The CFO that got back on the horse

Nicole Hibbert has experienced a fair amount of early career setbacks, yet rose up the corporate ladder to become Head of Finance at SynergyERP. Nicole shared her journey of resilience with the CFOClub Podcast. 

Written by: Leigh Schaller

Career paths are often compared to ladders, it would perhaps be more accurate to compare them to a game of snakes and ladders. 

Nicole Hibbert’s journey included a few trips down the snake. Initially unsuccessful with her honours degree and dropped by a big four firm.

“I had signed for one of the big four firms,” Nicole told the CFOClub podcast.  “When I failed my CTA the first time around, unfortunately that contract was then null and void.”

However, as a former showjumper, Nicole knew that she needed to get back on the horse.

“I decided not to give up and went to a smaller firm. But there’s an element where I didn’t feel good enough. Everybody wants to aspire to have a big four name behind them. So it was extremely defeating and I had to pick myself up from that.

“But I wouldn’t change my article experience for the world being at a smaller firm, I experienced every aspect of a business. We weren’t put in a specific department and told ‘That’s the only type of companies you deal with’. We dealt with every single company from a one-man operation to large companies.

“Everything happens for a reason. I mean, I moved to a smaller firm where I met my husband, the father of my child, and we’re still together.”

The modern CFO is everywhere, without taking over

Nicole would later complete her education part-time through Unisa, while working. Nicole spent seven years at Avis, climbing up to the role of senior accountant.

Having worked in different roles in the finance function, she believes that it’s crucial that the modern CFO is dynamic.

“I firmly believe that the days of accountants and finance managers sitting behind their computers are non-existent. To be a successful leader in finance, you have to be involved in every single aspect of the business. Ultimately, every department will eventually fall into finance because that’s the numbers that people want to see.”

This does not mean that CFOs should overstep their jurisdiction. 

“It’s important not to take over the department. They’ve got leaders of their own that have the necessary expertise, but you really have to collaborate with them and understand what’s going on in their department because that is going to influence your results and the way you approach your work. It really is a collaboration between all departments and being able to connect with your peers, fellow C-suites, and building those relationships to complement each other.”

Helping people be less afraid of the robots

A core reason CFOs are no longer just number crunchers is due to the rise of automation. However, many companies find that their staff view automation as a threat, something that Nicolle has learned to manage. 

“There’s an HR element of just reassuring people that technology is there to complement your role. It’s there to open up time for people to think and use their time more effectively than literally punching in numbers all day just to get an output. So that’s been a challenge to overcome.

Nicole says that once staff do embrace automation, they do so wholeheartedly.

“We have a system that automatically retrieves bank statements and pulls them up to do a bank recon. And when that’s not working, you’ll hear the staff immediately say, ‘I’m not entering this manually, get the system working again.’

“So staff really do embrace it once they’ve come to terms with it and it allows them to focus on customer queries, supplier queries, things that really involve interaction between people.”

The full podcast is available to CFOClub members, including Nicole’s thoughts on overcoming imposter syndrome and being a heart-led leader. To find out more, follow this link.


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