Tiffany Boesch: Ask and you shall receive

Tiffany has gone through life chasing new opportunities instead of waiting for them to come to her.

Tiffany Boesch realised very early in her career that she needed to take a proactive approach when she wanted new opportunities instead of waiting for them.

She started her career as an accountant for an insurance brokerage in the year 2000. After a year in the role, she could see that she wanted to make a career out of it. When a senior financial management role opened up, she went to the CFO and said it was the job she wanted, even though she hadn’t been with the company for a long time. The CFO asked her if she was sure and she said: “I know I can do it, trust me.”

She says that this opportunity was a turning point in her career and gave her a confidence boost, which has served her well as she’s forged her professional path. “If you think you can do something, go for it and don’t wait to be asked to do it.”

When Tiffany was appointed as the CFO of PPS in October 2007, she was responsible for traditional finance functions, including reporting and budgets. But it wasn’t long before she saw a gap in the company’s risk management function, which she pursued wholeheartedly.

Tiffany had no prior experience in risk management, but she could see how the principles of finance were similar to those of risk. “You’re not only looking at the risk of things, but also the opportunities they bring.”

She started the process of creating a new risk management function by engaging with the business; doing research into what kind of questions they should be asking and capturing what people were worried about.

“Obviously when you ask for the job, you have to deliver,” she says. “But you need to put yourself out there in order to be noticed. If you sit and wait for an opportunity, you can easily be overlooked.”

In 2013, the new risk management function was rolled out in PPS, with the help of a few key risk employees, which has since become a group-wide function with risk management representatives in each of its subsidiaries.

Since the risk management function’s inception, PPS has brought new frameworks into this function to help formalise and structure a lot of the processes of the company. “We now have a tool that we use for capturing the risks. We have also recently implemented an opportunity register.”

Tiffany explains that risk and compliance has become a core part of her role as CFO at PPS. “That’s what I love about the role; it doesn’t just encompass the finance function, but also the risk, compliance and legal aspects, which in many ways are actually very much interlinked with finance. Specifically risk and opportunities, and what the numbers tell you about how you can look forward.”

Picturing the future
Tiffany believes it’s better to assess how anything she does can be a tool for the business, rather than just ticking boxes. She used this approach when she laid out the processes of PPS’s new risk management function, but applies it to her role as CFO as well.

Her approach to numbers has never been traditional. “I see the numbers as a picture that tells a story,” she says. “I see the potential for what you can do with it.”

She applies this technique to her role as CFO, where she takes the numbers that are prepared by her team and asks “What are these numbers telling us about the business?” and “How can we use it to look forward, not just backward?” and ultimately uses the numbers as a tool in strategic planning.

Addressing the challenges of Covid-19
PPS's risk management came into its own when dealing with the challenges of Covid-19. Tiffany and her team used a risk-based approach for dealing with the impending lockdown. “We formed a working group, sat down and asked everyone what they think needs to be done and how we were going to solve the problems that were arising,” Tiffany says.

About a week before lockdown, the company started looking at the business operations, determining what the priority areas were that needed to keep on running 24/7. They also had to identify the areas, like support, that were more easily able to adapt to remote working. For each area, the manager responsible was given a level of autonomy to implement solutions fit for their area. “We didn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution,” she explains. “We gave them a set of principles and guidelines and let them do what they thought was best for their divisions.”

The company’s IT function was quick to identify and fill the gaps that came with working from home, providing managers with solutions for the different areas of the business. By the time lockdown was announced, despite being an essential service provider, about 95 percent of PPS’s staff were able to work from home.

Working where you sleep or sleeping where you work
While the first couple of weeks of lockdown were extremely hard on the work front, Tiffany was dealing with challenges at home as well. “We had to get everyone in the office ready to work from home, setting up new principles and processes. At the same time my kids also had to start online school.”

She describes the process of getting her boys, aged 15 and 11, ready for online school as a “nightmare”, with millions of emails from teachers sending them work.

Tiffany explains that it has also been difficult to keep the balance between home and work life in check, quoting a colleague who said she wasn’t sure whether they were working from home or sleeping where they work. “I think that probably sums it up for everybody.”
She says that it’s much harder to transition from the end of work to the start of family time during lockdown. “I have to be more deliberate about it, whereas previously the drive home from work gave me the mental break to focus my attention on the family when I got home.”

Despite the challenges of working from home, Tiffany tries not to be too hard on herself. “Quite early in my career I discovered that you can’t do it all. You have to choose where you want to compromise, both in your work and family life, and then stick with that choice,” she says. “When you’re trying to be there for everyone all the time, and trying to do everything, you’re setting yourself up for failure and burnout.”

Game-playing family
When she’s not working, Tiffany enjoys playing board games or card games with her sons. “We still have Nerf gun wars in the house, where we try to ambush each other.”

She also started cycling with her sons during lockdown. “It was horrendous for me, because I’m not a super-fit person and haven't been on a bicycle for 15 years.”

Leaving the kids at home
Tiffany loves travelling and goes on holiday with a friend every year. “It makes me a better mother and wife. I have a week-long break once a year where I don’t have to worry about what the next meal is that I have to prepare.”

Her husband is very supportive of her travels and takes care of the boys when she’s away.

Tiffany’s first trip, eight years ago, was to New York. Since then, she’s been to Norway, taken a train around India, a boat cruise around Italy and much more. This year, because of lockdown, she wants to do a road trip through the Karoo. “I’ll go anywhere. I love to see different things and experience different cultures,” she says.

The one learning that has stayed with her from her travels is how the people from those countries seem to have a simpler life and they’re still happy, even where some people are very poor, they still seem happy.”

Coming from the rat race in Joburg and visiting places where the culture is slower paced, Tiffany says she’s always reminded that you don’t have to be continually running as fast as you can. “You should be taking a moment for yourself and make the most of the time you have.”