Kathy Magne, CFO Ivory Coast Inland Services, talks about bold moves and the importance of listening – both when singing solo and working in finance.
“When I was young I was very shy. I found it difficult to meet and talk to people. I was not a happy child. Music helped me find myself and come out of my shell,” says Kathy Magne, CFO Ivory Coast Inland Services. “Many would be surprised to find out that I sing classical music and know how to read musical notation.”
Growing up in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, as the youngest of a family of ten children – two sisters and seven brothers – one can understand why now 33-years old Kathy found it difficult to find her voice. Taking piano classes at school, taught by a friend of her father’s, was a first step towards remedying this.
At the Catholic University of Central Africa, Cameroon, most people practiced music in one form or another. She joined the campus choir, swapping the soft touch of piano keyboards for vocals, and was immediately hooked.
Singing with friends, or as a solo, in various church and independent choirs since then, she has developed a particular affection for Joseph Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli (also known as Paukenmesse).
“We spent months rehearsing this piece before performing it in front of audiences,” Kathy says.
“I like this piece because it consists of many vocal quartets supported by the choir. You sing your solo but at the same time, you have to listen to the three other solos, or there would be no harmony.”
“It’s similar to how a company works. As a department manager to need to achieve your objectives (singing your solo), but also listen to other managers and their needs (listening to fellow soloists) to make meet the overall company objective.”
For someone who lacked confidence growing up, Kathy has since made some bold choices that have come to define her life as it is today. She joined Maersk Line as an accountant in 2002 after graduating from her finance and accounting degree. One year later, she turned down a student visa that would have allowed her to study in the USA. “It’s not usual for people in Cameroon to obtain visas for the USA, so turning it down was a tough choice”. Bold move number one.
“I was just 22 years old and against my family’s opinion, I decided to stay and work for Maersk. I had to prove to my family that I made the right decision, that being a part of the Maersk Group would not prevent me from personally developing myself over time,” says Kathy, her voice imbued with determination.
Ensued various job posts at Maersk Line, Maersk Logistics, Damco and Douala International Container Terminal – a joint venture between APM Terminals and Bolloré Africa Logistics. In 2009, Kathy was offered a position as Deputy CFO at Société d’Exploitation Terminal de Vridi (SETV) in Abidjan. A single mother of one – to her son Samuel, now eight years old-, and three months pregnant with her daughter Lea, now four, Kathy contemplated a possible life in a country that was, at the time, politically unstable. It took her only a few weeks to make bold decision number two:
“I took the job. I had travelled abroad before, but this was the first time I would live in a country foreign to my own. I moved to Ivory Coast in March 2010, six-months pregnant. My family was not confident about my move. The idea of me living alone in a foreign country with two children was scary to them”.
She pauses, and then adds, laughing: “Thinking about it today, it looks like I was crazy. I am proud of myself for doing this, as it was not easy. Thankfully, I met wonderful people at SETV who assisted me in finding housing, schools and clinics.”
Kathy has since then perfectly settled into her new life, tackling head on the financial challenges that she faced upon her arrival as new CFO of Ivory Coast Inland Services in 2012.
“When I arrived, there was room for improvement in terms of financial reporting and control. I implemented an analytic accounting procedure that can trace each site and activity, holding managers accountable for their bottom line.”
As someone who is very interested in psychology and trying to hear what people are not saying, Kathy knew that she had to reach out, motivate and engage those beyond the management level for true collaboration to take place.
“Before, those running operations did not know how well or bad they did each month. It was not transparent how different factors affected costs, such as how a truck stuck in traffic meant higher fuel and labour costs,” Kathy explains.
“Working hand in hand with Managing Director Segolene Drodgy, we now formally communicate our financial reports, explaining what went wrong and what went right. We have also implemented finance workshops.”
“At the start of each year we share cost allocations and ask for feedback. I get approached by different teams throughout the year with new allocation suggestions that they believe will allow them to perform better – although we cannot change this during the year. I’m so happy because they are very passionate about their job and are now interested in the overall outcome!”
Demonstrating true leadership, soloist Kathy is allowing everyone to play their part in the financial orchestra.
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