CFO Meroonisha Kerber – the nice girl in the corner office

Home » Strategy & Leadership » CFO Meroonisha Kerber – the nice girl in the corner office

CFO Meroonisha Kerber – the nice girl in the corner office

Dec 29, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

As financial director of Impala Platinum – one of the 40 biggest companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), which employs over 50 000 people and generates R70 billion in revenue – Meroonisha Kerber holds one of the most senior roles in corporate South Africa. Despite the pre-eminence of her position, she exudes humility and a sense of calm.

The New York Times best-seller Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel explores how women get overlooked for promotion because of certain behavioural traits that result in them being viewed not worthy of top positions. As a Muslim woman of colour, Meroonisha’s path to the corner office was littered with several of these ‘nice girl’ challenges at various points.

Prejudice

Once she was once criticised for not fraternising  in the bar on Friday evenings (Fridays are a day of worship in Islam and it’s against her religion to consume any alcohol) and working through lunch instead of socialising with colleagues. This was listed as an area for career development, something she was unwilling to accept. Her ascension to the role of CFO has proven that acquiescing to generally accepted norms is not necessary the way to get ahead.

‘Women are judged by a different yardstick from men,’ she says. ‘Some things that are seen to be weaknesses are actually strengths. For example, we are in tune with our emotions which makes us more empathetic managers and we often develop more profound relationships with our teams and colleagues. The fact that I have stayed in touch with many of my ex-colleagues is testament to that. We do not need to change; we should stay true to ourselves.’

The finance field is male dominated and men tend to be quite tough in the manner in which they discharge authority. Meroonisha, who always pauses before responding to a question, says women often feel that they need to be as forceful as men in order to blend into the corporate environment. She finds this unnecessary. Her advice to female managers is not to try and lead their teams the way men do but to do it in a way that is authentic to them.

On the other hand, she advises women in the workplace to be more assertive about their rights. ‘If I had a time machine, I would not be as accepting as I was in the differences that I have observed regarding promotion and remuneration between men and women,’ she says.

Strategy lessons

Effective communication is essential for a strategy to be successful, Meroonisha says. ‘You need to be open to listen to other people’s views. You also need to make sure that you are prepared for the subject matter at hand by researching the issue. That includes talking to different people. When you do so, you should be selective in the people you seek advice from; have a bias for subject matter experts.’

Beyond experts, Meroonisha also advises that a professional should keep a list of a few people they trust implicitly to speak to about work situations whilst respecting the bounds of confidentiality. She has a few colleagues she calls upon in this regard and she also schedules regular sessions with an executive coach. They are valuable sounding boards.

Regardless of whether one is an introvert or extrovert, communication is also a key requirement for employees to become a valuable team member. It is important to articulate your ideas and to be honest about areas you may be struggling with so that colleagues will be able to know when to assist you. Meroonisha finds that employees who are willing to take advice and constructive feedback progress up the corporate ladder much faster because they learn from their leaders and peers.

Advice

She herself is also a good listener, never missing a beat when I chime in with a joke during our interview and her hearty laughter shows she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

She also admires employees who take advantage of the various opportunities that are always present in the workplace. ‘Good employees are eager to be involved in new projects and think of innovative ways to do things,’ she says. ‘They work hard and ensure that they deliver. Consistency is key; they deliver every time which shows that they can be relied upon. They also treat their colleagues with respect regardless of their position.’

Furthermore, the ideal employee does not simply present a problem to her; but comes with potential solutions. This indicates that they have thought through the problem. ‘The solution the employee proposes may not be the ultimate solution we go with but at least it gives us a starting point to explore different ways to resolve the issue.’

Having good technical knowledge enables a professional to contribute meaningfully to the execution of tasks and therefore Meroonisha encourages her employees to always dedicate time to continuous learning.

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

You May Also Like
Financial Minds: LinkedIn
Latest
CEO Rui Morais leads by listening

CEO Rui Morais leads by listening

Rui Morais had a significant role in this growth trajectory and in mid-2021 it was announced that he would be taking over as CEO when Ivan retired. Even though he was only 37 at the time, Rui says he wasn’t daunted by the task of being CEO of a listed entity with a turnover of R26 billion, because he felt he had the necessary support.

Kalnisha Naidoo appointed CFO of Lactalis South Africa

Kalnisha Naidoo appointed CFO of Lactalis South Africa

In an exciting development, Lactalis South Africa has announced the appointment of Kalnisha Naidoo as its new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), effective July 2024. Kalnisha brings over a decade of extensive experience in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry to the role, highlighting her strong track record in financial leadership and strategic management.

CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

When Ncumisa Saba-Mkunqwana fell pregnant in the second year of her articles at Deloitte in Gqeberha, she was determined not to let that halt her career. Committed to provide for her unborn child, she focused on crafting solutions rather than being fixated on the situation.

CA Leandra Matthews leads with empathy and excellence

CA Leandra Matthews leads with empathy and excellence

Among the lessons Leandra Matthews would give to her younger self is not to let your value be defined by someone else’s inability to see your worth; stand up for yourself more and trust your gut.

‘When I was younger, I really doubted myself and my sentiments would get muddled by ums and ahs when I was trying to express myself in meetings. In retrospect, if I prepared myself better, I would have been able to contribute quite positively to the discourse and not let my confidence drop,’ she explains.

Assurance Leader Stephen Ntsoane is passionate about touching lives

Assurance Leader Stephen Ntsoane is passionate about touching lives

Stephen Ntsoane was born and raised in Soweto, Johannesburg where he matriculated at Fonsluminis High School. He went on pursue a 3-year National Diploma in Cost and Management Accounting at Technikon Witwatersrand. Navigating his way to a Chartered Accountancy qualification, he did a 1-year bridging course at the University of Johannesburg (previously RAU) and completed CTA at the University of Kwa-Zulu- Natal through distance learning.

Amé Thwaits promoted to partner at EY

Amé Thwaits promoted to partner at EY

In an exciting development, EY Africa has announced the promotion of Amé Thwaits to the position of partner.

Amé is currently the EY Africa Innovation and Digital Leader in Assurance heading a division of 50+ people. She is a registered auditor (IRBA), signing audit opinions of various significant subsidiaries of listed entities. She has over 14 years of mining and financial services industry experience and SEC (PCAOB) and JSE experience.