Philippe is CFO at CFAO in South Africa. CFAO is a subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho Corporation which is partly owned by the Toyota Group.

He is in charge of all financial matters in South Africa and responsible for identifying potential M&A opportunities in the country. Having recently acquired a new large business in South Africa, Philippe is now also responsible for overseeing the integration of newly acquired businesses.

His role is to ensure that the risk management process are harmonized across the newly, or recently acquired, 26 entities (representing some 6000 employees). He recognizes that across these newly acquired businesses there are many different ways of doing things. He feels a strong responsibility to ensure that these acquired businesses also understand and integrate the groups corporate culture and values in an operationally sensitive way. To quote him “These organizations have been running very successfully, before we acquired them, so it’s not about changing everything it’s just about finding the common ground for our organizations to work in harmony together.”

Q. From your perspective what does it mean to be a talent?

There is an element of being able to learn fast, when you are put in a new role or situation you need to be able to adapt quite quickly. I think what enables you to learn is the capability to digest a large amount of information. Often this information is complex, ambiguous and sometimes completely contradictory. Being talented means being able to grasp that somewhere in the middle of all the information there is a way forward. I also think talent is someone, who in a complex situation, is able to have a holistic view of what is happening. Even when there are large amounts of data you need to be able to see what is important when making a decision. So I think I was identified as talent in CFAO because I was able to learn and manage decision making in complex environments.

Q. What are some of the obstacles you face(d) as a talented executive?

There was a big question of respecting myself. As a talent you quite easily have, let’s call it, a fast paced career, where you are moved quickly into positions that are quite challenging. This can be exciting and interesting however you have to maintain balance with your personal and professional life perhaps family or other commitments. It’s important that you don’t get drowned by the new challenges you face, maintain respect for yourself.

What I mean is that as a talented executive you are given new challenges and responsibilities and you will probably succeed. That is rewarding but then that reward can become your main or only area of focus. This behavior or focus becomes unsustainable. There are periods in your life where you should enjoy your work but it can’t be your only area of focus or achievement if you want to be happy. You must give your self time to grow. The organizational challenges can be all absorbing but to remain happy and productive its important to de-emotionalize everything.

As a young talent it’s really important to keep this front of mind otherwise you can quickly loose sight of family, friends and other external activities that can give you an important objectivity. To ensure sustainability, sometimes your responsibility is to slow things down and to lower expectations.

Q. What are some of the questions (doubts) you asked your self whilst on this learning trajectory?

This is related to the last question and I would say alignment about who I am and what I do. This is where I am in my journey now. As a talented executive you are given responsibilities, and as you are successful, you may find your self caught in a process where you are not the one driving your career anymore. Your talent, the organization and some how the success you have, end up pushing you in a direction that may not be the best one for you.

So referring back to what I said previously it’s about respecting yourself, finding who you are and then making sure who you are is aligned to what you are doing. It is a perpetual question. It’s not a question that is exclusive for talented executives, however as your career develops at a faster pace, it becomes even more challenging to remain mindful of this.

Q. What has shifted most in you in the last year?

Moving away from being an expert in a specific field, in my case finance and M&A, and moving more into a leadership position and taking over management responsibilities means it’s not about me anymore. This means stepping out of doing and moving into leading. So perhaps the biggest shift in me is demonstrating the leadership that allows the team to learn, grow and perform. The real shift is moving away from my expertise and shifting the mindset. It’s not about me anymore it’s about the team and setting up the right environment for them to perform well.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to another talented executive in a similar situation what would it be?

Don’t get caught by daily tasks! Where the coaching was most useful for me was right at the beginning of the change in role. At the beginning the volume of work and information coming my way was overwhelming. This compiled with very short dead lines means you can loose focus.

The focus should be to step out of daily task and take a longer term view on what it is you are going to try and achieve. I remember we had a session where we explored how much time CXO’s take to think in a week v’s doing.

With tight dead lines, eagerness to succeed and get quick wins you need to have someone who can challenge you to keep some time everyday for thinking. Just taking time to cool down and taking a cold view on what is happening. This is time where you can look at all the elements and review your priorities. These may not be to deliver on the next deadline for tomorrow! Start thinking about the strategic vision for the future. Keeping focus on where you need to go next for your long term success. So my recommendation would be keep time to think so that you keep your head above the water.

Q. If you were reading this what would you want to know?

When I started out on this coaching journey I didn’t fully understand what unlimited coaching was. So perhaps, If I could give some additional advice, is make it very regular at the beginning. Once a week. Weekly is actually not too much, the unlimited makes it useful.

Q. In what way is unlimited useful to you?

You don’t have that element of pay as you go. Pay as you go means that each time you want to use it you wonder should I or should I save it for something more important. In a corporate environment if you have used it too much and you need to go back to HR and ask again it can be a barrier to usage.

I found it powerful to have unlimited access that is fully available, it makes it easier for you to use. Sometimes you start a coaching session without knowing really what the outcome will be so you may think “well this isn’t really worth it”. Actually these are the sessions that can turn out to be the most useful. If it was pay as you go perhaps you wouldn’t have used the session and you would have miss the opportunity to grow.

In fact digital gives you greater flexibility (especially in the COVID environment) and I was surprised how deep we went.

Q. Lastly Francois Buhlmann, our last talented executive of the moment, had this question for you. “What are the challenges of being a successful “young” talent in a traditional company such as Toyota?”

CFAO Group was acquired by TTC back in 2012. TTC and CFAO have different corporate cultures and I do believe that there is a mutual respect for the way these organization operate. CFAO is used to evolving in challenging and volatile environments, and the Group prides itself in its agility, whereas TTC is obviously strongly influenced by the Toyota Way and culture.

My working environment is therefore a mix of various cultures, which is in fact quite enriching, and I don’t feel it to be “traditional”. Of course, this environment comes with its challenges, for young talents and others, notably as the size of the Group and the complexity of its culture can sometimes create complexity in defining the right vision and direction. As a young leader, driving my team forward is therefore extra-challenging, but also rewarding😊.


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