From boardrooms to bungee jumps

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The thrilling journey of Sasfin IT COO Estelle de Beer.

Sasfin Bank IT COO Estelle de Beer boasts an impressive 26-year tenure in the financial services industry. Early in her career she honed her expertise in product development and marketing while serving at a prominent bank, but says, “Driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit, I made the bold decision to depart from the corporate realm and embark on my own business venture. This endeavour proved to be a valuable learning experience, although I soon realised that my true calling did not lie in sales.”

Nevertheless, she firmly believes that “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur”.

When she returned to the corporate sector, Estelle found her professional haven at Sasfin, assuming the role of project manager. As a natural extrovert, she revelled in the opportunity to collaborate with fellow professionals and swiftly ascended to the position of head of the project management office (PMO) within a mere six months.

Estelle proudly identifies herself as a risk-taker, armed with an entrepreneurial mindset. The allure of Sasfin lies in its nimble size, affording her the freedom to take calculated risks and make a tangible impact on the world. She thrives on assuming full ownership of her work and has no intention of returning to the confines of a traditionally-minded large corporation.

Bridge between technology and business

Two years ago, Estelle ascended to the position of IT COO, a role that she wholeheartedly adores. She has a remarkable understanding of operations and business, making her an invaluable asset in her role. Despite not being particularly tech-savvy, she was specifically chosen for the IT department due to her exceptional grasp of business concepts.

“I serve as the vital link between the technical experts and the business side of operations,” she says. “While the technical geniuses may have brilliant ideas, I effectively convey their message to the business, using language and terms that resonate with them.”

She notes that in today’s rapidly evolving IT landscape, CIOs are expected to be strategic partners of the business, transcending the role of mere enablers. With the influx of millennials into the workforce, the ability to work with multigenerational teams has become crucial. This presents a new challenge that demands a combination of what she calls, “wise eyes and fresh eyes”.

She thrives in what others may perceive as chaotic situations because she possesses strong organisational capabilities and problem-solving skills. “As an executor and highly driven individual, others sometimes find it challenging to keep up with me. However, I recognise the importance of understanding the different paces and qualities of my team members.”

Learn as you fail

Estelle embraces a leadership philosophy centred around the concept of failing fast. She firmly believes that failure holds immense potential for growth and learning. In fact, she encourages celebrating failures and extracting valuable lessons from them.

“Unfortunately, at senior levels, there exists a pervasive fear of failure, and as a result individuals across the organisation dread the possibility of reprimand,” she says. “However, I firmly believe that ‘FAIL’ should be seen as an acronym for ‘First Attempt In Learning’, emphasising its importance. When people are unable to test, try, and play, innovation is stifled, and they become trapped within the confines of their comfort zones.”

She notes that this phenomenon has been particularly prevalent in many corporate environments in South Africa, where dictatorial practices have been the norm. “It is high time we reverse this trend,” she says. “While progress is being made, there is still an immense amount of work to be done.”

Always learning

Estelle embraces continuous learning as the foundation for personal and professional growth. She is determined to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the world and make a positive impact wherever she goes. Two years ago, she completed her postgraduate diploma in leadership development at the Executive Business School of Stellenbosch and she is now planning her next step towards a master’s in change leadership.

What she finds most fulfilling about her role is the human aspect. One of her notable achievements is the successful implementation of a leadership development programme and a virtual coaching programme, both of which have greatly benefitted numerous individuals.

“Recently, I received positive feedback from participants in the leadership development programme I spearheaded, affirming the significant impact it had on their professional growth. This feedback further solidified my determination to fight for their participation in such training opportunities.”

As a leader, her goal is to equip herself with the knowledge and skills necessary to become a catalyst for helping those around her effectively navigate the rapidly accelerating pace of change. Speaking on the hot button topic of AI, she says, “It presents us with countless unknowns, and it is crucial that we understand the potential pitfalls while capitalising on the gains it offers. The key to success lies in never ceasing to learn.”

Looking ahead at the next stage of her life, Estelle says, “It is hard to give a definitive answer because life is changing at such a rapid pace that we really don’t know what tomorrow holds.” She does however, make it clear that she has no desire to become a CIO or group COO. Her true passion lies in working directly with people, and she thrives in that aspect of her career.

Vibrant lifestyle

Away from work, Estelle is a single mother who thrives on her bustling lifestyle. She is an avid adventurer, constantly seeking new and exciting experiences. From flying and parachuting to diving and fishing, her interests know no bounds. She purposefully drives a bakkie so she can take her kids camping, fishing, and engaging in a plethora of activities. Estelle's ultimate goal is to expose her children to as many experiences as possible, allowing them to discover their own passions.

In addition to her adventurous side, Estelle is also a passionate gardener. She finds joy in socialising, cooking, and being out and about. Furthermore, Estelle has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and loves travelling and learning new languages. Currently, she is immersing herself in learning basic Portuguese in preparation for an exciting end-of-year trip to Mozambique.

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