the fact that women are different, and creating opportunities for women and black people. When I arrived in 2009, I was the first woman to be part of the leadership team in finance, now there are three of us. When I started I was the only African woman in group exco, now there are three of us. In my own exco team of eight people in Group Finance, four are women. It remains quite important for me that we see more women coming in the pipeline. Our team is expanding and we’re well aware that that expansion should create more opportunities for inclusion.”

 

This article was originally published in the Q1 edition of CFO magazine, available this week in airport lounges countrywide.