The top four things CEOs look for in a CFO


South Africa’s top business leaders reveal the four skills they look for in their CFOs at CFO Day.

On 11 May, more than 100 of South Africa’s leading finance professionals gathered at Marble restaurant for a day of learning how to unlock their superpowers.

In one of the sessions, BCX founder and Randvest chairman Isaac Mophatlane, Telkom CEO Serame Taukobong, and ACCA South Africa, Botswana and remotely managed markets head Portia Mkhabela gave their personal leadership lessons from the top.

They revealed the four things they look for in a CFO:

1. A strategic business driver

Serame explained that what he looks for most in a CFO is a partner to help him drive the strategic direction of the business. “The CFO is like the heart of the organisation. His job is to pump blood across the entire body. The CEO is the brain of the body, and needs to inform the heart where to pump the blood. So it's important for the CEO and CFO to figure out how they can work together for the body to perform at its best.”

2. Don’t be a “yes man”

Following business scandals like what happened at Tongaat Hulett and Steinhoff, Isaac believes that the CFO should be the conscience of the business. “Once you have a CFO that’s a yes man and just gives you the numbers that you are looking for, it becomes a problem.”

Portia agreed with this, saying that, “You shouldn’t make decisions just because they are popular, you need to make them because they are right – even if that does make you unpopular.”

3. Be vulnerable

Portia added that, as a woman leader, you need to always make sure you don’t neglect your feminine touch. “At the same time, however, you need to make sure that your teams and other leaders don’t take advantage of it. So we need to be strong when we make decisions, but drive them with compassion.”

Serame agreed, and believes that the same should apply to men. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable and open. The one thing we forget as leaders is that we are also human. It’s okay to be vulnerable and say I don’t know, or to ask for help. It allows people to engage with you on a much more honest and personal level.”

4. Be inclusive

While Portia stated that the top can get quite lonely, Isaac believes that CFOs need to surround themselves with a diverse finance team. “It’s important to have different points of view when you are making decisions. Just as much as you lead your team, they need to be able to lead you towards making the right decisions.”

The three business leaders all agreed that, when it comes to making decisions in the business, a lot of it falls onto the CFO, and that it can be difficult to know which decisions are the right ones. However, if attendees follow the four guidelines set out by Isaac, Serame and Portia, they should be able to discern between right and popular.

CFO Day was made possibly by principal partner Momentum Corporate, executive partner Workday, and associate partners ACCACoupaInceKyribaSoluGrowth, The Strategist and Transparent.

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