Top CFOs and CHROs share learnings on change and collaboration at Get Smart summit


Attendees shared their stories about collaboration and big thinking to help others achieve successful outcomes.

Some of South Africa’s leading CFOs and CHROs gathered at Summer Place on 21 February for the Get Smart summit – an exploration of how executives stay relevant and adapt to change, and collaborate to tap potential and accelerate performance. The event was hosted by CFO South Africa in partnership with SAP Concur

The exceptional line-up supported these learning and collaborating activities, starting off with The OMG CEO Mqondisi Gumede’s talk “Think BIG”.

He gave the example of a big sporting goods company that marketed to its customer base, believing they were people who wanted train, crush the competition, and make sure that they were always the winners. But the company learnt that its customers didn’t in fact respond to these concepts when they asked them to take photographs of their motivations. The photographs showed that the key motivation for all that training was to look good in a “little black dress”.

“All that boxing, yoga, sweat and tears wasn’t for the Comrades or the Half Iron Man. It was to look good in a cocktail dress. It shook everyone at the sporting goods manufacturer to the core. It was a stunning reversal of what they thought they were providing to the customer.”

One of the messages Mqondisi delivered was that even though some of the things that human beings do aren’t always rational, they are completely predictable if you put in enough time to assessing them correctly.

The attendees then split into three groups and rotated through three breakaway sessions. One of these was hosted by Lee Naik, the CEO of TransUnion Africa. He shared how when he took up the role two years ago, after a 19-year career at Accenture, he took his consultancy learnings and applied them to the business he was now heading up. He broke his direction down into three key points:

  • Create a vision that people can believe in. Close your eyes and think what “good” looks like. If you can’t articulate that, no one will follow you.
  • Gain a followership by sharing the vision. Identify the yesses and double down on them. Make the changes to the nos immediately.
  • Use leverage to extend your existing base of yesses to deliver on your vision. They can’t do it alone.

Rob Katz, the CEO of Peregrine Holdings, hosted another session in which he spoke about collaboration across diverse teams and cultures. He said that getting people to collaborate across the different environments in which his company operates as a multijurisdictional, multicultural business is extremely hard.

“My own experience of dealing with people is that they will surprise you on the upside and the downside, but most people are average and you have to understand how to get the best out of them.”

He said that once people are secure in their jobs, you can work with them across jurisdictions and cultures.

Megan Pydigadu, who recently joined EOH as group finance director, hosted the remaining session, and spoke about the importance of collaboration. “You need to have transparency and trust. People need to know that you are sharing information with them and that they are trusted, and understand how they fit into the bigger picture.”

Megan holds weekly or monthly team meetings with people represented by different functional areas. “People get to learn how everyone is fitting into the bigger picture and how what others do might impact on their work. It sparks impact and discussions and encourages richer decision-making processes throughout the organisation.”

Jon Foster-Pedley, the dean of Henley Business School, wrapped up the presentations by saying that Lee, Rob and Megan had delivered exceptional insights and encouraged their audiences to discuss how these could be applied in their own workplaces. He added a quote from Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to your courage.”

Then he asked the audience to share what learnings from the summit had inspired them. Debbie Ransby, MD of Takeda, said that what she took away was that people don’t like change or uncertainty, so if change is taking place, make it quick. “It’s like a plaster. Rip it off.”

She added her own advice, which was that she likes to reframe conversations. “If someone is feeling negative, I like to challenge them to see things in a positive way. They feel that their negativity is not appreciated and see how the process changes if they try for positivity.”

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