Talita is currently chief financial officer of BMW Group UK Limited, the sales and distribution organisation for BMW and MINI brands in the UK, leading the competencies of Finance, Risk, Purchasing, Human Resources, Strategy and Cultural Change.
Your journey to your current role
You could call my journey one of a portfolio career not dissimilar to the career paths that are now being chosen by some of my Generation Y colleagues! I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in South Africa and also have a business law degree. I completed my articles with KPMG in South Africa and then moved on to government consulting for KPMG. I left KPMG to join Investec Bank in South Africa and spent some time in the regulatory reporting area focussing on SA Reserve Bank Controls. Inspired by all the traders and structured financiers, I moved to a smaller bank to pursue a deal-making career in corporate finance which involved among other responsibilities performing listings and mergers as part of a team of corporate financiers.
Unfortunately the bank didn’t list so I moved to BMW Group and took on a more traditional and very broad finance role with a view to becoming a finance director. This was my first experience of working in a large multinational organisation with a very strong brand. I reported to the finance director and managed the competencies of tax, accounting, controlling, insurance and treasury for the BMW Automotive Group in South Africa including the manufacturing plant, the leather trim manufacturer and the traditional sales organisation all in the same legal entity.
I then moved to BMW Group’s headquarters in Munich and worked in a number of roles in the Financial Services division including General Manager for Reporting and Data Management, and Financial Controller for the Group’s Mexican and Australian operations. I also completed an international project to roll out the leading accounting system for Financial Services. A major personal milestone was learning to converse in German with 10 hours of study each week, some of it spent reading children’s books in German!
I was promoted to CFO of BMW Financial Services in the UK where I sat on the board of directors. This was a turning point in my career as it was the first role where I managed Human Resources and this is where my passion for organisational development and its human capital really started. For the first time I was not just controlling the purse strings but also looking at enabling the business generally and focussing my leadership on strategic future topics and innovation through people development.
My current role is building on that experience and I am leading a change and leadership journey which involves co-locating three organisations together not just physically on one office campus but also preparing them for the future. We are the first automotive company to link innovation and future change to employee engagement and as such we are creating an employee culture which supports the strategic objectives of the business and is based on three pillars – collaboration, authenticity and inspiration.
How has the Chartered Director programme supported your journey and what do you believe are the most important attributes for a director?
Chartered Director has shown me that the most important qualities are inspirational leadership, emotional intelligence, strategic vision, self-belief / confidence, empathy, perspective, adaptability especially in times of adversity, and the need to be fleet of foot especially given the pace of change in the business landscape.
The qualification has also made me acutely aware of what a board director’s responsibilities really are.
Boards have a collective responsibility to set the strategic direction of the organisation and having done that make the hard decisions and drive them through, at the same time having ensured the organisation and culture is set up to deliver this. As executive directors we often protect our patch but being a true business enabler means using all the back office functions like Human Resources and IT to add value.
I recently read something very interesting that ties in well to the breadth of training from the IoD – ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. This is very true as I believe many strategies fail due to poor execution. However, I would go one step further to say that organisational alignment and the culture to support them is key. The importance of the leadership role is also critical as failure to inspire people to follow the overall direction that the company needs and should take will result in strategic objectives not being achieved.
However, I would go one step further to say that organisational alignment and the culture to support them is key. The importance of the leadership role is also critical as failure to inspire people to follow the overall direction that the company needs and should take will result in strategic objectives not being achieved.
The key elements to a successful board / organisation
I have always embraced change as a positive driving force in my career but my experience so far has shown that the most successful organisations have inspirational leaders who provide the right cultural backdrop against which all the human potential in their businesses can be realised to the fullest extent. I have been lucky enough to work in several different countries and this has given me a great insight into how we can work with different cultures and how they can be adapted to bring benefits to the business. Workforce demographics are changing rapidly and all Executive Directors need to understand how to manage and lead their organisations through this particular challenge. I think this is an area where the IoD can continue to support its members with the latest research and thinking.
Deriving value from regional IoD activities
I recently attended an IoD CPD workshop on Leading Strategic Change and found it insightful to hear how other directors were facing similar challenges. I brought back two elements into the business that are very useful for strategy development. Firstly, pre-mortem analysis where directors are asked why the strategy could fail, and discuss positively how improvements could be made prior to implementation. Secondly, the product value curve which is a very useful tool for strategic managers to see visually how their strategy works in relation to close competitors.
How can the IoD contribute to the economy, better boards and society?
I believe the IoD has a role to play in developing the leaders of tomorrow. The interesting thing for me is where are these leaders going to come from? Not from the traditional IoD target audience but rather from the young entrepreneurs emerging from the information revolution and who are developing the new connected world. Diversity is also important here; diversity of thought, age, gender and culture is proven to lead to better decision making at board level.
Attracting a more diverse membership can only benefit the IoD and support the portfolio career thinking of the next generation of business leaders. Partnerships with educational institutions can also be pivotal in influencing and impacting the leaders of the future.
Looking to the future of governance / directors’ duties, what are the key areas?
Getting executive directors to have more of a cabinet responsibility and understanding their roles better will make the job of the chairman and the non-executive directors a lot easier. Today my perception is that it takes time to accept non-executive directors on a board. With more focus on diversity of thought and experience within a board and understanding the true governance and collective responsibility, boards will be more effective. I would also like to see more focus on developing the leaders and directors of the future with organisations providing the opportunity for people to gain a greater breadth of experience and be more adaptable.
And personally – what comes next?
I see my next role at managing director level where I would have a wider perspective on the business. I am also interested in exploring my role as an entrepreneur in the corporate environment, or ‘Intrapreneur’ as it is now known, as part of my continued interest in organisational development, change management and people leadership and development.
My focus will be helping individuals to grow and develop beyond their own expectations but also creating a business environment which will allow managers to become inspirational leaders and drive the success of the organisation and its people. In other words, I will work on changing the traditional mindset on how we lead and look to create a true learning organisation with a highly engaged and motivated workforce which has a more cohesive networked and collaborative approach to solving problems.