Brett Tromp CA(SA) CFO of Discovery Health: Advocates a deeper incorporation of Entrepreneurial Leadership Development in the CA(SA) training programme

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By CharterQuest, 04 November 2019

The Future CFO Magazine Managing Editor –D. Valentine Nti, also had the privilege of hosting Brett Tromp who has also recently been appointed to the international panel of judges for The CFO Case Study Competition 2017. Brett Tromp is a Chartered Accountant South Africa (CA SA), and is a graduate of the University of Oxford - Said Business School - Executive Leadership Programme. He doubles as the CEO of Discovery Health Care Services, another subsidiary of the Discovery Group, a JSElisted multinational financial services company -with operations in South Africa, UK, China and US. He was named South Africa’s Young (under 40) CFO of the Year 2015 and also scooped the award for the best High-performing Finance team in South Africa. 

Thank you for speaking to us Brett! 

Thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for the great work you are doing, and your passion to drive finance professionals to become great business leaders!

At only 31, you became CFO of Discovery Health and by 39, CEO of another subsidiary –a feat many of our readers aspire to. Clearly, you have prepared yourself for Leadership beyond just finance –what has your journey been like?

I joined Discovery Holdings in 2003, serving in various roles, including providing support to the co-founder and Group Executive Director on strategic projects as well as also working in group Finance. In 2007, I was appointed to the CFO role, a role I still currently occupy; and more recently in 2015, I was appointed CEO of the Discovery Health Care Services subsidiary –so effectively today, I double as CFO of the largest Health Insurer in Africa and CEO of one of its subsidiaries! A dream come true for me.

Over these years, I have built up experience in treasury, due diligences and financial modelling; and acquired significant international business exposure during my travels into and work in Africa, US, UK and Europe. I have prior to this, lived and worked in the US, and have audited major fortune 500 companies like GE. I have done keynote speaking around the world on subjects I am passionate about such as People and Leadership. I write regularly for the Accountancy SA Magazine and deal regularly with Governments in Africa, spearheading change in corporate reporting to include Health metrics. In essence, I have spent time deliberately building the Discovery business and my entrepreneurial acumen beyond what my formal education equipped me with. 

Are you suggesting if you had a chance to return to varsity or redo your CA (SA) training programme, you will like to learn more about business and leadership than you did? 

Certainly! I think the skill sets we learned on the programme from university right through, even till today, equips us to some degree but it does not provide all the critical skills necessary to become entrepreneurs or great business leaders: Such skills I would like to have been taught would have been debating, public speaking, persuasive communication, negotiations, stakeholder relations, dealing with pressure, conflict management and cross-cultural sensitivities –what I would call Emotional Intelligence or EQ. In fact, some of these are skills I was fortunate to learn from the University of Oxford Leadership Development Programme. 

You cannot lead a business just by knowing the numbers, so if I had to go back to University, I would love to be taught what entrepreneurship is –how to identify and actualize business opportunities, strategy, how to overcome risk and adversity, how to make a sale, how to build a brand, get on with people, how to work in and motivate a team, how to submit to leadership, and how to lead; i.e. balance the formal training between the numbers and the EQ component of business and leadership development. I believe we need a far more encompassing skills approach in training young CAs as they move into business!

Except for the financial services sector where CA SAs find it easier to get past CFO to become CEO, it is difficult for CAs to become CEOs. I commend your achievement in this regard; but again, Discovery is in financial services. Are CA SA’s too risk averse? What is it in the Accounting training that makes it difficult to produce many really great entrepreneurs or CEO’s outside of financial services?

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