To get into the C-Suite, be bold, informed and deliberate, say top CFOs

The road to the C-Suite might not be a straight line or predictable, but for both Illovo Sugar CFO Mohammed Abdool-Samad and Barloworld Equipment Rental CFO Ramasela Ganda, it was a path walked with clear intention. This pair of top CFOs shared their experiences of career progression during an insightful panel discussion themed “Breaking into the C-Suite”, held at Finance Indaba Africa on 13 October 2017.

 

Both describe coming to the workplace with a sense of vision for their careers and making deliberate career choices along the way. According to Ramasela, a personal diary or private space for journaling and contemplation has been useful for her. She uses this to plot a strategy and vision, and to check in with herself without the fear or self-censorship of a public record-type document. “We have to be determined, focused and have a plan, and as accountants we know how to have a plan,” she told the audience.

Ramasela also described feeling a strong call to “serve” that pushed her towards the public service. Here she made a name for herself as an ethical and methodical financial mind, leading Ekurhuleni Metropolitan to their first clean audits, and in 2017, being recognised as the first-ever municipal CFO to win at the annual CFO Awards.

This feeling of responsibility meant that she made deliberate choices to move towards the public sector when other corporate opportunities were in front of her. Today she is once again in the private sector, but believes much of her growth and strength came from that tenure in municipal finance.

Ramasela spoke of the need to take time to develop your understanding of the industry and business you are in, and to actively nurture relationships with sponsors and mentors – people who will support you, guide you, and put you forward for opportunities.

This point was emphatically echoed by Mohammed, who also took the time to encourage the audience to recognise that this sponsorship and leadership function must go both ways – that you help others up, as you were helped up.

He spoke highly of the benefits of networking – to build these relationships, of course, but also to become known within your organisation and industry. “You need to be known in the business. Not notorious,” he cautioned, “but someone who is known in the business. When opportunities arise, you shouldn’t have to put your CV in; they should be calling you.”