Stiles CFO Lili Grobler on what her auditing degree didn’t teach her


Lili Grobler is the CFO of Stiles since 2016, a growing business based in George. Slotting into a family-run business can be challenging. However, Grobler tells CFO Talks that the move from an accounting, auditing business (Grobler did her articles at KPMG in Joburg) into the practicality of an operating business was more of a challenge.


“In a corporate auditing firm, theoretically you only apply legislation and it’s like a ticking exercise, you did this, you didn’t do that. From an auditing perspective, you’re giving a bit of consulting and advice,” she says. In smaller businesses, CFOs take on more of a hand-on role in the day-to-day business. Fortunately, Grobler had gained insight in a previous role working for the local government on a National Treasury project. “I got a different approach, seeing how things happen in general in business, whether it is local government or private sector. Obviously, totally different in their own ways but it gave me perspective and made it easier to adapt to a more operational role,” she says.


A growing business

Stiles is a retailer and wholesaler of building industry products mainly imported from Europe. The business started 20 years ago, employs 160 people with nine retail outlets across SA. “We’re looking at growing into other markets,” says Grobler, “it’s exciting times for us.” As CFO, Grobler is very involved in the formulation of strategies and new business aspects for 2023. “We are involved in all the business principles every day so we can see whether our strategies and our goals are working in parallel,” she says.


Communication is key

“We have a dynamic management team and Steve Joubert (CEO) has amazing ideas. From a creative perspective, he’s got an excellent mind with the plans and goals he wants to achieve. Over time, I have learnt to dream with him before just saying no, or that it can’t work or won’t work due to legislation,” she says. “Thankfully because we’re adaptable and have a lot of open communication, we don’t mind debating ideas to get a result.”


Keep reading to learn

Learning new skills on the job can be challenging and working in a strategic role will require skills not taught in an accounting degree. “Fortunately, I love reading,” says Grobler. “If there’s a new challenge or something I don’t know enough about and I feel that I’m out of my depth, I feel comfortable enough to research and find a way to make sure that I know how to navigate it with the team to get to the result we need,” she says.


Advice for young accountants to become excellent accountants and financial professionals?

1. Focus on things you can control.

2. Don’t have tunnel vision.

3. There is so much opportunity out there if you have a good foundation


For the full interview, listen to episode 199 of the CFO Talks podcast.

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