Johannesburg – Nicknamed “Thatcher” by her colleagues, Funeka Montjane, chief executive officer of personal and business banking (PBB) at Standard Bank, may be a tough leader but she took the home loans business unit from a loss of R1bn to a profit of R100m within a year.
In an interview with Fin24 at the African Women Chartered Accountants conference this week, Montjane shared on her career and lessons learnt in leadership.
Known for her expertise in turning around loss-making businesses, Montjane initially qualified as a chartered accountant and started her career at PwC. Later she joined Standard Bank as chief financial officer of PBB in 2008 and took the role of CEO in 2012. She also holds a Master of Commerce degree from the University of Johannesburg.
Montjane’s interest in financial services developed when she started off as an auditor for a banking group. However, she told Fin24 that she didn’t like auditing at all and then joined the technical department at PwC, where she earned partnership by the age of 27. “The greatest lesson I've learnt was don’t do things you are good at, do things you like,” she said.
“When I was in auditing, I was well rated, but I hated it… When I got involved in technical, I worked insane hours but I didn’t feel it, because it was fuelling me.”
Two years later, Montjane joined Standard Bank. “I was thinking about what way I could make a difference in broader society. That brought me to banking.” She believes that banking is the “fuel” for an economy.
Work for purpose
Montjane believes it is better to strive towards making a difference, rather than achievement. “When you start off in your career, you want to achieve. But there is a point at which it gives you diminishing returns. The most important thing is to work for purpose.”
Doing what you enjoy, and that which makes a difference in others’ lives, fuels you through hard times, she explained.
Turning around Standard Bank’s home loans division is one of Montjane’s biggest achievements. “We did that simply because we started to realise that for us to be okay, our customers need to be okay.” Montjane said the bank became more client-focused as a result. “One thing I've learnt over the years is how to run businesses and turn them around.”
Montjane’s division hires around 20 000 people. About her leadership style, Montjane said she strives for excellence. “I like excellence and I think that excellence cannot be bullied. It gets nurtured and cultivated,” she said.
Her leadership style is to systemically cultivate excellence, not by bullying, but by teasing it out. “But I am tough. My colleagues call me Thatcher,” she added.
There’s a tightrope of “likeability” women must walk. If they are too nice, they are not taken seriously, but if they are assertive then they are not liked, explained Montjane. “We must stop wanting to be liked. We are living in a different world where we can (create) own our space,” she said.
Montjane says her colleagues call her 'Thatcher' because of her drive for excellence. (Picture supplied).
Being able to run a business allows her to make key decisions, especially around diversity, she said. “I am able to ask people questions like: why aren’t we hiring a woman? Why aren’t we hiring a black person?” She said being in an authoritative position allows her to open opportunities for others.
“I started off really obsessed about promotions, very ambitious… But now my ambitions extend to what can we do as women, and what can we do as a country?” Montjane said she wants to live in a country with a bigger middle class, and more than 6.4 million taxpayers.
“I dream of living in a continent with far more dignity and prosperity and where women are not seen as other.” A collective effort by all stakeholders can achieve this, if only for the next generation. “But I just want to do my part to slightly move it forward, and by holding other women’s hands as well.”
AUDIO: Funeka Montjane shares on the barriers for young black women in business
For Women's Month, Fin24 aims to feature as many women as possible by giving them a platform to share their stories, celebrate their successes and in turn encourage other South African women to follow their dreams – no matter how impossible or challenging they may seem.