Taryn Woodbridge: A South African CFO's journey in a global company

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Mercedes-Benz South Africa CFO Taryn Woodbridge uses her unique culture to lead with diversity and unity.

The Springboks' motto, "Stronger Together," resonates deeply within South African culture. It speaks of overcoming challenges, celebrating diversity, and the power of unity to achieve ambitious goals. This spirit isn't just found on the rugby pitch – it's a driving force within South African workplaces, especially those with a global reach.

Taryn Woodbridge, CFO at Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA), embodies this ethos. During her 20-year journey with the iconic German automotive manufacturer, she has created one, unified finance community, irrespective of location or origin.

Taryn jokes that her ambition started on one of her first dates with her husband. Cruising past the gleaming Mercedes-Benz star, she declared, “I'm going to work there one day, and I'm going to lead that finance team.” While a lofty goal at the time, Taryn never let go of that dream, instead fuelling it with determination and hard work.

After a brief stint in auditing, she took a leap of faith and applied for an analyst role at Mercedes-Benz. “It was a big decision, because it was something completely different from what I had experienced with auditing,” she remembers. However, the chance to work in manufacturing, an area that fascinated her, proved irresistible.

She embraced diverse finance roles, always seeking out new challenges to gain a well-rounded understanding of the entire financial operation. Language barriers with technical discussions often held in German as well as a perceived lack of internal networks, and deeply ingrained cultural norms presented difficult challenges at times, but Taryn remained resolute.

Her reputation for excellence caught the attention of former managers who had relocated back to Germany. Recognising her talent and potential, they advocated for her promotion, making her the first South African to hold the senior manager of MBSA’s Plant Controlling position, usually reserved for German expats.

For Taryn, this victory was a clear sign that “it's how you are showing up every day that really counts”. She explains it's often the things that you do unconsciously because of who you are and your work ethic and the passion and the energy that you bring that are noted by others.

Her appointment as the first South African and non-German CFO in 2022 was a significant milestone, not only for her personal journey but also for MBSA's evolving culture of inclusivity and teamwork.
Taryn firmly believes that local talent is just as capable as international hires, and she's a strong advocate for building South African expertise within the organisation. Under her leadership, her finance team has undergone a transformative shift, now comprising only two expatriates out of nearly 100 members.

“South Africans have this can-do mindset. We can get a lot done, despite any obstacles, " she explains. Taryn actively nurtures this local talent through mentoring and coaching.

Fostering a "1FC" culture

Upon becoming CFO, Taryn recognised the need to bridge the gap between the finance teams in East London and Pretoria, which had historically operated in silos. Drawing from her experience and belief in unity, she embarked on a mission to create a “one finance community” culture, branded as “1FC”.

She highlights the importance of breaking down geographical barriers and fostering a sense of belonging among her team. To achieve this, Taryn implemented regular town hall meetings, team-building activities, and knowledge-sharing opportunities, fostering an environment of collaboration and open communication. Her efforts extended beyond physical gatherings, leveraging virtual platforms to connect and engage with her team, regardless of their location.

“I focused on relationships a lot last year because I had all the support. It was important for me to show that I appreciated that, and then my team also recognised me as someone who authentically cared about them and wanted to take this team culture to another level,” she explains.

As CFO of a multinational subsidiary, Taryn has multiple stakeholders across borders. Her approach is centred on proactive communication and transparency. “My German stakeholders need to be informed just as much as my local ones,” she explains. “I keep the information loop active through regular meetings, updates, and shared platforms.” This open communication builds trust and ensures that everyone is on the same page, regardless of location.

Taryn’s journey as the first South African and non-German CFO at MBSA is a testament to the power of perseverance, adaptability, and a genuine commitment to fostering an inclusive and united team culture. For Taryn, diversity and inclusion are not mere buzzwords but rather catalysts for innovation, growth, and sustainable achievement. As she continues to lead her team with authenticity and a commitment to excellence, Taryn's impact extends far beyond the realm of finance, leaving an indelible mark on the corporate landscape and inspiring others to embrace the transformative power of unity.

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