Chief Financial Officer
Priya Govind is a chartered accountant and currently the chief financial officer (CFO) of Sumitomo Rubber South Africa (“Sumitomo”), which manufactures Dunlop tyres and employs approximately 1 500 people. The manufacturing facility is located in Ladysmith which provides a significant source of income and stability to the town.
The taste for business combined with an entrepreneurial spirit was instilled by Priya’s parents. She says that her career started informally, as a young girl, in her Dad’s pharmacy. After school and on Saturdays, Priya and her brothers, would often work in the pharmacy packing shelves, helping customers, calculating change and cashing up. Priya added, “I got to see first-hand both the joys and challenges of being a small business owner.” She was further motivated by her mother who ran her own successful import business.
With this taste for business, Priya pursued a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Natal, which laid the groundwork for her career in finance. However, it was her subsequent entry into the auditing profession that catapulted her into a world of possibilities.
In 2001, Priya began her professional journey at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a trainee accountant. Over the years, she worked her way up through the ranks, eventually achieving the position of associate director. After spending five years in the position of associate director, she began reevaluating her career goals and started looking at alternate career options.
Embracing the challenge
In 2016, Priya took a bold step by transitioning into the automotive sector. She joined Smiths Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Metair Investments Limited, as their financial/IT director. It was a significant career shift and not without its challenges. The manufacturing industry at the time, like many others, was predominantly male dominated, and Priya found herself as the only female member on the board. This did not deter her as she discovered that she brought a unique perspective to the environment and saw the opportunity to make a difference.
It was during this time that she decided to pursue an MBA with a focus on manufacturing, thus further enhancing her credentials in the sector. This decision opened more opportunities for her and, in 2021, she was appointed to the national executive committee of NAACAM, the industry body for the automotive component sector. In 2022, she was sought out for the role of CFO at Sumitomo.
In her role as CFO at Sumitomo, Priya has made significant contributions. One of her key achievements has been redirecting the focus of management toward financial independence and sustainability. By simplifying complex financial concepts, rallying teams of people to work towards common goals and creating a clear path toward financial independence, she has been instrumental in transforming the company’s financial standing.
Creating a better future
Priya looks to her children for inspiration and recognises that “our generation needs to do something for the next generation.” One way in which Priya intends to improve the world for the next generation is by promoting diversity and inclusion. “We’ve got to make sure that the world is big enough for all genders and that inspires me, not just to create pathways for women but to find ways of growing the ‘pie’ so that everyone can participate in it,” she says.
One of the challenges Priya encountered in her career was the need to let go of her long-held dream and aspiration to become an audit partner. Priya had encountered the invisible glass ceiling. Whilst not explicitly stated, she sensed its presence and recognised the need to reframe her own view of the world and her purpose within it. Priya remained optimistic as she knew that these challenges could be converted into opportunities to look for new ways to advance one’s career, rather than
Priya explained, “Letting go of that dream was quite big, but when I did that, what it did was to open other opportunities for me and the Smiths’ advertisement was emailed to me. I think the universe was responding to that ‘letting go’ which allowed me to create space for a new dream.”
Future goals and aspirations
Looking ahead, Priya has a clear vision of her future. She aims to continue and develop within the automotive sector. Her long-term aspiration is to become a business owner in the sector, all whilst uplifting others and showing them what is possible.
Priya’s goals are not limited to her own success; she envisions a future where more women can access opportunities in various industries and where gender is no longer a limitation. Priya looks to a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt for inspiration, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Priya added, “As long as you are dreaming, there is hope. So, don’t ever let go of your dreams. And if you do have to let go of your dreams, as I have along the way, re-dream and reimagine your future and then pursue it.”
Maintaining a work-life balance is crucial for Priya’s well-being. She has a supportive spouse who takes on his fair share of domestic responsibilities. She values relaxation to manage the challenges of her professional life. This includes spending time with family and friends, enjoying spa treatments, and trying to do at least 10 minutes of guided meditation in the mornings. Priya explained, “I think when your day starts off on the right note, you know it limits the levels of stress that you will experience.”
Priya said that she is looking forward to getting to know other KZN Top Business Women, and finding ways to support each other and learn. In the process she hopes to, “Spark new opportunities and pathways, collectively and individually, the common purpose of building a better future for all.”