CEO Anne Muraya: Backing CFOs in East Africa

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Deloitte East Africa is the principal sponsor of the launch of CFO East Africa whose activities Anne says are aligned to the professional services firm’s wider CFO programme.

"People often assume that Anne Muraya is quiet and unapproachable but once you get speaking to her, you get surprised that she is quite easy to talk to," says Ian Mutuku, who is the chief of staff at Deloitte East Africa, where Anne is the CEO.

"It is something I have become increasingly conscious of," Anne says. "As CEO, everything you say or do sends a message including the clothes you wear, your facial expression and how you spend your time. A simple action as repeatedly scratching your nose during a staff meeting could send the signal that you are not interested in a presentation."

These are some of the insights that Anne gained when she went through the Deloitte Executive Transition Lab when she was appointed the first female CEO of Deloitte East Africa, effective June 2022. The lab is designed to assist recently appointed executives make a successful and efficient transition into a new executive role. Deloitte has taken many CFOs through the transition lab and this includes a personalised assessment for newly appointed CFOs.

"CFOs are very important players in a company leadership," Anne says. "At Deloitte, we believe that enabling CFOs is in essence enabling the company. Besides the transition labs, we do extensive research and publish CFO Insights, a bi-weekly thought leadership series that tackles a portfolio of issues faced by finance executives today."

Deloitte East Africa is the principal sponsor of the launch of CFO East Africa whose activities Anne says are aligned to the professional services firm’s wider CFO programme. This includes organising regular meetings for CFOs to have peer-to-peer engagement on emerging issues for finance leaders.

Prevalent issues
Some of the issues CFOs are grappling with include retention of talent, changing to hybrid environment and keeping pace with technology.

"These are issues that we are also facing as a professional services firm. Our professional staff with three to five years’ work experience are being head-hunted by organisations in developed markets such as the United States, Canada and the UK. They find the offers hard to resist because of perceived higher remuneration and the sense of adventure."

"The speed with which technology is advancing is another matter that is at the top of our priority list," Anne continues. "We need to have a firm handle on analytics, artificial intelligence and data to use these tools to provide better results for our clients. We have a drive to align with technology to demonstrate value for our clients as our fees become increasingly based on outcomes achieved rather than time taken."

Firms are also learning to cope with the new hybrid work environment that is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anne opines that the downside of remote working is that employees, particularly in a professional services environment, end up missing certain nuances and learnings that can only be gleaned when teams are sharing the same space.

The pandemic was one of the challenges she has faced in leadership. When COVID-19 struck, she was head of audit, and the firm had several banks and listed clients whose audits needed to be signed off. With restrictions on movement, the firm could not get into certain offices to perform necessary verifications and so they had to find creative ways of obtaining the required audit evidence. In some cases, they had to repeat audit procedures by staff who had fallen sick prior to reporting their findings.

Turning crisis to success
"One of the lessons I learned from the pandemic and other challenges I have faced in my leadership journey was that you will eventually get through any crisis even if it doesn’t feel like it when you are in it. It is also important to take care of yourself because if you are not in good shape, you will not be able to work through challenging times. This includes making sure you eat well, exercise and get enough sleep."

Anne takes care of herself by ensuring she does a daily five kilometre walk when she rolls out of bed at 6 a.m. She is also a member of a hiking group that embarks on scenic terrains in and around Nairobi every month. She has loved to dance ever since she was a mathematics and chemistry student at Kenyatta University.

"I was one of the few recruits who hadn’t studied accounting when I joined Deloitte in 1994. To bring myself quickly up to speed, I took up roles as a trainer in accounting and audit studies because to teach something requires you to have a great level of mastery. I really enjoyed it and ended up doing training across Africa and Europe prior to my appointment as audit leader."

Being the first female CEO of Deloitte comes with pressure for Anne to prove herself and to inspire girls and female professionals to aspire to leadership roles. Anne commends her predecessors in Deloitte for being intentional about ensuring gender diversity at the top echelons.

In East Africa, the firm is ahead of its competitors in this metric given that it has 38 percent female partners and 55 percent female executive leadership.

For Anne, success means that you’re being there mattered. "If you coach someone and their career improves or if you serve a client and they remember your name for the value you added, then you can count yourself successful," she concludes.

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