Interview with Rebecca Pole, new Southern Africa VP of Finance at Dimension Data

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Interview with Rebecca Pole, new Southern Africa VP of Finance at Dimension Data

Jan 11, 2024 | Interviews, News

Rebecca Pole moved from her native Australia to South Africa in 2007. At the time she was working with PwC. She was seconded to Barloworld in 2017 and she subsequently joined the listed company as an employee in the same year as general manager of finance. Three years later she moved to EOH as finance director of NEXTEC and she has left the company to take up a role as VP of finance southern Africa at Dimension Data, effective January 2024.

Rebecca spoke exclusively to Financial Minds Magazine about her career journey.

Why did you decide to leave EOH for Dimension Data?

I wanted to get back into an international organisation and the role will also give me broader exposure to grow my operational experience. Debits and credits are important but they don’t get me out of bed. I am keen to take part in the operations of a business and the execution of strategy. I expect the experience will be different from what I have been busy with at EOH which is largely work centred around the turnaround of the business. NTT, the parent company of Dimension Data, is an innovative global tech player and I am excited to be part of that journey.

How did you end up as an accountant?

I actually wanted to become a professional musician but my parents encouraged me to do something more practical. I got a scholarship to Bond University but they did not have music. I ended up pursuing accounting and I don’t regret it one bit. It was through accounting that I met my husband who was my colleague at PwC and I also enjoy the analytical side of things which gives me an insight into business. I still kept in touch with music though; when I came to South Africa, I continued to play the violin and created a string quartet that used to play at weddings before I became a mother and my family became my priority.

What do you consider the highs and the lows of your career?

The high is working with the amazing NEXTEC team to execute the turnaround as part of the EOH group strategy. It has been a phenomenal experience brainstorming with people with a great sense of purpose. Over and above the pursuit of profits, the efforts to pull EOH back from the brink was based on the desire to do good business, save jobs and preserve livelihoods. It is something we have done our very best to achieve and we had fun along the way.

The low is undoubtedly navigating COVID-19 while I was at Barloworld. Having to seek funding, curtailing operations and trying to preserve cashflow. We had to retrench a number of people including people that I worked closely with. It was a heart-breaking experience.

Have you done a personality assessment and if so, what were the results?

Most recently, I completed the Enneagram personality test and was classified as an ‘Active Controller’. I am focused on getting things done which I think is suited to the roles I have held thus far. In a time of crisis, decisions need to be made without having all the data. I have often had to go with my gut and then course-correct mid-flight. That said, I have been described as passionate and dynamic. I love engaging with people because at the end of the day, a business is not the products it sells, it is the intangibles that count the most. I believe I have the ability to build deep relationships with the people I work with which enables me to identify strengths and leverage diverse skills within a team to deliver the best outcomes

How was your transition from the audit environment to the corporate arena?

PwC’s audit practice is quite structured. There is an audit programme that they follow, guided by international standards on financial reporting and auditing and there is limited implementation given the strict rules around independence. We advised companies but did not execute. In the corporate space, it is less structured and you have to not only determine but also execute strategy. You have to take people through the journey of understanding why they do what they do. It is less structured and although there are governance mechanisms, there is a lot more freedom.

At Barloworld, I was introduced to ‘lean’ Kaizen principles as part of the implementation of the Barloworld Business System. It transformed the organisation such that the people at the top do not need to have all the answers and can actually achieve a lot by just asking those on the ground for their perspectives. I am now a believer in this manner of leadership where many problems can be solved by just engaging the people rather than sitting around a boardroom.

To answer your question, I believe I am quite adaptable; collaborative change is energising for me.

Many South Africans, particularly accountants, have moved to Australia yet you have moved in the opposite direction, have you considered going back?

I miss Australia, it will always be home. I am the only one in my home who supports the Wallabies when they take on the Boks. But South Africa is also my home now, my husband and kids are South African. Despite all the challenges, I think we are better off here. It is much more conducive for a career mother; many of my peers in Australia have had to work part time or become full-time mums.

How do you define success?

It is enjoying what you do and for me, that is strongly linked to making a lasting difference. When I was younger, I thought success was defined by climbing the corporate ladder, the big corporate and the title. Now that I have turned forty, I think life is about doing something more purposeful. Personally, it is about making a difference which is why I enjoyed taking part in the turnaround at EOH.

 Rebecca’s favourites

Hobby – Driving our boat on the Vaal River and learning water sports with my kids. We once nearly sunk because I forgot to put on the plug into the boat and our neighbours had to tow us back to the river bank. It was a fun adventure!

Car My husband and I both drive Mazda CX5s because I got a great deal while working at Barloworld. Much to my son’s disappointment, we are accountants who see cars as depreciating assets so I personally don’t see value in a fancy car.

App – HIP – because I like to remember people’s birthdays and ensure that I connect with them on their special day. I also like HEADWAY because I am trying to read more.

Restaurant – I love to cook so we don’t eat out much.

Meal – My kids would say ‘discombobulated lasagne’ (pasta, bolognaise and homemade cheese sauce) and any dish with salmon in it washed down with a crisp white wine or a gin and tonic depending on my mood. I am a cheap date!

Movie – Love Actually. It’s a movie that is all about family and Christmas. It reminds me to phone back home often and connect with my loved ones. I cry every time I watch it.

Book – Awakened by Nonkululeko Gobodo. I read it recently and it really resonated with me. I also appreciated how open and honest she was.

Holiday destination – Italy. Food is delicious, people are divine, history is rich and the architecture is beautiful!

 

 

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