People

A South African CFO’s Role in Shaping Corporate Culture

A South African CFO now working at a Texas startup helps define workplace culture with budgeting, example, and attitude.
Sandra BeckwithDecember 22, 2022
A South African CFO’s Role in Shaping Corporate Culture
Photo: Getty Images

According to Gallup research for Glassdoor, 58% of American workers say company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. 

It’s why Brett Tromp, the new CFO of healthcare technology startup Medici, proudly funds culture building within the organization. “In any organization, it’s the DNA of the business, the genetic code that keeps the business together and brings purpose to everything. It’s why people want to work there,” said the South African CFO, who joined the Austin, Texas-based company this year after 15 years as finance chief of Africa’s largest health insurance carrier. 

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  Brett Tromp

Tromp came to appreciate the value and impact of corporate culture while part of the leadership team at public company Discovery Health in Johannesburg. Participating in executive discussions about shaping and reinforcing the organization’s culture allowed him to see “the bigger picture” behind an organization’s need to spend on training, marketing materials, and activities that help create and cement the culture. 

Culture building requires CFOs to abandon the expectation of a quick return on the expense and adopt a long-term view, he advises. “You’re never going to be able to create the culture you want unless you believe this is a real investment in your people and business. Don’t see it as an expense in your income statement, but rather as an investment in the future,” he said.

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Lead by Example

But the CFO’s role in nurturing organizational culture goes beyond supporting it financially. He says the CFO and others on the leadership team have the power to shape workplace culture through their example. That, in turn, requires embracing it. “You can’t be conflicting with the culture of the business you work for. It’s very important that as an executive, whether it’s as CFO or not, that you love that culture,” he said. 

Belief in the company’s culture is especially important with a startup, he says, because it’s typically defined by the founder. In addition, like the CEO, the CFO is often the face of the company externally with investors and funders. “Your ability to represent that to them is really important,” he said.

As one of a small leadership team at Medici, a virtual healthcare system that uses mobile technology to connect doctors and patients more quickly and frequently, Tromp is working to define culture by infusing it with more diversity. That’s a hallmark of South African workplaces that he believes makes organizations stronger.  

You can’t be conflicting with the culture of the business you work for. It’s very important that as an executive, whether it’s as CFO or not, that you love that culture. 

“I’ve always found that diversity in culture is very powerful because you get very different perspectives from different types of people. Then, as long as you can be cohesive with them so you don’t have people heading in different directions, you get a much more balanced approach,” he said. 

One strategy the financial leader is using to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce involves the decision-making process when hiring. Tromp is encouraging the organization of about 200 to leave the ultimate hiring decision to a panel rather than to an individual. “There is just too much bias in the sole decider approach,” he said. 

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

A diverse culture at Medici will bring more than the fresh perspective that traveled with Tromp from South Africa, though. He sees a culture that embraces diversity as a competitive advantage, adding, “This opens up different markets because you see things that the typical demographic wouldn’t. Without diverse viewpoints, you’re all seeing the situation the same way.”   

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Brett Tromp and a colleague.

While Tromp believes American workplaces in general lack diversity — Medici is far more transformative than most, he adds — he appreciates how U.S. managers can terminate employees more easily than they can in South Africa. On the flip side, he sees less loyalty in American workers who are more likely to leave for a salary increase or other reasons than they are in his home country. Workplace culture, he says, can turn that around. 

Research supports his view that creating a culture that employees value will build loyalty and longevity. According to Workhuman data, the higher an employee rates their company culture, the more loyal they are to the organization. 

“What really drives loyalty is what makes it a place you want to work at. That’s why it’s so important. It’s very difficult to do if you’re only looking at it through one lens and if everybody in the company is the same,” he said. 

Impact of Remote Work

Tromp is clear on how as the CFO, he can help shape a corporate culture that will attract and retain the best talent for Medici. What he’s less certain about is the impact of remote work on organizational culture. “When you’ve never been in the office that you’re employed by, how do you experience the culture?” he asked. 

“I don’t know what that’s going to do to business culture going forward. That’s a risk in my mind — what does it actually mean to culture? Is it going to be good or bad?” he wondered. 

For now, though, he’s focused on supporting the CEO’s vision because he knows how important it is to the startup’s success. “If you look at great businesses through time, when they start to lose that culture, that’s when the business really starts to be threatened,” he said.

Reinforcing that vision comes easily to him. “I really do love culture and that part of the business,” he said. He’s confident that being thoughtful about that today as CFO will contribute to a stronger workplace culture both now and later. 

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This is the final article in a three-part series about Brett Tromp’s CFO journey. You can find part one here and part two here