Vishwani Nirghin, Finance Director Unilever South Africa "The greatest challenge for South African companies is to be globally competitive"


Vishwani Nirghin, Category Finance Director Home and Personal Care for Unilever South Africa “We are seeing a trend in the local universities where the graduating classes have a disproportionate number of women verses men.”

Vishwani Nirghin joined Unilever as Financial Accounts Manager in 2004. She rapidly progressed in the finance department of Unilever and her previous appointments include Financial Controller in Treasury & Specialists, responsible for Risk, Internal Audit, Tax, Projects and Finance Category Director for Foods.

Vishwani hails from Durban and is married with an eleven year old daughter. Her family has always been a priority when making career decisions and she and her husband have a passion for travel.

According to the recently published Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, globally, there are not enough women in senior management positions. In South Africa just over 25% of top decision-making roles are filled by women and this figure has not changed since 2008. However, in terms of CFO positions in South Africa – female CFO’s have more than doubled from 14% in 2012 to 32% in 2013. Why do you believe the financial sector has seen such an increase of women entering the profession?
Finance as a profession has attracted more women than men in recent times as it has become a viable option as a career choice. As more women succeed in the profession, it attracts even more women to pursue this as a career choice as they have more role models to look up to. We are seeing a trend in the local universities where the graduating classes have a disproportionate number of women verses men. My view is that women are hungry for success and are prepared to work for it as they have not had the same opportunities in the past.

Early in your career you spent 4 months in Chicago, what did you gain from that experience?
My working experience in a foreign country has been more valuable to me as a life experience. I have learnt how people are different but ultimately we all want the same things i.e. to feel valued and make a difference. It was interesting to experience different ways of thinking and challenged me to have an open mind about the best way of delivering the desired objective. I learnt that I was tougher that I thought I was and truly appreciated the value of family and good friends that I left behind.

Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today’s tumultuous financial markets? How do you deal with the volatility?
Accurate forecasting and budgeting is even more important in a volatile environment. This facilitates quick decision making as you are able to allocate resources when taking action with speed. The key is to be flexible and adjust forecasts and re-allocate budgets as the business need changes and as new information is available. We call it Dynamic Forecasting.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation?
The greatest challenge for South African companies is to be globally competitive. In the years of apartheid, our companies were isolated from the rest of the world and didn’t have the pressures that we have today. In more recent times, more companies have been exposed to global competitors and are quickly trying to catch up to be in a position to compete effectively.

Which skills do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
As finance professionals we all have sound technical skills that we acquire during our studies. However, to be successful in the work environment we need to master leadership skills. The transition from personal delivery to delivering through people as you move to more senior positions in the organization is critical and will eventually determine your success or failure.

What three things must you do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work and why?
1. Do what brings you joy – if you do not enjoy want you do, you will rarely be successful at it.

2. Make decisions based on integrity – if you cannot look at yourself in the mirror at night and know that you have done the right thing, it will destroy your soul.
3. Lead with respect – Treat everyone as if they are adding value to the workplace and they will.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
There are many achievements that have come with financial success, but the ones that I am most proud of relate to success with people. The moments that I am most proud of is when I see a young professional who I have coached progress through the business. Identifying talent and developing it is what I enjoy the most in my career.

Who is your role model in life and why?

My role model was always my mum. Her successes in life were very different to mine but she helped me build resilience. She triumphed against all odds and taught me to do the same.

What advice would you give to young ambitious female finance professionals?
It is possible to have it all, the career, the family, the community purpose e.t.c. but not all at the same time. It is a juggling act and sometimes your career will come first and sometimes your family. Be clear on what you want but also clear on the consequences to get it. As long as you know what your values and boundaries are, you will make the right choice at the right time.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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