CFO Fathima Gany says seek work-life integration not balance

Home » Interviews » CFO Fathima Gany says seek work-life integration not balance

CFO Fathima Gany says seek work-life integration not balance

Dec 29, 2023 | Interviews

In late 2014, WSP acquired Parsons Brinckerhoff and CFO Fathima Gany ended up working for CEO Mathieu du Plooy, who was in charge of WSP in South Africa. She has great respect for Mathieu because he let her apply her core competencies to her role without interfering. This included integrating the two businesses, harmonising remuneration scales and establishing a common Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

Executing strategy

‘Fathima is quite good at executing strategy,’ Mathieu says. ‘All you need to do is explain to her where we are and where we want to go, and she will find a way of making it happen. She pays close attention to detail and takes ownership of work assigned to her. She is supportive of her team and is incredibly driven.’

The merger meant that Parsons Brinckerhoff executives would leave the combined business because WSP came with their own management team. Fathima stayed much longer than initially expected because Mathieu wanted her to continue managing the key accounts, she was responsible for, including Eskom.

However, in May 2017 she joined Cummins Inc. as CFO for the Africa Middle East region. ‘I am not surprised Fathima chose to leave,’ Mathieu confesses. ‘She is the kind of CFO who thrives where there is a challenge like turning entities around or integrating businesses after a merger. She easily gets bored once a business settles down to routine activities.’

Life’s purpose

Cummins was different from her previous companies as it is an American Fortune 500 company. It has a complex hierarchy with different verticals ranging from subject matter experts to regional heads who all report to Fathima. One of the main reasons the company wanted Fathima was because of her experience in Enterprise Resource Planning, which would come in handy as they migrated to a new system. Additionally, she took charge of attending to internal and external audit matters that required much of her attention.

‘At Cummins, I was working with a really great group of people,’ Fathima says. ‘I would have stayed longer but for my father’s advice. Going with Prophet Muhammad’s life as an example, my father often said that the first 42 years of your life are to find your purpose, the next 20 years are to live your purpose and anything beyond that was a bonus for which you should be grateful to your creator.’

Fathima believes her purpose in life is to serve in a job that puts people first. She decided to join Cast Products as CFO in November 2020, since the role would require her to assist in the turnaround of a business that was in financial trouble. During the interview process, she came to understand that the company was central to a value chain that involved 10 000 jobs. Saving the company is therefore pivotal to the livelihoods of so many people.

‘I have been here for nine months, and it has not been easy,’ Fathima says. ‘I am the only executive on site as the CEO is based in America and only visits from time to time. I have sleepless nights and sometimes I wake up dreading going to work. But I go in for the simple reason that I understand what the end goal is – saving jobs. It will take time, but I truly believe we will be successful.’

Fathima’s advice for professionals is to ‘safeguard their brand’.  Your intellectual property comprises many things, including your academic background, your training and your experience but the paramount component is your reputation, she believes. ‘People will hire you, people will seek your opinion and ultimately ask you to sit on their board of directors if your brand is impeccable.

Work-life integration

‘If you were to phone any of the people I have worked with, they will probably say I am an interesting character, but they will hopefully end the conversation by saying positive things about me. I do not believe that there is a grey area when it comes to your integrity, I always stand for what is right. Finance goes beyond the numbers; it is about being a good corporate citizen.’

Fathima also advises professionals to keep learning because ‘the point at which you stop seeking knowledge is the point at which you cut off your oxygen supply’.  If you are ever faced with more than one option for a job, always pick the one that makes you feel most uncomfortable because that is the job that will teach you the most. It will also test your resilience and help you grow, Fathima says.

‘It is not just learning that one should pursue, but also unlearning,’ she explains. ‘I served articles in the nineties so much of the things I was taught are outdated in the modern world. I need to unlearn them and create mental space to embrace new thinking. The same applies to societal biases that most of us have that we need to shake off. And as you learn, you also need to teach because leadership entails helping other people grow.’

Finally, Fathima advises professionals to understand that work is not your livelihood, it is only a means to your livelihood. She learnt this when she beat cancer a few years ago when she was at Cummins. ‘When the chips were down, it was my close friends and family who frequently visited and checked on me.’

‘Looking back, I regret the many periods that I was too busy working to spend time with my child and my parents. Achieving a work-life balance where you give work and family the same amount of time is difficult to do but you can achieve work-life integration by ensuring your family always knows that they are loved and appreciated.’

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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