CEO Yuresh Maharaj recommends the stress-reducing habit of factfulness

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CEO Yuresh Maharaj recommends the stress-reducing habit of factfulness

Jan 1, 2024 | Interviews

Liberty Holdings is a 63-year-old company with a particular legacy. It is an insurance company that has amalgamated with many entities over the years but each of these entities have come with their way of doing things. When Yuresh Maharaj became finance director (later promoted to CEO), one of his first challenges was modernising the finance function whilst keeping the core infrastructure of the department stable.

Cloud journey

‘Managing changes such as automating processes needs to be done delicately because doing it too quickly can upset the functioning of the team. The human element is quite profound; we have close to 700 finance individuals across the continent who need to be empowered. We have a finance modernisation programme that aims to turn our chief finance officers into chief value operators.’

Many of the team members Yuresh is referring to have significant institutional experience, having worked for the group for decades. The challenge is to help them change for the future without making them feel redundant. These changes include going on a cloud journey where technology is being used to reduce processing times because many of the functions are automated.

Furthermore, management has embarked on entrenching a growth mindset. For Yuresh, this includes having a learning day once a week for his finance staff where they learn how to improve efficiencies in their roles, as well as stretching themselves beyond finance.  In this regard, he recommends learning about technology particularly how use of analytics can help speed up and simplify tasks. This is something Yuresh himself wishes he had spent more time on early on in his career.

Other lessons he would pass on to his 25-year-old self if he could travel back in time include that one should never underestimate oneself.

Beyond finance

‘We all have a level of self-resistance or doubt in ourselves. We often lack that additional layer of confidence to convince us that what seems impossible can in fact be done. Personally, I think I could have pushed myself harder. When you achieve one milestone, it should encourage you to go for another.’

Yuresh points out that today’s young professionals live in a different world where careers are less defined than they were in the past. This calls for finance professionals to go beyond finance and consider what else they can learn beyond their core curriculum. It is individuals with this mentality that Yuresh looks for when recruiting for his team.

Professionals today also have the ‘power of mobility’ which sanctions them to venture past local experiences.  At Deloitte, Yuresh had secondment opportunities to the Boston and Luxembourg offices of the firm. ‘The experiences there were quite enriching, not only from a working point of view but also from a cultural one. Spending time overseas is something I will encourage my two young daughters to do when they come of age.’

Another word of wisdom from Yuresh for young employees relates to kindness. The chartered accounting profession promises good financial benefits but that should not be the ultimate goal, he says. ‘Make sure your career path leads you towards an organisation whose morals values are aligned to you as an individual. That is the most rewarding thing for both employer and employee because when your values are in sync, you get the best out of the organisation and vice versa. It brings about a greater sense of accomplishment than a plump pay-check.’

Factfulness

Given the velocity and assiduousness with which Yuresh responds to questions, he comes across as a limitless source of well-considered ideas. Autobiographies of inspirational leaders like Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Richard Branson are some of his favourite books. He has gleaned many lessons from the way these icons have led people.

Apart from autobiographies, he recommends the book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. It is a book by public health expert Hans Rosling that encourages the ‘stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts’.

Yuresh’s management style is to follow a collaborative process in which he is open to any ideas from his team that are backed up by facts. ‘I do my best to ensure that individuals have enough space to perform. Empowerment is critical for me. This includes being available to provide support to team members but without making them feel like you are stifling their efforts. I take part in mentoring, and it is really heart-warming to see individuals progress to senior positions.’

This article is an extract from the book Masters of Money – Strategies for Success from the CFOs of South Africa’s Biggest Companies available here – https://www.takealot.com/masters-of-money/PLID90121297?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAyp-sBhBSEiwAWWzTnmLGsW3EWthrsEzrN69lcPhFqkxkQjPsxSF6CHoP2oj6-XRBtDB5gBoCfA8QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

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