Success comes from surrounding yourself with positive, life-affirming people, says Nyasha Dzumbunu, CFO of SBU


“Change is the only constant in these times. In that situation of volatility and uncertainty, we always try to stay adaptable to change. Being a more agile and adaptable organisation is critical in enabling us to survive and thrive,” says Nyasha Dzumbunu, CFO of Shanduka Black Umbrellas (SBU), one of the leading enterprises in supplier development organisations in South Africa. While she may be a powerhouse CFO Monday to Friday, in her downtime, Nyasha likes to design women’s clothing – a passion she hopes might one day blossom into a full line of corporate and casual wear. “It’s about power dressing – helping women look and feel spectacular – and I’m very passionate about this. I feel it’s important to express one’s femininity even when you’re in a power role.”

You have been in the CFO role since August 2015. What have been some of the ups and downs during this time?
"There's a lot of excitement in our space, and a lot of change - positive change. I joined at a time when we were getting a lot of other new professionals coming into the environment and looking at how to have a bigger impact and improve the overall business, and see ourselves making a bigger impact on our beneficiaries."

"From a finance perspective, we've focused on streamlining our finance processes to enable us to focus on value-adding efforts. From a controls perspective, we've really brought a risk-oriented focus to bear, and worked around enhancing our internal assurance processes, and also ensuring we use these annual checks and reviews to see progress and improvement, as well as to enhance our controls environment overall."

"Some of our challenges pertain to legacy systems. Technology is something that provides a phenomenal opportunity to better enable what we do. So, we are looking for affordable solutions for the kind of systems we require."

Tell me in brief about your current role and responsibilities. Is your role focused more on finance or on strategy, and which is your greater strength?
"My role is now more oriented towards strategy, although there are definitely still a lot of financial operational aspects that I'm involved in. We recently embarked on an exciting new strategy that will see us tackling some new terrain and looking at how we become more sustainable as an organisation, for the benefit of the businesses that we support."
"My personal strengths centre around financial reporting and analysis, though enterprise risk management is also a big strength of mine. I am very people oriented and I work well with my team to deliver."

Tell me about your team? What sort of leader are you?
"It's a team of very passionate and dedicated, hardworking individuals. We work well together. We try to play to our strengths as best as possible."

"When it comes to leadership, I have a consultative leadership style. I back my team and listen to their input and views when we are looking for solutions. That's important to me.

Generally, when we are clear on parameters and timelines and what the high-level objective is, I'm comfortable and I trust in my team members to get things done through their preferred method of working. It works well for us. Sometimes there is a requirement to be more prescriptive, so the ability to move between these two types of leadership style is important."

Times are tough right now, in South Africa and further afield. How does this affect the company and how do you deal with this?
"It's a difficult environment to be operating in, particularly for an organisation such as ours, which is largely donor funded. When the economy is tough we feel the impact of that. We try to get everyone involved with regards to fundraising and ensure that everyone in the team understands they have a role to play in this regard, and we keep having conversations with each other about the situation, the reality, and the solutions we can put into place."

"We try to be growth focused and look at sustainability aspects, such as how do we plan around the current times we find ourselves in, and how do we come up with new ways to generate revenue that makes sense for us and which will allow us to become sustainable. Keeping lines of communication open helps in these situations. We've done a lot of work around risk management. Risk orientation helps to assess the reality for the challenges we are faced with and enables us to come up with constructive solutions."

What is the greatest external risk the company faces and how do you mitigate this?
"Funding is a big one. We have to devise new strategies to generate revenue and to see ourselves becoming more sustainable. Also, linking and strengthening our current relationships with our donors; so, spending time building multiple layered relationships with key stakeholders. Sharing the outcome of our programme and using that information to create excitement also works to our advantage - sharing the results and key statistics on the impact of our programme. We focus a lot of time and energy on stakeholder engagement, communication, marketing, and really distributing information about what our programme sets out to achieve and the impact of it thus far. We have recently also embarked on several new initiatives to get our brand out there."

How did you come to pursue a career in finance? Did you ever consider a different career path?
"I was raised by two finance professionals - my father is a CA and my mother a CIMA - so, when I was a child I always heard conversations that were founded in finance. From an early age, I was inspired by this and drawn to it. It just so happened that I was quite strong in accounting too, and that I enjoyed it. My younger brother and sister, both of whom are in Sydney, are CAs, too. Finance is a family affair for us."

Are you a naturally ambitious person or to what do you attribute your career success?
"I am an ambitious person. I am very focused and driven. I've always wanted to make something out of my life. I was raised by high-performance parents! This was set quite early in my life and is something I've strived for and worked towards for as long as I can remember. My relationship with God and my spiritual side has also helped my personal journey a lot."

What do you think is key to success?
"A solid education is an absolute necessity. It's great when you are surrounded by positive, life-affirming people, whether these are other family members or individuals who value performance, success and growth, but people with similar aspirations."

"It also helps to tap into what's going on inside you, what drives you, what are you passionate about, what makes you wake up in the morning and get going. That is important to enabling you to become as successful as possible. And having the right attitude."

"You must also be able to take feedback - there's something about humility, knowing that you don't always have all the solutions or are not always the one who is right. And you need to learn constantly, which is why the network surrounding you is so important. You must be very particular about the company you keep."

Have you achieved a work-life balance and how does this look? What are your interests outside of work?
"Work-life balance is a difficult one and I'm willing to learn from whomever has successfully achieved this! I think it's easier in certain moments. In peak periods, I think it's virtually impossible. Whatever helps you to relax is important - for me, this means listening to music or reading a book. This time out allows you to get a sense of self. I spend time with my husband, my family and my good friends - that's what my life outside of work is about. But sometimes it can be difficult to get moments of sanity or downtime. I love to exercise and I have a passion for fashion that I really enjoy. I love coming up with designs for women's clothing and tapping into my creative side. I think my love for fashion is something I'll always have in the background and with time, it will grow."

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