People

South African CFO Finds Growth and Purpose in American Startup

When the CFO of a large public company joined a startup, he learned to experience and appreciate the differences.
Sandra BeckwithDecember 15, 2022
South African CFO Finds Growth and Purpose in American Startup
Photo: Getty Images

“If you want to grow, you have to stretch yourself to do something different and learn new skills.”

When Brett Tromp left his position as CFO of South Africa’s largest health insurance carrier to join his lifelong friend’s healthcare technology startup in the United States, he transitioned from one culture to another in more ways than one. 

While the Tromp family of five adjusted to lifestyle and cultural differences between Johannesburg, South Africa, and Austin, Texas (read part one of the story here), the former CFO of public company Discovery Health faced a radically different workplace at Medici, as well. 

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“We had 8,000 people in our head office in South Africa. There was this constant flow of people. Now, when I walk into our small office with 200 people spread across a few locations, it’s different,” said Tromp, who joined Medici in April as head of partnerships, before being named CFO in June. 

Significantly fewer employees mean less internal support, too. “In a large company like Discovery, you have plenty of resources and more people in general to do the work. There’s comfort around that,” Tromp said.

Any shred of reluctance to give that up, though, was outweighed by the attractiveness of the opportunity to grow professionally and personally at Medici. Joining a dynamic, more agile organization would expose Tromp to far more aspects of a business than he’d experience if he remained CFO of such a large company.   

“There’s some pain in having to do more of the hands-on work yourself, but there’s also the excitement of being involved in every major decision,” he said. Tromp now leads a finance team of six; he previously managed a staff of nearly 40.

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Brett Tromp, left, and Clinton Phillips, Medici founder and school friend.

His new employer’s mission also presents the South African with an opportunity to expand his health care industry experience beyond insurance. Founded six years ago by Tromp’s high school classmate, Clinton Phillips, Medici is an innovative virtual health care system working to transform health care delivery by using mobile technology to connect doctors and patients more quickly and frequently. Initially focused on Texas to test the model, the company now offers services in five other states. 

Jack of All Trades

Working with a much smaller executive team than before, Tromp feels like “a jack of all trades” as he participates in meetings about topics that were outside his previous purview. He’s involved in discussions about topics ranging from marketing strategies to how Medici can increase patient engagement. 

There’s some pain in having to do more of the hands-on work yourself, but there’s also the excitement of being involved in every major decision.

“It’s very exciting to really get into the guts of the business and be part of the operations and strategy, and to be formulating the direction for our products and business instead of working as a support function, which finance typically is in most organizations,” he said.

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  Brett Tromp

Tromp is particularly enjoying his role with the product design team — and not just because it allows him to bring new concepts from Johannesburg to Austin. It’s the opportunity to contribute more broadly than he’s accustomed to that energizes him.

“A CFO at a large company isn’t involved in product design. That’s with sales, marketing, and product teams, and there’s an army of people doing that. Here, I get to be part of the innovation, strategy, and decision-making while sharing what I’ve learned overseas, and I’m loving that,” Tromp said. 

Growth Leads to Changes

The shift to a more entrepreneurial organization will also allow the finance leader to gain experience implementing significant process changes in human resources (HR) and finance to accommodate rapid growth. With a significant increase in the business forecast for 2023, Tromp knows he needs to initiate and lead a full HR and finance system implementation to support it. 

It’s yet another opportunity for him to flex and grow. While Tromp participated in a similar initiative at Discovery Health, he didn’t lead the project that involved nearly 200 people. “This time, I’ll be responsible for the whole process. Not many CFOs can say they’ve done a full HR and finance system implementation from start to finish, so having that experience will be exciting,” he said.

It’s why I’ve always been involved in healthcare. I’ve always believed it plays such a vital role in people’s lives. 

Perhaps one of the less tangible changes for Tromp as he’s adjusted to the startup environment is one that played a significant role in his family’s decision to move to a new country: an opportunity to join his friend in changing health care in a way that makes a positive difference in people’s lives. Noting that “it’s a spiritual thing that we feel,” Tromp says the opportunity to contribute is important to him. “It’s why I’ve always been involved in health care. I’ve always believed it plays such a vital role in people’s lives,” he said, adding, “It’s a noble cause to build a business to improve lives.”

Now that he’s been immersed in a startup environment for eight months, is it a good fit? 

“It’s different, and it’s challenging, but it’s also exciting. There are pros and cons with both career options, but I’m enjoying this and especially how I’m being stretched like never before,” he said.

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