Role model: the inspirational tale of Standard Bank's Luvuyo Masinda

How does a young black South African from the Cape Flats end up in Standard Bank’s posh Rosebank offices as CFO Corporate and Investment Banking at age 37? The answer is cricket, a knack for mathematics, shiny cars, some fateful mergers, a driven partner and – most of all – a passion for purpose. Joël Roerig spoke to Luvuyo Masinda about the road he travelled from Mandalay to success.

“As CFOs, we play such determinant roles in the business. In my role, I can influence the bank’s future and help Africa achieve growth. That is my work! You cannot call that a job. That is what drives me.”

Sometimes Luvuyo Masinda wonders if he is too young and inexperienced, but that does not happen often. Most of the time the 37-year-old from Mandalay, a small township in-between Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Cape Town International Airport, just focuses on his role to the best of his abilities, trying hard to never look too far ahead.

  • This interview featured in 2016's third issue of CFO Magazine.

There is a question that lingers as much in the windswept streets of Mandalay as in the cool corridors of the bank’s offices and the board rooms of corporate Sandton. Some youngsters are brave enough to approach Luvuyo when he is visiting his mother or the Mandalay Cricket Club he helped found. And some of Luvuyo’s colleagues move beyond assumptions, take the plunge and engage. No matter how different the people asking, the question is always the same: Wena! How!?

“I am definitely not smarter than others,” says Luvuyo with an unhurried confidence that explains as much as his words. “I have always focussed on my roles. I do them the best I can. I don’t look too far ahead, and the right roles keep finding me.”

Luvuyo on Finance Indaba Africa 2016: “I often challenge my guys in the finance team to spend more time finding out what is happening outside the direct scope of what they need to do. I find that people tend to struggle with that in South Africa, but it broadens people’s perspective. Finance people are usually focussed on their deliverables, but they need to be able to step out. That is why the Finance Indaba Africa is such an incredible opportunity for finance professionals to learn and network. Join Finance Indaba Africa.

There is nothing about the CIB CFO on the internet (“that is very deliberate”), so we have lots to talk about, and we are fortunate that Luvuyo makes an hour and a half available to answer that poignant question and – more importantly – shares what he learned along the road from Mandalay.

“Like many in the townships, I was raised by a single mother, and I stayed with my siblings,” says Luvuyo, as he sits down with CFO Magazine in Client Meeting Centre 14. “I was fascinated by sports and I was not too bad. I played soccer and especially cricket, just like my brother Ronald.” These days, sports lovers will know Ronald as sports news anchor and reporter for eNCA, but in his younger years, he played provincial cricket with the likes of Vernon Philander and JP Duminy, who are now regular players for the Proteas, SA’s national cricket team.

Four years older than his brother, Luvuyo would have preferred to follow in the footsteps of his Kaizer Chiefs heroes Doctor Khumalo and Teenage Dladla, but he excelled as a lanky fast bowler and also made it into the provincial youth teams. It was the youngster’s first step towards a career as a high-powered banking executive; he realises in hindsight.

“It did a couple of things for me. I was not always such a confident young child, and cricket gave me that self-belief. It also kept me out of trouble and, importantly, opened up the world for me. Thanks to the provincial tours, I went on an airplane to Johannesburg for the first time, I stayed in a hotel for the first time; I swam in a swimming pool for the first time, and I ate pizza for the first time. Living a privileged life in Saxonwold in Johannesburg, these are all things my kids take for granted now.” But for young Luvuyo these experiences made all the difference: “I wanted things to be better.”

There comes a time in many boys’ lives where they realise they will never be professional sportsmen. When that happened to Luvuyo, he had no idea what to do.

“I never thought about the future. I was good at Maths, loved Physics and hated Biology. Not until matric did I think about becoming a CA, but it was too late as I had not applied in time. My mother told me I was going to study, or I had to leave the house, which is how I ended up doing a three-year national diploma cost and management accounting at what was then the Cape Technikon.”

The diploma course included six months of work experience, for which Luvuyo went to a local firm KMMT Brey. It wasn’t the salary (“not much more than travel and lunch money”) as much as the shiny cars that made the biggest impression. “It sounds materialistic, but this was the first time in my life that I was exposed to CAs and their lifestyle. When I rocked up for the interview, I saw these really fancy cars and the not-so-fancy cars. That is when I decided I wanted to be a CA. The bug bit me.”

Managing partner at the time was Haroon Lorgat, who later became chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and currently leads Cricket South Africa. Ironically, this gave him the privilege that many white counterparts have: the ability to talk about a common interest with those interviewing you, which always helps in connecting with people you don’t know and in making an immediate impression.

“This recently came up in an ABASA panel discussion as still being a major problem from the perspective that the culture in corporate SA is foreign to a lot of black candidates entering it, this puts them at a disadvantage and can be intimidating. Being able to talk about cricket felt like fate to me, but of course, the role these connections play is part of a bigger problem.”

Luvuyo did well, and KMMT Brey took him on board full time. “Then a couple of life-changing events happened,” he recalls. Firstly, KMMT Brey went up in Gobodo, allowing him to get exposed to audit and sign a five-year article contract. Then “an even more incredible thing happened” when EY bought Gobodo Cape Town. “Suddenly I was doing articles at one of the Big Four firms and that makes a big difference in terms of hiring perspective and how people are thinking about you as a CA. It was once again fate for me but the preference for Big Four CAs is something that needs to be addressed.”

At the same time, Luvuyo grew up and helped the late Sydney Mgengo start Mandalay Cricket Club when he was 19 years old. “It helped me mature because I was not only playing but also did all the admin and organised transport for 100 kids each week. Mr Mgengo was an old man from PE who loved cricket and believed this could keep kids out of trouble. My brother and I were the only kids in the township who played, so it was logical that we got involved.”

EY helped Luvuyo to up his game to “a new standard of how things get done”, allowing him to “see things through the lens of an international firm.” The company gave him ten months off, and Luvuyo signed up for the “fantastic” National School of Accounting (NSOA), which flew in lecturers from the University of Natal for a class of 30 ambitious accountants in the Cape Town CBD. “This helped me convert my studies into a degree and complete my long, long journey to articles, which meant the most fundamental change in my life. We did not only work towards the degree but also worked on personal development and skills like public speaking.”

Besides Luvuyo, a young and ambitious woman called Luleka was the only other student who grew up in Cape Town, which added motivation for both of them to succeed and brought them closer. “We were very different, and I didn’t like her much in the beginning,” Luvuyo recalls with a warm smile. “She had that energy and that conviction that things can be better. That made me fall for her. She pushed me hard to succeed. She was much more mature than me and, now she is my wife, she basically still is.”

Luvuyo then disappointed some colleagues who had invested in his career, first when he left EY for JP Morgan in Johannesburg, and then after “two years of incredible learning about discipline around control and governance” when he moved banks. After attending an event at which someone from Standard Bank spoke about the bank’s focus on Africa, Luvuyo decided to take fate into his own hands.

“The way the bank was thinking about its role was important to me. It is important for an organisation to have a purpose and for that purpose to be genuine. The move was non-monetary, as I could have made more money at JP Morgan, especially in the short term. I just believe in what the bank is trying to do and, as a professional, father and husband you have to do what you believe in. The bank is now an extension of my life.”

Joining the bank as Head of Group Consolidations in 2007, Luvuyo says he quickly overcame the technical difficulty that came with the territory and learned a lot from his close working relationship with the then-group FD Simon Ridley, CFO of the Year 2014. “I joined in a position that is not really fashionable. I didn’t start in CIB, for example, but it was incredible learning. I interview a lot of people, and many think too far ahead too quickly. You learn more where there are people that you can learn from. I had never heard of Simon Ridley before but he taught me incredible lessons about communication.”

Luvuyo says he initially did not understand why Simon was so pedantic about grammar but says he now realises that simple, accurate wording is crucial. “Simon had two very good sayings. The first one is ‘tell me so my mother would understand it’, which forced you to talk about complex issues in a simple way. That helped you understand it yourself and made it easier to align strategy while keeping many balls up in the air. The other thing he often said when I brought a report is that I obviously didn’t have more time to write it shorter. It boils down to the same thing that if you really understand the material, you can articulate simpler and clearer.”

Luvuyo on meeting other CFOs: “The amount and pace of change in the world is so dramatic. No one individual can say I am smart enough; no one industry can have all the answers. As an individual finance executive and for the CFOs in Standard Bank, learning from other CFOs or different industries is incredibly valuable. The calibre of people at CFO South Africa’s events is very high and for us, as Standard Bank, it is important to partner with an initiative with such incredible potential as CFO South Africa.”

While learning from the best, Luvuyo rapidly scaled the ladder and progressed to an executive role in 2009. “I was 30 years old, still young and wide-eyed, Group Financial Controller, working on IFRS, management support capabilities,” he recalls. “At some stage, Simon asked me ‘what do you want?’ I said: ‘your role.' He said then you need to spend time in the business unit and in 2012 I joined CIB Finance as head of financial analysis, later becoming deputy CFO.”

Learning massive lessons from other incredible leaders within CIB and the wider bank, Luvuyo started casting his eye to the future, a tell-tale sign of a CFO who gets more comfortable in his skin. “[CIB CEO] David [Munro] reinforced the critical message of purpose and planning ahead. When you are operating in a world as volatile as ours, that uncertainty is not a reason not to plan ahead. Planning also helps you think about what you want to be and how you will do that. Of course, within your plans you need to adapt as the world is becoming more random, countries more protective, and anti-establishment sentiment is increasing.”

Case in Luvuyo’s point is the plan Standard Bank drafted for the period 2012-2016, after it made a strategic U-turn and started moving out of – sometimes recently acquired – businesses in Argentina, Russia and the UK. “It is 2016 now and we are right on the plan, despite the volatility of previous years and despite the fact that the world is a different place now and the rand moved from eight to 16 to the dollar. For me, it is a key lesson about the power of planning.”

Luvuyo says he always thought his wife’s career would move quicker than his own but after a career at BHP Billiton and Standard Bank’s retail division, she resigned three years ago and opened – to date – four franchises of a beauty therapy salon chain. “Luleka has the tougher job, looking after me and the children. She provides incredible support and motivation. We have a purpose for the family and that is what we are working towards.” The decisive lessons that Luvuyo learned through sports are compulsory learning for his son (ten) and daughters (seven and three).

“Life would not have been so interesting if I had known from age seven that I wanted to become a CA. It would have been boring. Being exposed to sport was crucial for me. I have tried hard and luckily my son is starting to like sports now, but he is really more into wild animals.”

He adds that having children has given him a different perspective – and has erased any urge to buy the most expensive, shiny car. “I am really passionate about young men in townships. I want to build the Mandalay Cricket Club into a sports academy, linking it to education. I go home at least twice a year and still so little has changed. I know there is something I can do about it. I want to help create men of right standing and address things like crime, violence against women and violence against children.” This has made Luvuyo think about the things that really matter in life. “You pass your exams? You feel the same as yesterday. When I became a CA? Nothing really changed. But when I go to Mandalay, people know that I am from there, and I notice kids are actually listening to what I say. And when I speak to my own children, I can make a real difference. It is part of my purpose, not to only be CFO and make lots of money and have multiple holiday homes.”

So now, with all seven of Luvuyo’s direct reports in the bank older than himself, he sometimes wonders if he is too young or too inexperienced. “But I often get reminded that John F Kennedy became president of the world’s most powerful country at age 43,” he says, and the confident smile reappears. The big difference is of course that JFK was born into the political and business aristocracy of Massachusetts, while Luvuyo travelled the road from Mandalay.