First ever Executive Day wows top executives

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The executives engaged in conversations on shared values, building safe spaces and the importance of self awareness.

This week, top CHROs, CFOs and CIOs gathered at Marble restaurant in Rosebank for the first-ever Executive Day, one of the most engaging and interactive executive gatherings in the country.

This momentous day was made possible by the support of key partners Entelect, EOH, Liquid Intelligent Technologies South Africa, MakwaIT Technologies, Mercer Africa, OneStream Software, PwC South Africa, Sanlam, Workday, BCX, and BDO South Africa.

Chuck Robbins, president of Cisco, who also sits on the US Business Roundtable with other high profile executives of big conglomerates, opened the event and imparted some wisdom to the finance, HR and IT execs present.

“The power of coming together as executives is that we try to bring business views to the US government on a range of issues including immigration, health, and such,” he said, adding that it’s important that executives and the county’s administration address such issues and provide a united leadership.

“In the world we live in today, people want to see humble leaders, and when a crisis hits, they need a superman. But the number one thing is being authentic, transparent and an overall great human being. Having executives who are comfortable, fit and finished, as well as human, is going to be very important in the next 10 years. The human presence is going to become more important than it has been historically because people want to know who their leaders are.”

He applauded the gathering, adding that it is important to have such gatherings as executives as it provides a much needed support structure. “Creating communities like this is vital. When I first became a CEO I went to an event like this, because people in this room will understand exactly what you are going through. It’s encouraging to see you all here and sharing knowledge.”

Chuck’s powerful speech was followed by an insightful keynote from Brenden Pienaar, founder of Lowveld Trails Company. He spoke about ecological IQ – lessons learned from being in the savannah ecosystem and how that can translate to the boardroom.

“What I do in my ecosystem and what you do in the economical ecosystem is very similar. Ongoing adaptation and survival are as important in the wilderness as much as they are in business organisations.”

He shared an anecdote about a chance encounter with an African buffalo that had him running for his life, but also taught him an important life lesson of being aware of his awareness.

“The circle of awareness is based on five fundamental principles – first, your self-concept – your perception of you. Second, your thoughts: our thoughts are tied to our emotions, so when we try to become more aware of our emotions, we must first understand our thoughts and thought processes. Feelings, body and emotions are the other three. So many people operate outside of the circle of awareness, essentially pushing through the landscape blindly. It is important to become aware of your awareness, but you can only do this by slowing down or stopping, reconstructing your circle.”

After a scrumptious breakfast, panellists Matimba Mbungela, group CHRO for Vodacom, Unathi Thosago, group CTO for Adcorp, and Dayalan Govender, partner at PwC, took to the stage to discuss recent survey results that were gathered during CFO, CIO and CHRO Days held in July 2023.

One of the key questions in the survey was how the ‘tripartite alliance’ (CIO, CHRO and CFO) view each other. Matimba gave his thoughts on the matter, “For some odd reason, exco sees the HR function as a soft skill. In reality CFOs and CIOs don’t realise that the very skills they need are reliant on an excellent workforce. I believe for any CIO and CFO to thrive in their place they need to have a great CHRO.”

He stressed the need for CEOs to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment within their organisations.

“They need to make the family work in the sense that they have to enhance the strengths of the leaders and then help aid with the weaknesses. CEOs must create a safe space and make sure that everyone feels heard, valued and is contributing.”

Dieter Veldman, chief scientist at the Academy to Innovate HR, took to the stage after a mouth-watering lunch and tackled the burning issue of making big shifts from a traditional approach to a skills-based approach when looking at your workforce.

“A skills-based organisation defines work by describing the tasks and activities that need to be performed to achieve set outcomes. Skills-based organisations deconstruct traditional roles and jobs and break them into smaller parts that describe the work to be done,” he said.

He added that Instead of searching for the whole puzzle, executives need to start looking for the pieces that make up the entire puzzle – this is what the skills-based approach entails. “The biggest stumbling block to achieving this is the traditional or legacy mindsets and practices.”

Next on stage was global strategist and second keynote speaker, Abdullah Verachia, who through an interactive exercise themed World Cafe, challenged the execs in the room to figure out what on earth your exco colleague means and how to be more effective together.

In that process, they were also required to answer some questions, including: How do the main priorities and challenges of my role intersect with those of the other roles (CIO, CFO, CHRO), and how can you collectively leverage these intersections for the benefit of the organisation?

Following the interactive activity, the last panel of the day was themed, “Learning to Speak My Language” where Nikos Angelopoulos, group CIO, MTN, Charl Keyter, group CFO for Sibanye Stillwater, and S’ne Magagula, group CHRO, Tiger Brands, shared their key takeaways. “The learnings for me are around empathy and having a shared value on what we want to achieve. The solutions lie in having our teams collaborate at a cross-functional level and as much as agility is a buzzword now – it is really what is needed,” said S’ne.

The day ended on a high note with both Richard Sutton, director at SuttonHealth, and Dayalan Govender, partner at PwC, giving inspiring talks on how you achieve Success through Resilience and a 2023 Executive Day post-match analysis respectively.

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