You need the right combination of qualifications, experience and ambition to become a CFO

Unilever’s Mikateko Tshetshe shares her learning journey to the top during Finance Indaba Network.

Unilever vice president for finance in Africa Mikateko Tshetshe started working straight out of school. She was fortunate to be selected for a two-year apprenticeship programme at Bayer, a German multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company where she gained cross-disciplinary experience in marketing, sales, HR, admin and finance. She “fell in love” with finance and accounting, and decided to complete her B.Com accounting through the University of South Africa (Unisa).

At the Finance Indaba Network, Mikateko revealed that she wanted a professional accounting accreditation and settled on the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). “Getting a qualification that recognised my work experience was important to me. I also wanted a qualification that was locally recognised to ensure my employability,” she said.

She advanced to the consumer care division at Bayer, which housed the Baygon pesticide brand. When this was acquired by SC Johnson, a family company, eight years into her career, Mikateko moved over to the new organisation as part of the merger.

Her first role at her new firm was in management accounting, where she was responsible for partnering with sales and marketing teams to deliver profitable growth. It was also her first management role, with two people reporting to her. This was the start of her exciting people leadership journey. Constantly curious and courageous, she learnt from all the training and development offered by SC Johnson, where she stayed for 12 years. “There were multiple career opportunities, and I raised my hand where appropriate, which allowed me to develop the required business and technical skills for future finance leadership roles.”

From her position in management accounting, she grew into a role which she says was much more customer focused – this was order to cash.

“I had a bigger team reporting into me, the perfect opportunity to sharpen my leadership skills. It was also a fantastic opportunity to review and optimise business processes and controls.”

Balancing work, home and studying is never easy but CIMA offered evening classes, intensive exam preparation and computer-based, on-demand exams. Mikateko also enjoyed connecting with other students and building her confidence in both finance and business. She spent eight years at Bayer, of which six were in accounting roles.

Since her early days as a fresh BCom graduate, she has harnessed the opportunities for growth with both hands. She embraced each step as a chance to add more strings to her considerable bow of competencies and this hunger to develop ultimately led her to being a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (FCMA) and vice president of finance for Africa at Unilever, an important step on her journey.

In an interview with CFO South Africa, Mikateko said: “I always look for opportunities that contribute towards enhancing my capabilities with experience to be gained and adding purposeful value rather than chasing specific role titles. If the opportunity ticks those boxes, I’m up for the challenge.”

Read more: Mikateko Tshetshe’s hunger for personal development

Mikateko became a CFO in her early 30s. She was conscious of being a young, black South African in an important position. “As a young member of the board, I had the courage to bring my best self to all conversations. This included being the bearer of bad news when the performance and results didn’t meet local and international stakeholder expectations. I encourage all young professionals to have a voice – that one thought that you’re holding back could improve decision-making for the company,” she said.