Teachings from the top: CFOs reveal their toughest lessons

Top CFOs share the most important lessons they've learnt as they've navigated their career paths.

In the business world, learning from tough situations can make the difference between an ordinary and a great ordinary executive. These four CFOs share the toughest lessons they’ve learnt in their careers. 

ABE Construction Chemicals CFO Philip Nottingham says that, when you make a mistake, admit it and move on. “At the same time, make sure you offer some ways to correct the error and also do what you have and will do to make sure it does not happen again.” 

Read more: Employees should treat the company’s resources as their own

According to 4AX CFO Lindiwe Ndlela, being faced with multiple stakeholders and shareholders, and balancing their priorities and needs isn’t always easy. “It’s a challenge, finding that neutral ground, that above-board ground,” she says. 

“The biggest lesson I had to learn is how one should always refer back to the initial strategy and plan, which is usually revised on an annual basis. Because this redirects you and ensures you don’t show preference for one stakeholder need over another. You then also have a written and approved reference supporting your decision-making. Every time you are faced with a situation with conflicting needs, ask yourself what would deviate from the plan and strategy, as this helps you to act in the best interests of the entity. It’s a good litmus test: will this action contravene the company’s strategic objectives?” 

Read more: Interview, Lindiwe Ndlela 4AX CFO

Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages FD Andrew McMaster (pictured) told CFO South Africa about how a course helped him to get in touch with his sense of empathy and understanding. 

“We are very strong on culture and have done culture value assessments, as we really wanted to take this to the next level. So, as directors, we took a trip to America two years ago to go and look at culture. We found some incredible culture there. Philadelphia, for instance, has an incredible sense of community. In St Louis we met an engineering business, by the name of Barry Wehmiller, that comprises 70 smaller businesses from around the world. They started their own internal ‘university’. It was voluntary. We have, with them, started our own university here. We opened it earlier this year and I was lucky enough to be on the first course – ‘Listen like a leader’. Wow, what this course taught us about listening, empathy and understanding people, and being able to help people overcome their fears, has been the most powerful thing for me. Being able to let that flow out of me and embed it into the business is something I want to do.”

Read more: Interview, Andrew McMaster FD Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages

Bombela CFO Chantelle Loots said that you need to be prepared to make some personal sacrifices...especially in the early stages of your career. 

“While a work-life balance is important, there will be times when it will seem that work is getting more of your energy than feels completely fair. I have, however, recognised that this will not always be the case and that my early commitment levels will pay huge dividends in the future.”

Read more: A great CFO has a strong backbone says Bombela CFO Chantelle Loots