Sanlam CFO Abigail Mukhuba – The girl who chose the shortest queue

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Sanlam CFO Abigail Mukhuba – The girl who chose the shortest queue

Dec 26, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

Abigail Mukhuba might have entered the world of finance by chance, but once she got started there was no stopping this woman with the steely resolve. She had set herself the goal to become the finance director of a JSE-listed company by the age of 40, which she achieved when she was appointed chief financial officer of Africa Rainbow Minerals (ARM) in December 2017.

Resolve is often the inverse of a good dose of stubbornness. This was clear from Abigail’s decision not to apply to any university in her matric year at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg after she had set her heart on going to Rhodes University in Grahamstown but her mother, Matodzi, refused, not wanting her daughter to be so far away from her. This after Abigail had spent the better part of her childhood with her grandparents in Venda and only joined her teacher mother in Johannesburg five years before.

Consequently, the only option open to her was to register for a correspondence course at the University of South Africa. Having received career guidance in class, Abigail thought she wanted to study for a BA degree. After waiting for hours at the BA registration desk, they noticed that the line for a Bachelor of Accounting Science (BCompt) degree was much shorter and that is how Abigail ended up studying to become a bean-counter.

CFO of Sanlam

Now that she is CFO of Sanlam Limited, a JSE Top 40 company, Abigail has also come to see things from the other side of the corporate seniority divide. ‘Before becoming a director, I did not realise how lonely it can get at the top of the pyramid. At lower levels, we do not recognise the fact that our seniors are no different from us. They have good and bad days; they have their jokes and their serious moments. You should therefore not shy away from engaging them.’

If Abigail had a time machine that could catapult her back to the start of her career, she would do a lot more traveling.  She advises younger professionals to seize any opportunity they get to see the world and experience different cultures.

‘I would also advise all professionals who want to get ahead to show up. I notice a lot of people just sit back and hope somebody will notice them. This is especially true of African professionals. The corporate environment is brutal, and you need to stick your head out and show a desire to be involved. Do not feel like you are asking too many questions; being inquisitive is what you need to improve your knowledge and progress.’

Having recently given birth to her first child, she also has a greater appreciation for working mothers than she did previously. ‘Until you have a child, you do not really know how demanding they can be. I never thought the day would come that I could sit and do nothing while the baby sleeps simply because I am just too tired. I now have a different appreciation for working parents and their choices of when and how they dedicate time daily to their children.’

Strategy

On the question of strategy, Abigail believes flexibility is key. In the everchanging world we are living in, companies should have a long-term vision of what they want to achieve but they need agility to adjust to whatever is happening around them.

‘Any company also needs to appreciate the environment in which it is set. South African companies struggle when they go into the rest of Africa because they think of South Africa as being outside of Africa rather than part of the continent. There are similarities in South Africa and other African countries, however each country has its own unique circumstances which need to be acknowledged in the strategy.’

Abigail is also not afraid to ask for advice. She keeps in touch with former colleagues Mike Arnold and Riaan Koppeschaar to ask about topics that they would have dealt with in the past. She also encourages accountability; when things go wrong, she gathers the team and they do a debrief to identify the ‘who’, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

‘These are teaching moments because we all make mistakes that we can learn from. What is also important is discussing how we can ensure it does not happen again. Perhaps something was lacking that needs to be provided to avoid the same scenario.’

The various roles that Abigail has held have taught her to be process driven, a strategic and critical thinker. Choosing the shortest queue may have worked when she initially got into accounting, but for everything else well-considered decisions have proven to be the best option.

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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