From leading nations to standing up for human rights, to running the world’s most important organisations, women continue to shape the world through their leadership
Melinda Gates spoke about the importance of staying true to yourself: ‘The more you can be authentic, the happier you’re going to be, and life will work itself around that.’
Linky Olivier CA(SA), CEO of The Chartered Accountants Medical Aid Fund (CAMAF), is such a leader.
Linky laughingly admits she became a chartered accountant for all the wrong reasons but have never regretted her decision. ‘I knew from Standard 3 (Grade 5) that I wanted to be a CA(SA),’ she says. ‘There is a large age gap between me and my older siblings. My brother-in-law is a CA(SA), and everybody looked up to him. I was good at accounting in school which just affirmed my decision for me; not that I had any idea of what it all entailed!’
Linky studied at the University of Johannesburg and failed her honours the first time. ‘This knocked my confidence quite a bit,’ she admits. ‘However, I realised very quickly this failure built my character so much more than any success would have.’
After completing her training at KPMG, Linky stayed on for another two years and gained management experience. She then left the auditing profession for a career in the healthcare industry. ‘Again for the wrong reasons. I was experiencing significant tension in the job with a specific partner. In hindsight, it was also linked to my maturity at that stage and still being very worried about what others thought of me. We receive a lot of responsibility early on in our careers and my maturity didn’t necessarily match that.’
Today Linky believes she didn’t choose the healthcare industry, it chose her. ‘I went for my first interview with Eternity Health, the administrator of CAMAF at the time, and came home feeling that I didn’t want to join the company. When I went for my second interview with a fellow CA(SA), Cornel Viljoen, I felt inspired to work for the organisation. It shows you firstly how we make emotional decisions when we’re younger and secondly what an impact an individual can have on the reputation of an organisation.’
CAMAF looks after the healthcare needs of about 48 000 people and has a stellar reputation within the healthcare and accounting industries as a trustworthy and caring healthcare partner.
Even though she knows she didn’t make the choice to leave auditing and join CAMAF for straightforward reasons, Linky couldn’t be happier with her choices and career.
Knowing what she knows today, Linky would have still chosen the same path if she had to. ‘This time because I know the doors that it opens and the invaluable well-rounded knowledge that you gain through studying and on-the-job training − even if it just exposes you to how little you know about the running of a business while learning,’ she smiles.
Having a work-life balance is very important to Linky. When not spending time strategising over the future of healthcare, she likes to spend time with her family and friends or practising her photography hobby. Striking the right balance is not always easy, though.
‘Honestly, I sometimes don’t know how I do it. I have a fantastic supportive husband who is an attorney. We don’t believe in the old traditional roles for male and female and we split the responsibility equally,’ she explains.
When she was appointed as the CEO of CAMAF, Linky also made a point to negotiate a four-day week. ‘As your kids get older, the responsibilities increase, and it is important to be there for them. I am also a firm believer in the more you do, the more you get done (within limits obviously). Your work is never done, no matter the role. You have to set aside time for each of the areas in your life. It takes discipline.’
The impact of dealing with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis was also quite severe on CAMAF employees. ‘Our managed care employees dealt with the families and individuals daily. They spoke to people the one day that passed away the next. The emotional impact was significant,’ she explains.
Linky, who is quite open about her struggles with depression, knows mental wellbeing is firstly your own responsibility. ‘You need to take ownership of your own mental wellbeing. Routine and discipline need to be in place. This includes exercising, taking time out for yourself and following a healthy diet. You need to take the time to shut down from work to stay sane (and vice versa from home!). Staying indoors the whole time gives you cabin fever which can play games with your mind. We need human interaction.’
She realised very quickly that CAMAF’s employees needed a lot of emotional support, as well as assurance that they were doing a fantastic job during such a difficult time. ‘Dr Philly Mashopha did a great job in keeping the team together. Our operations were ready to run fully from remote areas before lockdown.’
With many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of employees have become critical when it comes to businesses and how they operate. ‘Mental health issues can lead to other chronic diseases, as it can be debilitating and cause you not to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This in turn can lead to hyperlipidaemia, diabetes and hypertension. It all culminates in massive costs if uncontrolled,’ explains Linky.
Even before the pandemic hit, CAMAF launched a free Wellness Club to their members, which includes various online exercise classes, exercise plans, meal plans, mental wellness webinars and support groups with dieticians, biokineticists and psychologists. ‘Also, if somebody is diagnosed with a mental illness, we manage their treatment alongside them to ensure that it is optimal.’
Linky and CAMAF are encouraging leaders to have a senior champion to ensure that wellbeing is not purely just outsourced to external providers but to create a safe space within an organisation to ask for assistance. ‘In our own organisation, coaching has played a significant role in assisting people to see their reality, which confines them, differently.’
She says the majority of their member firms have demonstrated their willingness to work with CAMAF and their employee assistance programme (EAP) providers to drive participation in initiatives.
‘It’s all about the culture from the top – the culture of transparency and “you matter”. Managers have to say it’s okay not to be okay and explain that there are resources available to staff members,’ says Linky. ‘All too often (although they are in the minority) we still speak to senior individuals who have the perception that a mental illness isn’t real or that people with mental illnesses are a liability in the auditing environment. Many people suffer in silence, and it may manifest in other illnesses as well. I believe that some of the people who come across as “tough” in our industry carry the burden of stress or other mental illness but won’t acknowledge it.’
She strongly believes that when fellow top achiever colleagues admit that they are experiencing the same and that they have sought help for it, it encourages people to recognise their own areas where they need help and that they should not be embarrassed by it. ‘We are all so worried about showing weakness, and for what? Vulnerability breeds trust.’
Linky explains CAMAF had to upscale their communication frequency very quickly during the pandemic while reducing the turnaround time for the sharing of information for it to remain relevant. ‘It’s been a rough two years,’ she admits.
So much so that her worldview has changed a few times since the dawn of 2020. ‘My view of people changed many a time. I initially watched how people were experiencing the fear of contracting COVID-19 and then the resistance to the vaccination and then realising for myself that the resistance is also linked to fear. On an optimistic note, I totally underestimated the ability of different sectors and countries to work together to find global solutions. South Africa has some of the best scientists in the world!’
The resilience of individuals astounded her. ‘I think the pandemic brought the best and the worst out in people. We also saw a major digital shift happen. As the saying goes, innovation happens in a crisis,’ she continues.
However, Linky is worried that the divide between public and private healthcare is increasing further. ‘NHI (national health insurance) is a funding model that has not been defined or costed in detail. It is not a silver bullet to create universal access to health for the nation. I believe that the Department of Health is very aware of the challenges currently faced which do not all relate to funding.’
Private healthcare, on the other hand, is expensive, with many great initiatives being proposed by the Health Market Inquiry which will require legislative change.
‘One thing that COVID taught us is that public and private can work together to find healthcare solutions when in crises. The private companies who were, as an example, part of B4SA (Business for South Africa) were instrumental in providing solutions for the roll-out of vaccinations. Many pro bono hours were invested by private companies,’ she continues.
When it comes to leadership, Linky believes in transparency and continuous communication. ‘The brain is a wonderful thing that fills any voids with its own narrative and soon you have many unhappy people. I believe in questioning and not criticising, as it just pushes people’s defences up. I also believe that people should be allowed to make mistakes, as they learn from them. It may be old-fashioned, but we live out our corporate values, called “The CAMAF Way” as a team: humility, ownership, drive, excellence and integrity.’
For her, leadership is far more than just a title. It is influence. ‘Everybody can either add to the lives of others who surround you or you can detract from it. The choice is yours.’
She believes a leader needs to be sincere. ‘You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, understand the business well and stay humble. There is no such thing as “it’s not my job”. Furthermore, a leader is someone who listens. Learn to surround yourself with people who know more than you and trust them with their area and provide support. If you take care of your people, the rest falls in place. I may have a different view being in an organisation where we don’t chase profits but access to healthcare.’
As a judge for SAICA’s Top 35-under-35 competition, Linky has a lot of hope for the accounting profession. ‘The level of innovation, commitment and determination from these young individuals is unsurpassed. You can see that they love what they do. They have found a purpose. I love meeting these young CAs(SA) and understanding what makes them tick. I especially enjoy the entrepreneurs who took the plunge. It’s easy to generate ideas but not so easy to put in the hours.’
For her, the Top 35-under-35 competition is a showcase for the next generation of potential CAs(SA). It also gives people recognition for being unique. It inspires her to be better.
Linky’s advice for young CAs(SA)
- Define your purpose for your life, not just your career goals in isolation. This will be your own tailored definition of success.
- Nobody can determine whether you are successful but you, in all aspects of your life.
- If you are in it purely for money, you’ll never be happy.
- Embrace the opportunities given to you and know that you need to earn your spurs. Nothing falls in your lap.
- Like the cartoon, Calvin & Hobbs says: ‘It’s difficult to be at the right place at the right time, so find the right place and hang around.’