Behind the scenes

The JSE’s new Chief of Staff, Fatima Laher, uses her analytical and research-intensive skills to build relationships with all stakeholders

Behind the scenes

Q: What is the role of the chief of staff in a bourse?
A: The really wonderful thing about a stock exchange is that it’s at the centre of all things related to the financial markets and the broader economy.
The range of stakeholders is also expansive, with a unique role to play in the macro-economic environment. It is therefore critical for the chief of staff to understand not only the complex operations of the exchange itself, but also the factors that influence its diverse stakeholders.

Most of the work of a chief of staff takes place behind the scenes and is primarily focused on being an aide to the CEO. It is a research-intensive role, the results of which can be used by Leila Fourie for internal strategy and external engagements. It also requires extensive engagement with analysts and economists across many institutions so that a well-rounded overview can be determined.
Internally the role is linked to the medium- to long-term strategic planning of the organisation. This means a chief of staff needs to spend a large percentage of time engaging with colleagues to better understand their execution plans and to reveal any potential challenges that may arise.

Q: What do you consider the best attributes of a chief of staff, and how do you tick those boxes?
A: Problem-solving is key, as is a sound understanding of financial markets. This is a particular strength of mine, given my background in actuarial science and statistics, and experience in equity-market analytics. Previously I worked for Mazi Macquarie, where I focused primarily on mining and consumer stocks as well as financial services. This experience enables me to assist with the execution of the JSE’s strategy and in building a 360-degree view of markets, taking into account the various needs of stakeholders.

Relationships are extremely important for this role. There is a huge amount of positive energy that I derive from engaging with various teams on the projects they are undertaking. The fact that I enjoy learning from colleagues helps me to acquire a better understanding of the exchange.

Q: How will you be infusing new thinking into the JSE?
A: In my previous role, I spent a large portion of my time researching what drives investment decisions and how corporates achieve their growth objectives. This, I feel, has assisted in building my understanding of the drivers of financial markets.

I think that it is important for all market participants to constantly evaluate how the world of investing and trading is evolving. For me, that means considering the evolving needs of various market participants, particularly in the context of sustainability and changing technology. At the JSE, proof of our innovative culture and thinking is evident in the diverse range of products and services offered to clients.
In my studies, I was trained in logical and methodical problem-solving. I see it all as a puzzle; one needs to step back and look at the big picture to gain a new and different perspective.

Q: How will you be engaging with external stakeholders?
A: One of the JSE’s strategic priorities focuses on co-creation for growth. My specific skillset and network are well-suited to identify and partner with external stakeholders on mutually beneficial opportunities. The JSE, for example, hosts the annual investor conference ‘SA Tomorrow’, highlighting its top companies to international investors. As we look to grow the conference across multiple destinations, I aim to tap into the relationships I have developed over the years, to partner in showcasing SA as an attractive investment destination.

Q: How much visibility will there be in the linkages with staff and executives?
A: The role is highly engaging and people-centric. I strongly value one-on-one interactions in my day-to-day activities. This gives me deeper insight into the daily functioning of the organisation. I also work very closely with the JSE executive team, and I learn a huge amount from them daily. For example, during the management of a crisis scenario such as the current coronavirus pandemic, the JSE has had to adapt to remote working on a large scale very quickly, while simultaneously handling market volumes at record highs.

Our CEO and her executive team have shown exceptional leadership in navigating the JSE through this uncharted territory during the lockdown. So while there isn’t any room currently for physical engagement, we continue to support one another across our digital platforms, ensuring the ongoing operations of the market, which is definitely something to be proud of.

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities in this position, especially given financial disruptions in the market?
A: I see more opportunities than challenges, and that becomes more evident daily. Financial markets are never dull – and they’re highly complex organisations. The complexity brings with it opportunities to learn and problem solve. I have no doubt that as I continue to learn and build in my role, I will have the opportunity to build strong, meaningful connections with my colleagues and add value through my technical skillset.

By Kerry Dimmer