Stanford Payne, Executive Coach: how to become a happier CFO


CFOs should remember the lessons about opportunity cost and plan better to have the careers and lives they want. That is the message of Executive Coach Stanford Payne, a CA who will be writing Expert Insights for this website over the course of the next year. To kick things off, we have interviewed him about his background and principles.

Tell me about your CA(SA) background?
"I never wanted to study finance, but I was good at it. I joined a smaller firm in Bloemfontein, where I gained phenomenal experience; listing a client on the JSE and adding auditing of listed companies to our firm's portfolio. Then I left for London. My career highlights include expanding a boutique wine and spirit retail business into Harrods and all Selfridges stores and 9 other locations and developing a franchise program for that business. After that I was headhunted by Stella McCartney and Gucci Group as Head of Finance. It was a great experience, but I wanted more."

How did you decide executive coaching is your calling?
"Whilst in the UK, my wife, also a CA, was working for Dixons PLC and had been introduced to coaching through Henley Business School. She signed me up for a weekend. It took about 15 minutes to realize that I had been doing this most of my career and the rest is history. I am passionate about empowering and liberating people. I like to listen to people, to find out what people really are saying instead of what they seem to be saying. I took the plunge from a big fat salary to a zero income to start my coaching practice 7 years ago. Many clients face the same challenges and clients appreciate that I went through this myself when they are about to embark on a change in career or starting up a business."

Why do CFOs need coaching?
"Everybody needs a coach. Coaching is the process of facilitating positive change by improving the quality of thinking. And everybody can do with more of that. Coaching creates the opportunity and provides a platform for positive feedback, support, accountability, challenge and commitment. It is a space where you can grow and be challenged and the only goal is you. In today's world despite all the technology the biggest need is to be heard. If Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey all have a coach, why don't you?"

Who hires you?
"I work with CEOs, CFOs and entrepreneurs. I have skills and experience that benefit this group particularly well. I am encountering many of the same challenges they are - it almost becomes teamwork. It's fun and it really works! I also help with finance teams where my executive clients want to bring change aboard to their teams and empower and challenge the new market place with 5 generations working together for the first time."

Are you a better executive coach because you are a CA?
"My clients say so and I believe that too. It means clients don't have to explain everything. CFOs can say 'do you remember…' and I know what they are talking about. That gives them courage. And it creates a sense of camaraderie, being part of a team working towards the same goal - I understand where they are coming from."

"I only remember one thing from university and that is 'opportunity cost'. And not like we were taught in the Economics class, but in the actual world: to understand that every decision good or bad has an opportunity cost. The challenge is that most people make decisions without considering that. Then as time goes by challenges appear. But if they pause and rewind with the consideration of opportunity cost, their decisions are usually altered based on what they really need versus what they wanted then. And the difference between these two is vast."

"CAs are taught to manage risk at all cost and unfortunately this can lead to an imbalance kills the heart and soul of business, vision and entrepreneurship. We do need to apply the skills we were taught in auditing to plan better for our career and life. Don't jump into action at the first opportunity. People's tendency is to want to be busy at all times, but being busy doesn't mean you are moving forward. You need to have a plan, a strategy, and do it the right way around. We were taught to do this in business but we never asked why and how for ourselves. We should commit, embrace the change, be brave, grow balls and just do it."

What are most unhappy CFOs telling you?
"Not having enough time for their lives - family, friends, themselves. The things they know they will be regretting years from now. Unfortunately you cannot buy the lost time later. And it is the CAs loyalty towards business and getting the job done that is costing them their own lives. More and more CFOs are demanding their time and life back. People actually respect that and start imitating it. But it starts with making a stand for you because nobody else will. At the end of each year you need to want to say: this was the best year of my life."

What can CFOs do to pursue a happier existence?
"Define what that happier existence actually would look like. But you are not allowed to add any buts or what ifs. The part that puts the spark back in your eye; the part that would make you want to jump out of bed every morning; the part that comes natural and where your passions are ignited again… Then make a commitment to that at whatever cost. The good things in life don't always come easy, but are usually worth it. And my personal test: how will I feel about this 10 years down the line? If I feel the faintest possibility of regret - I do it. Remember that we only regret the things we don't do and the best learning comes from making mistakes."

What practical steps do you recommend to your clients?
"I don't give advice to my clients as they need to find their own solutions. That ensures they follow through with their own actions. Of course we brainstorm together. But the client is the expert!

For myself I look at the balance and really evaluate what matters to me most- being true to oneself is key. Don't be afraid to stand out and do things differently from most."

"Often it means looking at your own scorecard: what are your non-negotiables? What are you losing out on if you don't do it? Executives struggle with this because bonds are reality, bills need to be paid, but maybe you want to walk your kids to school every day and there isn't a price to that. Remember that most of the time the solution is not short term, it's a process. Then take it one step at a time. Bite off manageable chunks that scare you but you are able to stomach. And ask for help when you get stuck. You don't have to do it alone. Keep your eyes on the prize: everything you will be gaining."

What can CFOs do to make those decisions easier?
"You could get your family involved in decision making. There is an absentee-dad phenomenon presenting itself across South Africa and especially in Stellenbosch, where I live. Dads are earning money in Johannesburg to pay for the luxury lifestyle and private schools. Live below your means. If you stick to this rule, when opportunity knocks, you can jump. And it's really awesome to be in that place. Get a coach. Your return of investment will be phenomenal. You do the math. Make time to be mindful. To think. To explore. To have insights. And turn those insights into practical changes daily."

What happens on the executive retreats you organize?
"That is where I talk about these things. We get closer to nature albeit in style with good food and wine. We take the clutter away, switch of the phones, no emails, nothing. For three days we talk about the things that matter to you, to facilitate yourself to be the best executive, parent, partner, friend and member to society. Set up a personal plan for the next 6 months. It is a holistic approach, which means it is about real balance - and it is all CPD verifiable. A great CFO is in good shape, eats and sleeps well, has energy, has enough sex, takes charge and makes conscious decisions about his or her career and life. A great CFO lives on purpose."

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, you want to be part of the leading CFO South Africa Community or you want to know more about hosting a CFO South Africa event, you are most welcome to get in touch with CFO SA. Please contact Jurriën Morsch at [email protected]

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