Rob Otty, Managing Director of Norton Rose Fulbright: CFOs need more recognition


Introducing the CFO Awards Jury Rob Otty is Managing Director of Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa (Africa Law Firm of the Year 2012) and one of the first who committed to be on the jury for the CFO Awards 2014. Together with the other members of the jury he will decide on who will win one of the 7 prestigious CFO awards. The event will be held May 15 at the beautiful Summer Place in Johannesburg. For more information visit

“One of the fascinating things in the South African business world is that the success of a company is usually solely attributed to the CEO,” says Rob Otty, Managing Director of international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in South Africa. “We should get better in recognizing people behind the scenes, like the CFO. I hope the CFO Awards will contribute to that.”

Otty is one of the jury members for the CFO Awards. He says it is “a problem” when the CFOs behind successful CEOs do not get the recognition they deserve. “That creates an impression in the minds of shareholders and the public that only the CEO matters, but that is not the case. The market only appreciates people if there is some form of recognition. The more traditional CFOs might be comfortable with a role in the background, but I think these days the role and personality of CFOs have changed a lot.”

As a litigation lawyer Otty specialised in insurance law, professional indemnity and insurance litigation as well as in engineering and all construction related litigation. Since April 2011 he has been the South African MD of the law firm, or CEO as he calls himself outside of South Africa. “Over the last four years I have interacted quite a lot with CFOs, especially at banks and other law firms. These usually weren’t engagements in the context of CFO related matters, but more about industry specific issues. I have the impression that the CFO role is becoming increasingly strategic.”

Otty himself works with just such a ‘strategic’ CFO, he says. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate with our CFO, Ted Baxter. He frees me up and helps me with a broad range of strategic matters. Ted has built a team around him of people he empowers but can also keep to account. That allows him to work closely with me.”

According to Otty there is “no common denominator” when assessing South African CFOs. “What I find interesting is that you see more and more CFOs who don’t have a complete accounting background. There are people with other degrees, like MBAs, as well. What kind of people CFOs are usually depends on their mandate, their relationship with other executives and the structure of the company. Organisations that have a COO in the executive usually seem to have a CFO who is more of a number cruncher.”

When it comes to adjudicating the award candidates, Otty sees technical understanding of finance matters as a given. “I will accept that all nominated candidates have this worked out”, he says. “That is why I am going to focus on their understanding of their market from a broad, strategic business perspective. What value do they think they can add from within their role? CFOs have a very important role to play. They need the ability to interpret numbers. That is something different from just calculating the effect and consequences of an investment. That is what I’d like to quiz them about.”

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