The former chief financial officer of BMW Group UK and IoD fellow spent more than two decades working with global brands such as KPMG and Investec in Britain, Germany and South Africa, before quitting corporate life in 2016 to pursue her own venture. Here Talita Ferreira reveals the lessons she has learnt and how she aims to redefine authenticity in leadership
I started a career in business at a young age. I would knit clothes for my doll, and the local toy shop was so enthralled by what I was making they wanted me to knit and crochet for them. So I would put my little outfits on cardboard, wrap them in cellophane and sell them to the shop.
My mother was my biggest inspiration. She was a working woman with her own business at a time where there weren’t many working women, and that stuck in my head. When I became a CFO, aged 35, the next step for me was being the head of a company. I first thought of being managing director at BMW but that very quickly changed to wanting to be MD of my own company.
My brother and father dying was a defining moment. I was in high school at the time and my mother took me out and put me in a more academic private school – I think she wanted me kept busy so I didn’t dwell on it too much – and suddenly the dynamic changed. I had to work harder and it created a lot of new challenges for me.
When I started my career I was probably quite a nasty leader. I was not self-aware at all, I wanted everybody to be as driven and as hardworking as me, and if people had a different working style I would probably judge them. But I’ve really grown since then. I went on a journey of self-discovery and realised that there’s so much more to people.
I have always loved Deepak Chopra. I went to one of his courses and read his books. I think that’s where my leadership journey really started. He’s a bit more into the spiritual dimension [of leadership], which can be a little uncomfortable for some. A lot of people have to start in the normal leadership arena to become more self-aware before they can migrate to all this mindfulness and connectedness.
I am a very people-oriented leader. I like to set out a vision for my employees and then empower them to get there. I see it like a journey where we’re walking together and I have my hand held out. You can take it when you need it, but it’s your journey and you can stand on your own if you want to.
I lose myself when I have to lead in a way that’s incongruent with my values. When I was CFO and leading strategy at BMW, I layered this big cultural change on top of it. Convincing a whole organisation that we’re going to lift them up and put them in a different place and change the way they work is no easy job. In this programme I had to tell a lot of people what to do, I had to be quite autocratic and it totally exhausted me because it was so incongruent with the type of leader I had become.
I want people with 150 per cent attitude. It was kind of my thing, growing and developing unlikely internal talent. I’ve gone for people who had 40 per cent of the skills that I needed but an abundance of attitude. You can always train the skills, but a can-do attitude and pragmatism – you can’t teach someone that.
‘Get your head down and do the work.’ That was always the advice at BMW. Take on projects that other people won’t take on, work hard and connect with other people so that when you don’t know how to do something you can ask for advice, because that’s what gets you noticed.
My biggest challenge was leaving the safety of corporate life. I wanted to run my own business by the time I was 50 and when I turned 42 it was like a ticking clock.
It took me three-and-a-half years to find out what I wanted to do, including writing my book. I set my mind to getting that book published the month I left BMW. I’m 45 now and started my own business last year.
I wanted to bring a new definition to authenticity in my book. For me it’s about self-awareness and connectedness with others. If you don’t create a higher level of self-awareness and understand your own behaviour, what drives and motivates you, you can’t connect with people in a way that creates trust and emotional safety.
The Authenticity Dilemma Resolved is out now, published by Filament
Talita Ferreira CV
Born South Africa
1992 Graduated University of Pretoria in commerce law and, in 1993, accounting
1997 Completion of accounting articles at KPMG
2005 Became CFO of BMW Group financial services
2013 Became CFO BMW Group UK
2013 Achieved chartered director qualification at the IoD (to find out more about Chartered Director Qualification click here)
2016 Became a fellow of the IoD; founded Authentic Change Solutions and published The Authenticity Dilemma Resolved