CFO Lerena Olivier says compartmentalise your problems

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CFO Lerena Olivier says compartmentalise your problems

Dec 29, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

Lerena Olivier was appointed CFO of The Pick ‘n Pay Group in 2019.  As an executive director of South Africa’s second largest supermarket chain, Lerena takes an active part in the formulation and execution of big company strategy.

‘To craft a successful strategy, you must take yourself out of your day-to-day reality,’ she advises. ‘You need time away from the hustle and bustle to think. Our training as accountants emphasises linear thinking where we are guided by certain standards. This is good because we need to ensure everything is within the appropriate tramlines. However, we also need to think outside the box and have a cross-functional dimension in the plans we formulate for our businesses.’

Embracing change

As part of embracing constant change, you have to ask yourself if there are ways to do things better, Lerena says. This kind of thinking will unlock opportunities.

She feels that as an accountant, it is also important to understand the story behind the numbers. ‘I tell my young accountants it doesn’t help if they tell me the balance sheet is balanced. I need them to tell me what the balance sheet is telling them, in other words, how can the balance sheet be strengthened. This is how accountants can influence and drive the business while still fulfilling their “protector” role.’

As protectors, accountants are often obsessed with such ideals as containing costs. But this can end up slowing down the business and therefore one should also be agile and pragmatic. According to Lerena rules are important but management needs to understand the reason why a rule exists in the first place. Consideration should be given as to whether a rule needs to change if it has become a deterrent for growth.

The kind of professionals Lerena seeks out to build a winning finance team are all self-starters. She believes it is very important for team members to be driven and to enjoy what they do. Furthermore, she prefers colleagues who challenge her.

‘It is also vital that we employ people who have the same values as the company. We are one of South Africa’s biggest and most successful family-owned businesses with family at the centre of our values.  This not only applies to our product offering for customers but also to how we operate within the company.’

Lerena believes that specifically in the retail environment a good team should consist of diverse individuals. A supermarket serves people from different backgrounds and as such the company should encourage different viewpoints within its ranks in order to satisfy the varied needs of their clientele.

Dealing with difficulties

When I ask her about dealing with conflict, she says it’s important to avoid seeing yourself as a victim. For her, every instance in offers an opportunity to grow and you should always try to walk out of the situation a stronger person.  When you encounter situations that appear to be unfair, you should act as a ‘graduate of the self-esteem 101 class with the ability to step aside, step around the situation and move forward’.

The job of a listed company CFO can be extremely stressful. There is nothing wrong with going to the bathroom and having a good cry when you are overwhelmed with emotion, Lerena says. ‘You can then pull yourself together and come back to face the challenge. Females sometimes deal with pressured situations differently from their male counterparts and while some perceive this to be a weakness, I see it as a strength. It is helpful to have a release valve rather than bottling up your emotions which can be damaging to one’s well-being in the long run.’

Lerena also advocates for compartmentalisation in moments of crisis. Breaking down a crisis into different components and tackling it one by one makes it more manageable than viewing the problem as a single wave, which can be too big to overcome when it makes landfall.

‘Understanding the different parts of a problem is essential for its resolution,’ she explains. ‘Thereafter, management should determine which parts are a priority and which can be tackled later. The team should have clarity on who needs to do what and by when they need to do it.’

Digitisation

Lerena is looking forward to making a difference with the wonderful finance team she has inherited. She is intent on taking them to the next level, which is to become a strategic partner to business operations. With the help of digitisation, the finance function is well placed to be an enabler and a value creator given that they have an overview of the entire business.

Lerena feels like her current role enables her to fully express her talents. She is particularly pleased about the ability to make a difference given her interest in people development. ‘I have always found a way throughout my career to try and do that. In the future I would love to spend all my time uplifting people. This may ultimately be through a non-profit organisation.’

Other than spending time with family, Lerena loves to read. Because her daily life overflows with corporate and finance information, she prefers to read books that have less weighty themes.

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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