Tsholofelo Molefe urges women to stand their ground

At the Finance Indaba, Telkom CFO Tsholofelo Molefe explained what it takes to be a woman leader.

After joining Telkom in 2016 as a deputy chief financial officer, Tsholofelo Molefe was appointed to the executive committee as chief risk and compliance officer in 2017. Her task was to strengthen internal controls across the group as the operating model evolved. In 2018, she was appointed as group CFO.

Read more: Tsholofelo Molefe replaces Deon Fredericks as Telkom CFO

Tsholofelo started her career at PwC, where she served her audit and accounting articles. After her articles, she worked as an auditor at IBM, an assistant audit manager at the Liberty Group, and an audit manager at Absa Group.

In July 2005, after a short career at FNB Personal Banking as CFO in the consumer segment unit, she joined Eskom. Within six months of joining the organisation, she became the finance manager within the same division. She was later promoted to general manager of finance and business support in Eskom’s Transmission Division, and in April 2015 she was appointed to the group’s executive committee as the group executive for customer services division, as well as FD of Eskom Holdings.

In June 2015, Tsholofelo, along with fellow executives, was ousted from the state-owned entity in what is now widely understood to have been a purge to enable the infamous ‘state capture’ project. In 2017, she testified at the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility and indicated that executives, herself included, were suspended after they resisted pressure to sign agreements with people and entities linked to the Gupta business empire.

Read more: Tsholofelo Molefe explains how she said no to Gupta and co while at Eskom

In an Impact Session at the Finance Indaba, Tsholofelo said both her highs and lows had shaped her as a leader. She pointed out the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, “even if at first glance it does not fit neatly within your plan”.

Born and bred in Soweto, Molefe grew up as the daughter of an Anglican minister. “He was very strict and protective of his children,” Molefe recalled in a previous interview with CFO South Africa, but she also mentions him as the reason she didn’t shy away from accepting the high-pressure position as Eskom CFO when it became available towards the end of 2013. “It was about a challenge. My father raised us to have a very focused outlook on life. If you don’t try, you fail. Take life on. Take a chance, as long as it is not going to kill you.”

It’s a lesson Molefe now shares with students that she mentors. “I tell them to stay focused. It is not an easy journey to become a chartered accountant. It might take longer than you think, but you need to put the time in. Don’t be scared to ask questions, even though you feel that this may make you vulnerable.”

In the Impact Session, she highlighted that relationships are a powerful ingredient for success, saying that she had leaned on a sponsor, mentor and leadership coach trio over the years.

When speaking about the challenges she faced when she first stepped into a senior role, Tsholofelo said that initially, being recognised for what you’re capable of and what you bring to the table can be a challenge. She insisted, however, that it is not necessarily a function of race or gender, but rather about people knowing your abilities.

She explained that, as a woman, you shouldn’t have to force yourself into a mould to be recognised in the leadership space. “What is important is to stand your ground and act in a way that is beyond reproach. Integrity is the most important thing in your career if you focus on the right thing. Nothing should distract you,” she said.

“The ideal attitude is of one being proactive and delivering on what is in front of you,” she said. “Ask yourself how you can make the biggest contribution, be confident and make your value known to those around you. Be excellent and your capabilities speak for themselves.”

Tsholofelo has been nominated for the 2020 CFO Awards for her work as the CFO of Telkom.

Read more: Telkom’s Tsholofelo Molefe nominated for 2020 CFO Awards