Presence does not equal performance, says SNG Grant Thornton’s Sylvia Sathekge

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You can achieve a great deal while working remotely, if you harness technology correctly.

SNG’s chief information officer, Sylvia Sathekge, was one of a few South African students who wrote technology as a school subject in matric: she took part in Eskom’s and Ort Foundation’s school programme to introduce technology as a school subject in South Africa.

Sylvia had three options after graduating from high school: electrical engineering, computer science, or information technology. She chose the latter and earned her undergraduate degree in information technology.

She furthered her studies while employed full-time to obtain multiple degrees, including an MBL and industry-related certificates. “I’m proud to say that I’m a five-time university graduate,” she says.

She ended 2022 on a high note and recently completed her Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in digital transformation with a focus on cyber culture, through the Business School Netherlands International.

Sylvia ran a programme to optimise cost plus coal mines while working for Eskom. Cost plus coal mines are facilities where the capital cost is funded by Eskom in exchange for guaranteed coal offtake at prescribed qualities. As a result, five years of her 22-year working career were in the commercial and operations management space, where she managed coal operations supply for Eskom.

She later moved into the private sector, working for Babcock International, a publicly traded company in London, where she quickly demonstrated her desire to shake things up. “I was hired initially as the company’s group IT manager,” she explains. “However, with the world being digital, I put together a business case to present to exco emphasising the role of IT and why the role should be called a CIO and have a seat at the table as part of exco. I made a strong case and was appointed exco for Africa, changing my title to CIO, within two months of joining.”

Sylvia sees herself as more than just a CIO – as a business partner. She recently joined SNG-Grant Thornton as CIO and a partner in the firm.

She doesn’t think she’s special because she owns her career ambitions and puts time and effort towards that. “It is not your leader’s responsibility to craft your own career progression: it is entirely up to you to demonstrate why you deserve to advance,” she says.

“You do the job you want to be paid for, which means working hard enough to be recognised, promoted and properly compensated.”

She describes herself as a businesswoman with technological knowledge who is also passionate about guiding people on their digital journey. “I am a firm believer that digital transformation has a lot to do with bringing your people along,” she says.

Sylvia is so intentional about developing the people around her and who report to her that she makes it a part of their performance contract. As she puts it, she’ll never leave you the same way she found you.

According to Sylvia the Covid-19 pandemic was a good crisis for techies because it demonstrated that many things are possible with technology and revealed that “presence does not equal performance” from a business and human capital perspective. She also mentions that the pandemic posed a challenge for managers in terms of how they manage: people had grown accustomed to managing in person and seeing the person in front of them. “Managers had to quickly learn how to manage remotely, while things were changing rapidly.”

When considering what most IT leaders should prioritise this year, Sylvia notes that cybersecurity should be at the top of the list, because cyber crime is a major pain point for most CIOs. “Even my thesis was about cyberspace being everyone’s business. Furthermore, we should strive for resilience as well as cultural change, as no amount of technology can help us in this regard.”

Sylvia and her team at SNG aim to digitise the audit and advisory space by automating most of the manual processes that exist in the audit space and making the audit firm’s “anywhere” strategy a reality.

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