Rayson Foya: how a tour guide became a big bank CFO


In 2022, Rayson Foya and his colleagues took up the challenge to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. During the process, it evoked memories of his time growing up in the area and how he worked as a porter for tourists who would pay him $40 to carry their luggage up the mountain.

“You will agree with me that hiking up a mountain and climbing up the corporate ladder have many similarities. Timing is very important, and you need to have a proper plan that is well executed. Alignment of team members on shared objectives is a critical ingredient for the successful implementation of a strategy. Bringing a strategy to life despite the expected and unforeseen challenges is like navigating a ship through a storm – nothing should stop execution of a strategy,” he explains.

Rayson chose accounting after talking to his uncle, who was a businessman. While still in high school, Rayson would assist in the business with basic calculations, which further peaked his interest in accounting. His plan was to pursue accounting studies and help his uncle grow the business.

However, while at the University of Dar es Salaam, Rayson and three friends came up with an idea that would change this goal of returning to his uncle’s business. As they pursued their final B.Com (Accounting) examinations in 2005, they knew their next step was to find jobs to avoid going back to the rural areas they came from.

“We each printed multiple copies of our CVs and identified target employer companies. We split the companies among ourselves, and each one of us dropped four CVs at each entity. Standard Chartered was most impressed with my CV and I was invited for an interview and later employed on a temporary contract filling in for a staff member on maternity leave. After the contract, I was invited to stay on and the rest is history,” Rayson recalls.

He was the first one to be employed and continued with the spirit of collaboration with his friends by housing them and supporting them financially until they all got jobs.

Not a gatekeeper

Initially Rayson was in operations and in 2007 an opportunity to join the finance department opened. He applied and successfully got the position and after making the shift, he decided that his goal was to become CFO of the bank, a feat he achieved 11 years later. He terms this as the highlight of his career given that many people applied for the role when his predecessor Ruth Zaipuna left the bank to become the then CFO of NMB Bank.

“I was the financial controller at the time and the company played an instrumental role in grooming me for the CFO position. I was enrolled in several internal leadership training courses and also went through the Standard Chartered CFO Academy where I learnt what it takes to be an effective CFO of the future,” Rayson explains.

Among lessons learnt at the academy was that a CFO should not be viewed as a gatekeeper. Rather a CFO should identify opportunities for a business to grow and whereas technical expertise is important, a newly appointed CFO should aspire to become a trusted partner of the business. This will require effective communication of the numbers to the rest of the business in a simplified manner.

“The CFO should also look to build networks that help create opportunities for the business. As illustrated in my friendship with my three university friends, networking and collaboration are an important part of my career. I have come to appreciate that CFOs need to be dynamic and commercially minded,” he says.

“I befriend other CFOs and through conversations with them, I also set up meetings between my business head and theirs – some of these meetings have resulted in deals for the bank. Most deals start with networking outside the office and boardrooms are only used for formalising them,” he advises.

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