CFO Orge Godana’s quest for authenticity and excellence

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Orge Godana, the group CFO at Java House Africa, is greatly inspired by Indra Nooyi. She considers Indra’s book My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future, a must-read for every professional, women in particular.

“I think Indra is a fascinating woman. She is excellent in everything that she does while building a community of support around her, which made her the first woman of colour and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company: Pepsico. After reading her book, I went ahead and listened to all her interviews where her central message is constantly seeking to become a better version of yourself,” Orge says.

This mantra has been useful for Orge’s career. She was first appointed CFO of the KFC franchise in East Africa, after serving as head of internal audit for four years. This thrust her into a leadership role responsible for teams in Finance, Supply Chain and IT. She considers this one of the highlights of her career as serving in the role resulted in substantial growth.

“When I was appointed CFO while I was barely into my 30s, my initial feeling was one of fear. But I quickly learnt that most people know what they are doing given that they had been in their roles for a long time. I learnt that the ability to listen to team members would be vital to success because even the most junior person can suggest things you have yet to consider,” Orge explains.

“In management, you need to listen; you also cannot consult indefinitely because leaders need to make decisions. It is better to make a wrong decision and to learn from it than to make no decision at all. Indecisiveness would only stall the business and that is a worse outcome than taking action and making corrections later. I also believe in being authentic with the team as that will earn their respect regardless of your age,” she adds.

Beyond traditional finance

Growing up in rural Marsabit County in northern Kenya, Orge is the eldest of four children in a family headed by two teachers. Her mother was the principal of the local school and whenever she went to transact at the local bank, she couldn’t help but admire the people who worked there. She urged Orge to consider a banking career and the latter did not need much convincing because she already had a love for numbers.

When Orge joined Alliance Girls High School in 2004, most of her classmates wanted to be either doctors or lawyers. However, as noble as these careers are, this was not where her passion lay. She stayed the course in pursuit of a finance qualification, successfully applying for a scholarship from East Africa Breweries Limited and joined Strathmore University in 2008 for a fully sponsored four-year B.Com.

“After graduating in 2012, I wanted to join a Big 4 audit firm to further my professional development. At Deloitte, I engaged with various businesses and was able to develop a holistic view of a commercial enterprise. This has been instrumental in my career and more specifically in my current role as the Java CFO where I go further than the traditional finance role into commercial leadership. After four years, I decided to leave because I felt I would make a greater impact in the community if I was working within a business rather than consulting,” she explains.

When Orge joined Java House Group in 2021, the position represented a new and exciting opportunity to manage a business with various brands and a footprint across the region.

“I absolutely love my work here and I experience different highs every day. This could be from handling a multijurisdictional tax issue, to pricing a new menu or having a successful negotiation with a supplier that results in an agreement that is mutually beneficial. One of the greatest assets in our business is our people and it gives me great joy not only to interact with different disciplines but to mentor and teach young and up and coming professionals,” she says.

“What I love about the hospitality sector is that it is a window to how fascinating consumer behaviour can be as well as the general macro-economic environment and how this influences consumption patterns. Our role is to support our restaurants, which requires us to track the spending habits of consumers. Consequently, we consistently seek consumer feedback and get such insights as their favourite food or drink, which we use to drive growth and innovation. As a lover of numbers, I thoroughly enjoy the mathematical insights that come with my job,” she adds.

Coming from one of Kenya’s smallest communities and having a unique name, Orge has to contend with two wrongful assumptions on almost a daily basis; that she is Muslim and that she is a man.

“I am a Christian female, who frequently receives emails addressed to a Mr Orge Godana. When I was younger, this mistaken identity used to bother me, but now I simply smile,” she notes.

In addition to being more easy-going, Orge would advise her younger self to be authentic in who she is and have more confidence in her abilities. Her love for travel and spending time with friends and family have been helpful in reminding Orge to unplug from what can be a very demanding role. She values these moments even as her introverted nature draws her to quieter solo moments.

“It is a concerted effort to be more open. Previously, I wouldn’t have even agreed to this interview!” she reveals.

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