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South Africa CFO Route to the Top

June 2018


This study is the first detailed analysis to look at the profiles of CFOs at South Africa’s top listed companies by market capitalisation, the JSE Top 40.

Our research has produced fascinating data about the profiles of CFOs and the routes they have taken to reach the top of their function. We have paid particular attention to CFOs’ background, functional experience, diversity, education and professional qualifications. We also take a look at the CEOs of JSE Top 40 companies with backgrounds in finance leadership.

We end our report by comparing South African CFOs with their counterparts in Australia, the UK and the US.



While our research reveals that their careers have taken a variety of trajectories, there is a conspicuous lack of diversity among JSE 40 CFOs.


Nine (22.5%) of the TOP 40 CFOs are from a broadbased black ethnicity group.

South Africa CFO Ethnicity


Only three out of 40 CFOs are women. While the percentage of female CFOs is low in most markets, the situation in South Africa is of particularly concern.

South Africa CFO Gender



Of those CFOs whose nationality we have been able to confirm, only 15% are not South African nationals. These five non-nationals come from Australia, Germany, Greece, Netherlands and Zimbabwe.

South Africa CFO Nationality


JSE 40 CFOs range from 36 to 61 years old, with an average age of 49. Two-thirds of CFOs are between 46 and 55 years old.

South Africa CFO Age

Internal vs. external appointments

Two-thirds of JSE Top 40 CFOs were appointed to their roles from inside their companies. Leading South African companies appear to have a strong enough pipeline to enable a smooth succession in the leadership of the finance function. They benefit from the continuity that comes with appointing an internal candidate, as well as the positive signals this sends to high-potential, future leaders of the finance function.

Out of the seven CFOs appointed during 2017, four were internal and three external candidates.

South Africa CFO Internal External South Africa CFO Internal External Percent

Development areas for companies to consider

With two-thirds of the current cohort of CFOs being internal appointees, many JSE Top 40 companies appear to focus on finance talent management with an eye to CFO succession. However, we recommend that all companies should be regularly reviewing their pipeline of high-potential finance professionals, steering them towards the kind of roles that will position them to be credible candidates for CFO when the time comes. We recommend that companies ask themselves the following questions:

  • How do we encourage gender and ethnic diversity at all levels within our finance organisation?
  • How do we expose high potentials to the challenges of high-impact communication and stakeholder management?
  • How do we make sure that our best finance professionals do not fall into the “specialisation trap”? How can we develop their skills and experience by offering them business or functional roles outside their comfort zone?
  • How do we rotate high-potentials through roles in the corporate centre?
  • How do we help finance professionals gain international exposure, especially experience living and working abroad?


The average tenure of CFOs is 4.1 years. Those in the financial services sector have the longest average tenure at 5.2 years (the CFOs at Capitec Bank Holdings and Investec have both been in the role for at least 15 years). The current average tenure of internally appointed CFOs is 4.4 years, compared with 3.5 years for external hires.

South Africa CFO Tenure

Previous role

Internal vs external

Of the nine CFOs with prior experience as a Group CFO, six were external and three were internal appointments. While external hires were mainly drawn from the ranks of CFOs and general management, around one quarter of these appointments came out of professional services/ audit firms.

Internal vs External Previous Role

JSE Top 40 CEOs with CFO experience

  • 13 of the current JSE Top 40 CEOs previously held a Group CFO role. Nine of these had been CFO of the same company they now lead, and six were appointed to CEO directly from the CFO role.
  • Two CEOs had been the CFO of a non-listed company, whereas 11 had JSE CFO experience.
  • CEOs who had previously been CFO of the same company had served as CFO for 5.7 years on average before taking on the top job.

Finance function experience

Nine of the JSE Top 40 CFOs (22.5%) had prior experience as a Group CFO. 45% were either a group CFO or a divisional/regional CFO immediately prior to their appointment. A further 20% were in a managing director or other general management role.

South Africa CFO Previous Finance Experience

Career experience

The current cohort of JSE Top 40 CFOs have occupied a wide range of roles during the course of their careers. 78% have worked in a professional services firm, although this is explained by the fact when most of the current CFOs were starting out, a three-year stint at an audit firm was a prerequisite for becoming a chartered accountant in South Africa or for a career in finance. It is interesting to note that while most CFOs have spent the majority of their careers in finance roles, 61% of CFOs have had at least one non-financial role during their career.

South Africa CFO Career Experience

International experience

Forty-five percent of CFOs have worked outside South Africa at some point in their careers.

South Africa CFO International Experience

Education & qualifications

Ninety percent of CFOs have a Chartered Accountant qualification. 22.5% of CFOs have a postgraduate degree (Masters, MBA or PhD).

South Africa CFO Education

Board membership

All JSE Top 40 CFOs sit as executive directors on their own boards. Seven CFOs hold a non-executive directorship on another listed company board; one CFO sits on two outside boards while another sits on four outside boards.

International Comparison

Size of sample JSE Top 40 ASX 100 FTSE 100 Fortune 500
Internal / external appointment

67.5% / 32.5%

49% / 51%

48% / 52%

62% / 38%

% of women





% of foreign citizen





Average tenure





Average age





Function Acronyms

Dep CFO Deputy CFO
Div/Reg CFO Divisional or Regional CFO
FP&A Financial Planning and Analysis
GM/MD General Manager/Managing Director (including COO and Group/Regional/Divisional CEO)
CD/M&A Corporate Development/Mergers & Acquisitions
Grp Ctrl Group Financial controller
IR Investor relations
ONF Other Non-Finance (Banks, Non Finance Roles, etc.)
OGF Other Group Finance (Reporting, Accounting, Planning, Strategy, FP&A)
PS Professional Services/Accounting Firms
OFNG Reptg/Actg/Ctrl Other Finance Non-Group (Including Financial Reporting/Accounting/Control)
Treasury Treasury
Tax Tax

Industry Acronyms

CON Consumer goods and services
FS Financial services
IND Industrial
TMT Technology, media and telecommunications


Our in-depth research draws on information in the public domain and on our knowledge of the backgrounds of individual CFOs. This has enabled us to examine specific roles that CFOs have undertaken inside and outside the finance function, identify patterns and consider the range of experience that may be required of CFOs in the future. The data is based on an analysis of the JSE Top 40 companies incorporated in South Africa as at 1 March, 2018. In the case of CFOs who were promoted from interim or acting CFO roles, we consider their start date when they began their interim role.