Top CFOs discuss how to be ‘antifragile’ during CFO Dinner

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A CFO SA and Coupa dinner reveals the CFO’s role in creating an antifragile organisation.

On the evening of 14 September, a group of top CFOs gathered around the dinner table at the luxurious Saxon Hotel in Sandton. During the dinner, hosted by CFO South Africa in partnership with Coupa, the group shared some of the things they’ve learnt about themselves in the last two years, with qualities like patience, open-mindedness and empathy coming up as they indulged in a delectable three-course meal.

One of the guests explained that they had learnt how resilient humanity was, and how they were able to bounce back after really difficult circumstances. The rest of the table echoed this, saying that they had emerged stronger from the multiple crises they had faced during this period.

Special guest and futurist Graeme Codrington revealed that this ability to gain from disorder is “antifragility”, a term coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He explained that, when you lift weights, for example, your muscle fibres are torn. During the healing process they grow back stronger, allowing you to lift heavier weights the next time.

He then encouraged the CFOs around the table to identify the characteristics that make businesses antifragile.

The guests all agreed that, as leaders, they need to enable the organisation to experiment with new things and to use the lessons from those experiences to become stronger.

Graeme said that this was one of the characteristics of antifragility, called “sector adaptation after individual failure”. He used Rolls Royce’s aircraft engines as an example, explaining that, when an aircraft malfunctions, the technology in their engines enables them to identify the cause of the problem and to quickly communicate it to other aircrafts that may encounter the same issue. Using this technique, they are able to prevent future malfunctions and can improve their engines.

Another guest added that organisations can’t be antifragile if they don’t allow for mistakes. “The reason why innovation is successful is because you fail fast and forward.”

However, guests revealed that the CFO is also responsible for being risk-averse in the organisation, and experiments could result in failures that end up having the opposite effect to antifragility. To avoid this, it is up to them to provide “safety nets” for their teams when experiments fail.

Inspired by this new concept, the CFOs all concluded that the time for being resilient has passed, and that organisations now have to move from survival to becoming antifragile.

Those in attendance were:

  • Caylynne Fourie, CFO South Africa managing editor
  • David Hamilton, Coupa regional director
  • Deon Smith, Thungela Resources FD
  • Georgina Guedes, CFO South Africa executive community director
  • Julie Tregurtha, Coupa area VP: Middle East and Africa
  • Nopasika Lila, Barloworld group FD
  • Polani Sokombela, Auditor-General of South Africa CFO
  • Rafael Fernandes, AECI Mining CFO
  • Tendani Sikhwivhilu, Bidvest Bank CFO
  • Veliswa Rozani, Beyond Mobility CFO

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