A BCom in Accounting and Auditing from UP opened the door for esteemed alumna Yota Baron to claim her stake in the motor industry. Seizing every possible opportunity over the past 31 years, she did precisely this. Not only did she hold a range of leadership positions at the Ford Motor Company, she also made her mark on several international service assignments. Currently, she is settling into her role as CFO of Ford South Africa, where she hopes “to work with the team to further Ford’s success in the market”. Read more about her sterling career, her advice to current students and her source of inspiration.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I completed a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Pretoria in 1986, majoring in Accounting and Auditing. During 31 years of global experience within the motor industry, I have held a wide array of leadership positions in areas such as internal control, treasury, customs and tax, marketing and manufacturing finance. I have also been on many international service assignments with Ford, including Thailand, China and the UAE.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: Being the first female in my family to graduate from university, it was a great privilege to go to UP, something I have never taken for granted. Having majored in Accounting and Auditing has provided me with a very good foundation that has stood me in good stead throughout my career in finance.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Know that being able to study further and receive a tertiary education is a privilege and that what you put into it is what you will get out of it. Work hard and have fun while doing it!
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: A company must have a clear vision of what it wants to be and what it wants to achieve. That vision then needs to be backed up with a strategy that will achieve this vision. It is essential that the company cares for its people and their communities. It is also important in today’s fast-changing environment for companies to be agile, able to adjust strategy and approach quickly, or they may get left behind.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: With the limited time I have, I read the Harvard Business Review, LinkedIn articles and training. I listen to TED Talks and to books on Audible. My focus is on leadership, the motor industry and I try to stay abreast of mainstream news and opinion pieces.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Learning something new every day is what excites and motivates me. One can learn so much from the people you interact with, irrespective of how experienced or how different their thinking and approach may be. I try to listen with curiosity as I find that one gains far more insight if you do.
Q: What is your ‘golden guideline’ in life, in other words, what keeps you on track?
A: Remain true to yourself and be authentic. I have a true north and that is my moral compass. If my gut tells me something feels wrong, I listen to it. I also have trusted mentors and coaches whom I expect to hold up the mirror to me when I need it and I seek out feedback and counsel.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person - in any domain - who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: I would like to be able to talk to the founder of the company I have worked for over the past 31 years, Henry Ford. I would ask him what he thinks of all the developments in the industry over the past decades; what insights he could share on how he would approach the new challenges the industry faces with electrification and autonomous vehicles.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: In the near term, I am settling into my role as CFO of Ford South Africa, where I hope to be able to work with the team to further Ford’s success in the market. I would like to focus on paying forward that which I have been so privileged to learn over the years, both locally and abroad, by working with young people and inspiring them to believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to.
Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned and continues to turn the world upside down. In your opinion, how can South Africa best overcome its current economic woes and increasing joblessness?
A: Policy stability is essential. South Africa must also play to its strengths and embrace opportunities: one example is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which opens the continent to our goods and services as never before. In addition, our weak currency counts in our favour as an export powerhouse and a tourism destination. We can revive the latter once we have overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, which we must do as an absolute priority. And as stated, we must invest in education and coaching to ensure young people have skills and opportunities for the world of work.