Meet South Africa’s coolest CFO – Transunion’s Sharon Naidoo

Home » Strategy & Leadership » Meet South Africa’s coolest CFO – Transunion’s Sharon Naidoo

Meet South Africa’s coolest CFO – Transunion’s Sharon Naidoo

Feb 28, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Out of the numerous CFOs I’ve interviewed, Sharon Naidoo stands out as exceptionally cool. Our brunch appointment begins with her arrival in a stylish AUDI. With the words “AWAKE AND UNAFRAID” inked on her right arm, Sharon shares that she also sports a lotus tattoo on her back, symbolising the splendour that can emerge from even the murkiest waters. ‘It is significant to me because it shows that beauty can emerge from even the darkest moments in life,’ Sharon says.

Born on 15 October 1978, Sharon is a Libra who like the associated symbol of a scale, is pretty balanced. Her Myers Briggs profile suggests that she depends on both logical reasoning and emotional intuition when making decisions. She thinks and feels through the different choices she has before taking action.

‘One lesson I have learnt over the years is to slow down. I have the ability to handle complexity faster and this has sometimes resulted in me racing ahead of the pack which can be detrimental. As they say, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together,’ Sharon reflects.

Journey to Transunion

As a student of Umkomaas Secondary School, Sharon was nick-named ‘Squeaks’ because of how loud she was despite her tiny frame. The principal had enough of her marching down to his office wanting to brainstorm and strategise about what his plans were for the school and how to make the institution more competitive. She exhibited leadership traits from a young age rising to the position of deputy head-girl and chairing many of the school’s clubs.

She swapped the one street town of Umkomaas for a similar small settlement of Secunda where she did her articles as a trainee at Sasol. After qualifying as a chartered accountant in 2004, Sharon held leadership positions in finance and commercial teams at different companies. These include South African Breweries, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, KFC, Kellogg’s and Ricoh. She joined Transunion as CFO for Africa in February 2021.

‘Transunion gathers data that enables corporations to advance credit responsibly. I find it an exciting role because we are playing a significant part in enabling financial inclusion for people of all walks of life by bridging the gap between companies and consumers. I think this job is the most exciting because it enables me to pursue profit with purpose. There is great growth potential in Africa where we can enable our people to access credit regardless of the socio-economic standing,’ Sharon explains.

For Sharon, finding excitement in her role is crucial because she tends to become bored easily if her days falls into a routine. Throughout her career spanning two decades, she has developed a knack for problem-solving, particularly in integrating and simplifying finance while solving with the business for consumer needs across the African continent. She is extremely passionate about a consumer and customer journey, that builds annuity revenue. Her greatest moments are marked by the satisfaction of witnessing strategy come to fruition.

Finance transformation

‘When I find Kellogg’s noodles in the supermarket, I feel proud because they are there as a result of a PowerPoint presentation I was once part off. I get the same feeling seeing queues of cars at the drive through of a KFC restaurant I assessed for approval. But the biggest highlights of my career stem from seeing people who were part of my finance teams grow. This may be through promotion through the ranks or finding their purpose externally by becoming entrepreneurs.’

Sharon’s influence on finance teams was acknowledged when she won the Finance Transformation Award at the CFO South Africa Awards 2023. Despite being nominated and interviewed for numerous awards, she was particularly gratified to receive this accolade, as it recognised the dedication she has shown to her teams over the course of more than two decades.

‘There is a stigma around finance people. People see us as introverts who only care about numbers and this view extends to CFOs who are generally performance, results and strategy driven. I just want to be me by leading from the heart and empowering my team to help them realise how they can become better and kinder humans and the role they play in society,’ Sharon says.

‘The debtors’ clerk may feel like all they do is chase people to pay invoices. I help them realise the cash that they collect is needed for the company to make an acquisition. Transunion has made three significant acquisitions since I joined the company and the debtors clerk played a role in that. The tax accountant who is submitting our returns should be reminded that the tax collections are going towards building the country. If we transform our teams from number crunchers to people working with a bigger purpose in mind, we will ultimately end up with an empowered and better society,’ she adds.

Negotiation

At each station she has worked in, Sharon has had an attitude of getting down to the shop floor to understand what they do and why they do it. At KFC, she mopped the floors and cooked the chicken and at SAB she spent time drinking with the consumers in shebeens. She has often had ‘undercover boss’ moments when she would show up for meetings and people were still waiting for the CFO to arrive.

‘Because of my size and skin colour people often do not believe I am the CFO or assume I got to this position for other reasons other than merit. I see it as an advantage because they underestimate me and let their guard down which then gives me a leg up during negotiations. They only realise later that they are dealing with a little firecracker,’ Sharon says.

Her approach to conflict resolution is determining what the two parties want and ensuring everybody wins after determining what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable.

When she isn’t working, Sharon indulges in classic fiction books like Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and still re-reads any of the Shakespearean plays and sonnets. These literary treasures evoke memories of her high school days where ‘Squeaks’ honed her oratory skills in a small-town setting, laying the foundation for her eventual ascent to financial leadership on a big continent.

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.