You need to love what you do, says CFO Glen Zulu

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Glen Zulu, the Information Regulator CFO, says her career growth in the public sector is rooted in her passion for what she does.

“The important thing about any career, including my one, is that you need to love what you do,” says CFO at the Information Regulator, Glen Zulu. “When something is in your DNA, you don’t even feel like you’re working.” Having built a successful career out of her love and natural aptitude for numbers, Glen is proof of the adage that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a single day in your life.

“I wouldn't say that I chose the career, the career chose me,” Glen recalls. “One of my late high school teachers, Mr Heuwer, suggested that I pursue a line in finance because I was finding it very easy to juggle numbers and concepts like debits and credits. That’s how I started. It always felt like second nature – it was fate.”

In such a context it’s easy to grow, says Glen, because you keep committing yourself and wanting to understand more and so you naturally expand your scope.


Forging a career path

Having spent much of her working life in public service, Glen says that the beauty of the sector is that it’s focused on helping employees forge strong career paths. Her mentors along the way also took an invaluable interest in her career progression, she adds, encouraging those entering finance to find their own mentors who will guide them through their individual journeys.

Glen began working as a state accountant at Public Enterprises in 2000 and soon climbed the ladder to senior state accountant, assistant director, deputy director and director, moving through departments including Public Works and the Presidency. “The Presidency is where I got most of my opportunities,” she says.

“After I had been appointed as director, I acted as the CFO there for about two and a half years. I didn't apply for the permanent position as I didn't think I was ready.” Yet she took her chances with applying for the CFO role at the Department of Science and Technology, got the job and immediately attained a clean audit, which she considers to be her proudest career moment.

“It was a very exciting time of my life,” she says. “As I had been in the Presidency prior to this taking on the role, they poached me back because then they realised that while I may not have applied, I was the right person for the position.”

After about eight years in the Presidency, Glen decided it was time for a new challenge and so was appointed as the CFO at the Information Regulator in 2022. Just before she left the Presidency, she attained another clean audit, perfectly rounding off a highly rewarding chapter of her career.


Navigating public sector challenges

While it offers significant opportunities for career progression, a common challenge in the public service is reduced funding, says Glen. “Slow economic growth affects cash flow and therefore reduces the availability of resources that we have to implement our mandates.” Allocating limited, in-demand resources is therefore difficult. “In my space, there are a lot of compliance requirements, which come at a cost,” Glen explains. “When you can no longer implement what’s required because of a resources’ shortage, it becomes very frustrating.”

Yet, with challenges, come new solutions, she continues, one just needs to find alternative ways of doing things. For example, to enhance certain processes and strengthen controls, rather than appointing people, one needs to partner with those in the information technology (IT) space. Yet, there needs to be clear boundaries when it comes to relying on technology.

“The new challenge is artificial intelligence (AI),” says Glen. “We're getting to a point where people want to download things instead of thinking them through, which is something we need to avoid and control. It's great to get ready-made information but this still needs to be adapted by human beings to fit the needs of your organisation.”

So, while there is much potential in the world of AI, it still requires a critical human touch to help one to best execute tasks, she explains. “You need to assess whether the solutions you’re getting can actually help you to solve your problems.”


Encouraging inclusivity

“Being the Information Regulator’s first female CFO is very exciting,” says Glen, “because it's an opportunity to write a story. There's a lot of fertile ground.” Developing new processes and ensuring the entity is female friendly, Glen is motivated by the impact she knows she can make. The fact that she can influence the direction her office takes especially in terms of creating a more comfortable environment for women, in a space that was historically difficult for them to navigate, is a role she embraces. Today there are many opportunities for women, she says, and they need to have long-term vision rooted in the knowledge that anything is possible.

Ensuring inclusivity and diversity at the Information Regulator also requires a focus on employee retention, she adds. This comes with accommodating staff member’s unique needs. “The landscape has changed. To retain people, you need to look at flexi hours for instance, to accommodate their work-life balance. I prefer to allow people to choose the hours that they work virtually.” This helps new mothers, or those who need to leave early to fetch their kids from school and can then continue working remotely from home. “You can work anywhere in the world today; you don't have to be physically in the office.” To succeed in the world of finance today, one needs to be flexible and open-minded, she adds.

Glen also empowers her team to constantly contribute whether it be to planning or implementation. “When we have strategic planning sessions, I like everyone to be involved to add their own input,” she says. “There’s also a suggestion box within the division where people are free to suggest how best we can improve the way we do things.” This is especially true of the younger generation who have good ideas when it comes to harnessing technology. “It’s important to put value in people, to make sure that they’re aware that we place a lot of value in them and their work,” Glen adds.


Time out

In addition to her passion for her work, Glen has a number of interesting pastimes. “I’m enjoying hiking a lot, it's my newfound hobby,” she says. “I also like gardening and especially enjoy growing herbs. I research herbs that can assist with one’s health and I also prefer to grow my own veggies in my backyard garden, where I invest a lot of my time. I also enjoy watching movies and listening to music.”

As for her professional life, Glen is enthusiastic about what’s to come. “I'm sure I'm going to have many new exciting moments with the Information Regulator – it’s a very interesting entity that’s growing fast,” she says.

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