‘Every CFO or finance professional should do a secondment within sales.’

By her own admission, Sharon Naidoo has a very generalised personality that has led to a diversified career, most notably her experience in sales, which has provided her with valuable empathy for the functions and roles of all staff in an organisation.

CIARAN RYAN: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Draftworx, which provides automated drafting and working paper financial software to more than 8000 accounting and auditing firms and corporations. CFO Talks is a brand of the South African Institute of Business Accountants. What a pleasure it is this morning to welcome Sharon Naidoo, who is CFO at TransUnion Africa. Now, that’s a relatively recent appointment, she previously held the same position at Ricoh, South Africa, and prior to that, KFC South Africa. She has extensive experience gained and across world leading organisations in chemicals, drinks, brewing, pharmaceuticals, food, manufacturing, and fast-moving consumer goods. She previously held the position of GM rest of Africa for Kellogg’s South Africa and before that was at pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca. She qualified as a CA in 2005 and has a master of commerce degree in financial management. Welcome Sharon, where are we talking to you from, are you in Johannesburg?

SHARON NAIDOO: Morning everyone, morning Ciaran, I am actually in my home in Fourways, Johannesburg, I’m having this conversation with you from my bedroom because my kitchen is undergoing renovations.

CIARAN RYAN: Sharon, the thing that strikes me about your background is the diversity of positions held in different sectors and you obviously didn’t want to become too specialised in any particular sector. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

SHARON NAIDOO: Ciaran, I think that’s a great question and I think it’s actually a conscious decision on my personality. So all through school, the hardest decision I ever had to make was what I wanted to be when I grew up because I got distinctions in science and in literature, in the languages, and in finance and accounting. So very much a generalised personality and that really leads to my career history as well. I think it talks to the fact that I really love a challenge and I love to learn and I also don’t set boundaries on what I want to be or where I want to be or what I want to do. So I look at the opportunity and look at the impact and influence that I can have in the opportunity, does it appeal to m, does it give me the learning that I want and, most of all, does it make a difference. That’s really how my career has been, it’s been multiple industries, multiple companies, local and multinational, as well as a broad spectrum of functions that I’ve done. So not a very typical CFO or finance director role and nor have I led typical finance functions, I’ve been involved in supply chain, in legal, in tax, in treasury in, in IT, leading BI implementation, project rollout, distribution management, B2B. I think that’s where I discovered a passion for selling and that’s what actually led me to my role at Kellogg’s as the GM for the rest of Africa or the regional markets director, which was purely a B2B role, looking after sales and distribution in many African countries. So a very generalised personality, I think by nature, and that’s just led to a very diversified career history.

CIARAN RYAN: Let’s come back to a couple of those points that you raised in a minute. I’m particularly interested about Kellogg’s, and the fact that you, as an accountant and as a CFO, you got deeply involved in selling, which is very unusual for an accountant. So I want to talk about that a little bit more, but before we do that, you’ve just taken up the position at TransUnion as CFO, which we know as a credit reporting agency. Maybe just explain the business of TransUnion and how does it make its money, is it every time somebody logs on to access a credit report about themselves or about somebody else, are they paying for that? Is that how you make the money? Also, just explain how robust are the cash flows and how has the business been doing during the past year of Covid lockdowns?

SHARON NAIDOO: I think maybe let’s start with some history on TransUnion, I was actually surprised to know that TransUnion has been in South Africa or assisting South African businesses since 1900.

The largest credit bureau in South Africa

CIARAN RYAN: What was it called before?

SHARON NAIDOO: Multiple names, I would have to Google and check the website, but it’s been a multitude of acquisitions, brand reorganisation and naming through the history but it’s been in this country since the 1900s. I think the next big fact is that TransUnion is actually the largest credit bureau in South Africa that maintains both your consumer and your business data, and we’re also the leading auto information solutions provider within the country. I think the next point of call is what actually do we do, and it took me probably four months, and I think I’m at the point now where I can actually explain in layman’s terms, what we do. So there are two parts to our business, first the type of consumers who we support, we support both businesses, corporates, and retails, which is basically corporate South Africa, as well as consumers and direct to consumers itself. In terms of what we provide to consumers, we provide three things, one an understanding of credit history and your financial reputation. So every time you go to an Edgars and you want an apply for an account or Woolworths, or whether you buy a car or you open a bank account, TransUnion is impacting all of those decisions in the background. The second thing that we really provide right now is safeguarding [unclear] personal information, which is true identity and potential fraud. I think one other big point of call for consumers where you touch TransUnion directly or indirectly, is actually when you go to upgrade your car, trade in your car and the value reports on those cars all come from TransUnion. Again, I think to businesses, what we do here is what we’re traditionally known for which is our credit bureau, but actually our new product innovation and pipeline is centred around decisioning solutions. So decisioning solutions will basically be sitting with a company or corporate, understanding what type of products you want to provide to consumers, what type of personal experience you want to have, and then we will provide the decisioning tools and NPI in the background that will help you to segment and target the right profile of consumers with the products you launch. Then I think what’s critical for us is we work across the verticals in South Africa, financial services, the automotive industry, insurance industry, which are all very big verticals. At the same time, we work through a multitude of partners within the emerging markets and across the country. So that’s typically what we do, even though we’re known for credit bureau, but I think we’ve evolved over the last couple of years into having a strong pipeline in decisioning tools as well. How we make our money is actually sitting and partnering with consumers and with corporates in providing this information and servicing the industry, so very much a service provider.

CIARAN RYAN: I know that you’ve got some very, very good analytics and reports that come out with all this data that you acquire. You have such deep level insights into what’s going on in the economy and I always find it fascinating as a journalist when I received these reports because it would explain what credit habits, were people borrowing, were they struggling to repay their borrowings and, of course, at a company level, that would be very, very valuable information, I’m sure. But TransUnion is a far cry from some of your other engagements, tell us a little bit about your career path and also where did you grow up and what brought you to accounting?

SHARON NAIDOO: I grew up on the south coast off of KwaZulu-Natal, which is probably 60 kilometres away from the Durban CBD, in a very small town called Umkomaas. For many years we were not part of Durban metropolitan because we didn’t have enough registered voters to become part of the metropolitan. So that’s where I grew up in a family of five, two younger brothers, a brother and sister. I very much grew up in a community environment where basically, you’re raised by everyone, so you can never get into any trouble because you have moms and dads all over the place. From an accounting perspective, what brought me to accounting was very interesting actually, whenever we wanted a free period in class, they would get me to argue with the accounting teacher, so, the rest of the class could just get the free period. So I think accounting always came naturally.

From a family background, the maternal side of my family are very much entrepreneurs and businessmen and my dad’s side of the family are very much academics. So if you put the two together, finance was like a natural fit for me, it always felt the most comfortable. Whereas I had to put effort into science and languages, but accounting, finance, business, entrepreneurship, growing up behind the till at my uncle’s shops just felt completely natural. That’s when I decided to follow the path of an accountant and following the chartered accountant programme. I think one of the big decisions that I made very early in my career was to follow TOPP articles and not go through the traditional path of TIPP. At the time, TOPP articles were just released by SAICA, there were a lot of nuances around whether your qualification would still hold the same merit, whether your training would still be the same. I think it was the boldest move that SAICA made because it completely transformed our profession, giving young accountants the path to partner or the path to CFO. I think that’s been the most incredible journey, making that decision right off the bat and taking the chance on something that was so brand new. I served articles at Sasol, which at the time was the biggest ATO and one of the biggest number of graduate finance trainings through the programme. I absolutely loved it, I was involved in so many things at Sasol being as big and diverse as they are, as you can understand. Twenty years back, a lot of things were happening within the profession, you had capital gains tax, SAP was being rolled out, Sarbanes-Oxley was born, you had the scandals of Enron and WorldCom. It trained our thinking. Then just doing articles from a commercial company, you learned to think commercially right off the bat, as opposed to being in an advisory position or as a forensic auditor where you’re trained to pick up things or identify things. So I think for me, being in business, being at the manufacturing sites, working with engineers, working cross-functionally has always been a natural fit.

‘I’ve always been the person who’s challenged the boundaries.’

CIARAN RYAN: It sounds like you were the first to go down this road, this route of being an accountant in your family, and you developed this love, I think you said in your uncle’s shop, for figures and for handling the money, I guess. So was that a bit of an unusual move in your family, given the background that you just told us about?

SHARON NAIDOO: So I think I had very big supporters in the family, I think they had a very big expectation that I was going to do something big or that they had very big dreams and aspirations for me. I think also being the firstborn grandchild and the first child, the eldest, you carried the responsibilities, the role model, the expectations of the entire family. No pressure there. Traditionally Indian families will weigh merit on being a doctor or being an engineer or being a lawyer. The concept of being a chartered accountant 25 years ago was not fully understood within our family. So they initially asked me, are you going to be a bookkeeper, and I said no, I’m not going to be a bookkeeper. But you break the boundaries, I’ve always been the person who’s challenged the boundaries, I’ve always done things that feel natural to me, and if something doesn’t feel natural to me, I’m not afraid to stand up and say my life, my rules. I want to be happy, and I think we don’t inspire children enough to be happy. So you need to do what makes you happy at the end of the day. I’ve had the greatest support in my family, the greatest expectations, but also everyone has been completely supportive. I think they know I’m the rebel in the family and the rule breaker. Thankfully for me it always turns out well, but I think if you follow your heart, you have passion, you stand by your principles, you’re going to be successful at whatever you do. It’s just a matter of how you rise from the stumbles along the way.

CIARAN RYAN: Interesting. I now want to cycle back to the Kellogg’s experience that you spoke about. Funnily enough, I was just reading about the Kellogg’s company, it actually goes back to the 1800s, if I’m not mistaken, and it was founded by the two brothers, Kellogg’s. They introduced the breakfast cereal first of all to the American market and then to the global market, it’s quite a fascinating story in the way that it rolled out. There’s still very much a culture within that company, which I think has remained quite stable and unchanging over the years. But I want you to talk about your experience in selling. It sounds like communication is one of your natural gifts and, therefore, selling might be not a very difficult thing for you to do, but tell us about that.

SHARON NAIDOO: If I had to look back on my career, every opportunity has brought new things, but the one experience that has enriched me so much as a person, as a leader, has been my experience at Kellogg’s. The role was actually undefined the moment that I took it. We had a new MD in South Africa and we were restructuring the regions. So what the role entailed was the regional markets director/ GM off the rest of Africa countries, which means that I looked after all of the countries between the Arabic peninsula and South Africa. Much of English-speaking Africa, French West Africa as well, and Angola. So within that it entailed travelling to all of these markets, I’m really that person where you can’t explain an experience to me, I need to touch, see, smell, taste, be part of the whole culture to really put that plan together. I think the second part is that being out into the countries, I travelled probably three weeks out of every month and sometimes it would be three African countries in a week. I spent a lot of time in Nigeria, Kenya and Angola, which were big markets for us at the time, and working through distributors, through the value chain, through the wholesale. So the way FMCG products will work is that you’d have a big distributor that would distribute your products, but you’d also have wholesalers through the chain and then you’d have the traditional market. If you know Africa, Africa is not a retail market, it’s completely opposite to South Africa, 95% of product goes through informal traditional markets versus South Africa, where you probably have 95% going through retailers. So here you are in the thick of the action, so you meet the distributors, you find out how your product moves through the chain, you’re in the market, you’re talking to the wholesalers, you’re talking value, you’re talking pricing, you watch how consumers come, how they interact with your product. Through all of that, you put together a strategy that works for Africa in terms of what the consumer wants. I think the biggest gift that I have is that I don’t have expectations of anything in life, and if you don’t have expectations and you’re not judging the situation, you can absorb so much by just watching the process unfold. I think the second biggest skill that I’ve probably honed in a lot more in Africa was being able to listen because if you’re sitting with distributors, you’re sitting with wholesalers, you’re sitting with the market, he little stalls in the market, and people who are running your product in the market, you need to understand what are their challenges, because if you understand what their challenges are in selling your product, you can solve for the challenges that you’re experiencing. So just that diversity of culture and the richness of the experience was absolutely amazing.

CIARAN RYAN: So it sounds like you spent most of your time either in a plane or a hotel, you were all around Africa. What were the key takeaways, lessons that you learnt in that and what were the countries that impressed you the most? Nigeria sounds like a fascinating but chaotic market. I presume Ghana and Kenya maybe a little bit more settled and not quite as crowded. What were the places that really struck you on your travels?

SHARON NAIDOO: What I loved about Nigeria was just the vibrancy and the dynamic market itself, it’s got so much energy. The people are loud and there are consumers who are bargaining and hustling through the market. So I completely loved the energy, the energy in Nigeria is something else. In Kenya, I absolutely loved the warmth and the kindness of people. It’s much more of a formal culture, most of business would be in suits and ties, it’s like the standard way. Then there are strange things, like in Kenya, you can never get ice water. So in South Africa, the default will be that you are served something cold, in Kenya you are served something lukewarm until you ask for something cold. Ghana is like a mini version of Nigeria, but not as dynamic, but very beautiful, a very loving culture. I think what I also noticed about Africa is that they celebrate diversity, and they celebrate culture and tradition a lot more than South Africa. My biggest takeaway from Africa, which I tell everybody, is that South Africans think that we are different, but we are not different. We aspire to be the same. We entertain the same, our national meal is either a potjie or a braai, we dress the same. If you visit any South African household, you’re going to have very much the same experience, just with a different flavour on it. But Africa is completely different, they’re actually truly different in the way they celebrate their heritage, their diversity. Like in Nigeria, you’d find every Friday is national traditional day, so everybody wears traditional wear. They’re not afraid to express themselves or to conform as much as we want to conform to certain societal norms, and I think they’re still growing.

Angola, again, very, very vibrant and some of the most amazing food that I have had has been in Angola. Angola is very strange in that all coffee is just espresso, you cannot get a cappuccino or a café latte, it’s completely not known. French West Africa was really nice, in Réunion you’re allowed to have a glass of wine at lunch and Réunion takes the whole French culture very seriously because every meal is a three-course meal. Every meal is not rushed, there is not a single meal in Réunion that is rushed. In South Africa we’re on the go, we’re in traffic, let’s just have something quickly. What you learn from that is you learn to do business that way. We had a Six Sigma partner in Kenya, Bidco, and one of the things they do is they have lunch served to their entire manufacturing plant but all lunch is served standing up, so nobody sits down and eats. So while you are eating you are having this Six Sigma experience and brainstorming and talking about business and strategy. So it was very interesting across the countries.

CIARAN RYAN: What does Six Sigma mean?

SHARON NAIDOO: It’s actually a famous book by Jack Welch. General Electric was one of the first companies that introduced Six Sigma principles as a form of leadership across the organisation when they bust into that growth spurt.

‘I have so much passion for finance and accounting, I really want to add value to the profession.’

CIARAN RYAN: Okay, so it’s based on a book. Interesting takeaways from these different countries. You’re now back in South Africa, you’re a CA, you’ve got a master in financial management. Were there some gaps in your CA course or that you felt that needed filling. We notice on CFO Talks here that a lot of CFOs are doing MBAs. In fact, the majority of European CFOs do not come from an accounting background. That’s quite fascinating, they come from all sorts of backgrounds like engineering or they come from urban planning, something like that, and they end up as CFOs. So there are many different routes to take. What was your approach to this and why did you do the master degree? Did you feel that you wanted to find out a little bit more about business in doing that?

SHARON NAIDOO: I always had the goal to actually complete my PhD in finance. The personality that I have is that I always want to reach the top of the top level of everything that I do. Choosing to be an accountant meant that I qualify as a CA and thereafter I wanted to distinguish myself and embed myself in corporate a lot more. I thought about the MBA programme, but an MBA programme is very similar, especially if you do TOPP articles, it’s very similar to TOPP articles and the second part of the board exam that you write for TOPP. I thought about CFA but I wasn’t going to actually be in financial services, it wasn’t an industry that really captured my mind at the time. So what seemed like the ultimate route for me was to complete the PhD in finance and just because I have so much passion for finance and accounting, I really want to add value to the profession. So I did my masters degree straight after my CA qualification with the hope that I was going to do my PhD, but at the time my son went into grade one and then I think life took over and I never got to the PhD as yet. But it’s definitely something that’s still on the cards for me, but it’s more from an intellectual perspective and to give back to this amazing profession we are part of, as opposed to being something, being a lever that I need in my corporate career. I think sometimes what we need to do as accounting professionals is once you qualify is you need to sit back and just understand where do you want to be, what you want to do and what are the skills that you need for it because when you’re an academic or an intellect, it’s so easy to just capture qualification after qualification. But if you’re not going to do something with it or use it wisely, why are you really collecting it? So I think one of the big challenges that I see with newly qualified chartered accountants, where we need to develop maybe leadership skills, we think that if we do an MBA, it’s all of a sudden going to fix our leadership journey and that’s not entirely true. So you need to really think about what are the skills that you need for what you want to do, and then be a lot more directive in the path that you choose to acquiring those skills.

CIARAN RYAN: Point taken. Would you agree that senior financial executives are required to demonstrate skills that are not normally covered in accounting schools? So we’ve spoken about communication, it’s a critical skill. You are communicating sometimes very abstruse complex things to different markets, figures. You’re having to tell the story of the company and figures. Leadership, strategy, team management, and all of these kinds of things are part of what you’ve had to cultivate yourself. Where does one pick this up? Is this something that you learn in part through watching other people do it, in part through being thrown in the deep end? What is your take on that?

SHARON NAIDOO: I think it’s a critical question and I definitely think it’s where most of our professionals fall short. So communication is extremely important and it’s not something that you’re going to learn through a textbook. What a textbook would give you on communication is it’s going to give you a framework. But I think there are overarching factors that you need to be authentic in the way you communicate. Through my career I’ve had the most amazing MDs and the most amazing mentors, for each person who I interacted with, I took away something that made sense for me. That was the first part, the second part around strategy and being visionary as a CFO is about sitting back and listening. I think sometimes we don’t need to provide all of the solutions, but we need to listen to the story that our peers want to tell. We need to look at the numbers that we want to tell, we need to look at where are we going to go and what are the trends, look at the market opportunities and then have that vision to put that together. That’s also not a skill, that’s learnt, it comes through experience, it comes through having strong mentors, it comes from being open to learning. I think the next really important part, especially that finance professionals struggle with, is we tend to be very intellectual one, and two, we talk in very technical language that the world may not understand what we speak. Then finally, a lot of us tend to be highly introverted or ambiverted, which means that communicating and breaking through the boundaries of being comfortable with people and then speaking a language that’s easily understood is what we need to focus on at a certain stage in our career. That generally comes in when you’re probably five, six years post articles experience, where you’ve solidified your technical experience and then you need to start that leadership journey around how you lead people, how you inspire an organisation, how you can communicate because as a CFO, if you can’t clearly be the north star for the organisation, it’s very difficult for the organisation to know where they’re going and if they’re getting there, what are the gaps that we’re solving, are we on the right path, do we need to change, what are the trends that we’re seeing that are going to alter that journey. It needs to be layman’s terms where people can understand very clearly what you’re saying, whether the person is the tea lady in the kitchen or whether it’s your MD, you need to tailor the communication so that every single person knows exactly what we’re going after. If we know exactly what we’re going after, we can track it, we can monitor it and we can 100% achieve it. But if we’re confused on what we’re trying to achieve, just because we’re using a lot of fancy jargon that nobody understands, except for 5% of the finance team, then we’re never going to go where we need to go. So communication is utterly, utterly important and it needs to be tailored all the time.

Start slow, finish fast.

CIARAN RYAN: The South African Institute of Business Accountants has the designation, CFO certified financial officer, and it’s based around these non-traditional type of competencies that we’ve been talking about. There’s a lot of research that’s been done overseas on this, what are these disciplines that are required. We’ve spoken about team leadership, we’ve spoken about strategy. These are things that are not native often to the accounting profession. So in a way you have to, as a senior executive, you have to have this aspirational, this north star kind of goal that you’re going towards, that you mentioned, and where do you pick up these skills? Well, you can do all the courses you want in the world, but sometimes it’s only when you’re going to get thrown in the deep end and presented with a really, really challenging task that you’re going to find your way through it.

What do you think about that? I guess the question that comes to mind is you probably in your career journey, you’ve seen people that are technically very good, they do understand the nuts and bolts of accounting, but they don’t make it to the top because there’s that X factor, there’s something missing. Have you seen that?

SHARON NAIDOO: Absolutely and we see it every single day. Sometimes my peers in HR think that I’m chasing unicorns every time I have a vacancy that opens, and this is exactly the point, is that you’re looking for the impact, the influence and the inspiration from chartered accountants or from finance professionals and that only comes from when you start to understand who you are as a person, what do you want to achieve, where do you want to be, what are the skills that you need. You need to be honest with yourself or you’re never going to gain it. Leadership is not learned through a textbook because the last thing you want to be is come across inauthentic because people will never follow somebody who’s not being themselves, being true to themselves in any case. So I think that’s really a critical point. The way I’ve learned it is I’ve always just been open to learning. I’ve taken feedback, I’ve taken very strong feedback and I’ve sat back and reflected on feedback that I was given, and then I made the changes that I needed to make for the growth journey that I wanted to be on. I think that’s sometimes where we get it wrong, is that you’ve got to not run the race…my first manager at South African Breweries, when I was a management trainee there, he used to tell me, Sharon, start slow, finish fast. I was thinking, what is this man on about, every single time I sat in a meeting with him in our mentorship discussion, he would say start slow, finish fast. Only later when I became a manager and having a lot of millennials around me, did I actually figure out what those words meant, and it meant start slow means take the time, build your foundation, cement your knowledge, watch, observe, listen, learn, be involved in diverse projects, have a curiosity, have learning agility, put yourself out there. Finish fast means that when you get to the point of being in senior leadership and finance director, CFO role, it means that’s not the time for you to learn, the skills that you learn then are more on leadership skills and people and inspiring people. But when you get to that point, you should have had all of your basic technical, strong management, operational, because you are the point that makes the decision. There’s nobody who’s going to give you the guidance or tell you what is right or wrong or how it should play out because at that stage you make so many decisions in a day, most of them are subconscious decisions. I think what I find right now with millennials is that we want the sense of instant gratification. We think that we’re above reconciliation and there are so many skills that you learn in reconciliation. There are so many skills that you learn just being a finance manager. You learn to multitask, you learn to delegate, you learn to trust your team, you learn to work within deadlines, you learn accuracy, you learn to work smart, you learn to not work hard. We went to skip all of those traditional accounting roles and jump straight into the sexy stuff of FP&A and strategy, and where are we going to learn? What I noticed then is somebody doesn’t know the difference between an accrual and a provision or what is deferred income, or how do you recognise revenue. Those are the decisions and if you make incorrect decisions within those plays, it has significant impact for an organisation. So really we have all got to take the time to start slow and finish fast.

CIARAN RYAN: Point well taken. We’re running out of time, but two quick questions. What do you do in your downtime? You have a family, I don’t know how many children you have, but I think you mentioned you have a son.

SHARON NAIDOO: Yes, I’m a single mom. I have a son, he’s 13 going on 100 at the moment. He’s a very typical boy, I love him to bits, he’s the greatest achievement in my life. So I spend a lot of time with him, I’m a real mum for boys, so we quadbike, we hike, we spend a lot of time outdoors. I love spending time with my girlfriends, they refill my energy tank, refill my love tank. We’ll have lots of dinners, lots of laughter, lots of wine, find the latest restaurant. I’m a very social person my nature, so I love cooking, baking and entertaining. Then I like to unwind with a book or a good movie and a glass of wine for myself. So very much balanced, I think.

CIARAN RYAN: Okay and what books would you recommend?

SHARON NAIDOO: I have to be honest, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction stuff and that’s just because my entire life is non-fiction. So when I escape in my downtime, I read a lot more fiction, so I can escape into a different world. I read anything that’s interesting, I have favourite authors like Jeffrey Archer or Wilbur Smith or Nora Roberts, a diverse range of books. But really, it’s my time to escape, so it’s not intellectual and it’s not another framework and another theory and another decision to make.

‘I think that is the most important skill is that you’ve got to have empathy for peers around you.’

CIARAN RYAN: We’ve had a fascinating discussion. I can see that you’re very driven and you have very clear purposes in mind. I think there’s a lot that we can take away from this, I think in

planning out a career move, a lot of people who would be listening to this and thinking, where’s my career going to take me, I think there are a lot of points that you’ve made there. I also like the fact that you’ve deviated a little bit from the accounting profession with some of these other positions that you’ve had, like Kellogg’s, where you were running the rest of Africa and deeply involved in sales. I think that’s a fantastic thing to learn. Probably a lot of accountants need some experience like that, would you agree with that, a bit of selling experience would help?

SHARON NAIDOO: Absolutely because it’s so easy to be a CFO and give advice to the business, it’s so easy to put a sales target on your chief revenue officer, it’s so easy to challenge brand and marketing. But until you really walk in somebody else’s shoes and have empathy for what they do, as the CFO, I think that is the most important skill is that you’ve got to have empathy for peers around you, because it’s very easy to sit on your high horse and dish out targets, but it’s very difficult to be on the other side of the table, on the receiving end of a target. So I think that has really strengthened my relationship with my peers, in terms of having full empathy for their roles and their functions, being in front of a customer who tells you to go and jump off a cliff, it’s not going to happen. Knowing how hard it is to land a big deal, to negotiate a big contract, knowing how hard customers can be on you, demanding value and demanding customer experience and demanding everything that you demand from somebody else. I think that every CFO or every finance professional at some stage in your life should do a secondment within sales, especially just to have that front end experience with a customer. It puts your mindset in a whole different space because you’re constantly thinking consumer, customers value,

CIARAN RYAN: Great stuff, Sharon, let’s leave it at that. What a fascinating story and, stay in touch, I’d really like to see how things turn out at TransUnion. Maybe we can have another discussion a little bit later in the year and just talk about how things are evolving, hopefully as we come out of the whole Covid lockdown and the third wave and so on and so forth. So please do stay in touch.

SHARON NAIDOO: Absolutely, I can tell you that on the latest TransUnion credit score, what we’re seeing is that on the consumer credit index is that we’ve had the strongest quarter. We’ve had a 64 score versus the previous quarter of 49, and first quarter last year of 48. So I can definitely say that there are shoots that the economy is returning to pre-pandemic levels, It’s still going to be a journey to get there but we’re definitely seeing the strong green shoots coming our way.

CIARAN RYAN: Lovely stuff, Sharon, thank you so much for joining us on CFO Talks today. That was Sharon Naidoo, who is CFO at TransUnion Africa.

Ciaran is a seasoned journalist and podcast host. He has a back-ground in finance and mining, having pre-viously headed up a gold mining operation in Ghana.In this podcast he interviews various CFOs, get-ting more detail on the role of the CFO and their daily challenges and solutions.


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