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Dr Leila Fourie recognised for her outstanding leadership of the JSE during the Covid-19 pandemic

JSE Group CEO, Dr Leila Fourie, has been recognised in the inaugural World Federation of Exchanges’ Women Leaders List for 2021 for her outstanding leadership as she steered the Johannesburg Stock Exchange during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opportunity magazine interviewed Dr Fourie and discovered a dynamic leader destined to become a national legend.

What were your professional highlights and challenges of the year 2020?

Leading through the pandemic. The pandemic created an important opportunity for leaders to step up and make a contribution to the marginalised and those who were affected by the pandemic. I was inspired by the many women leaders for the role they played in navigating and protecting people from the harmful effects of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods of those around us.

After prioritising the health and safety of my staff and smoothly transitioning to a work-from-home environment, I took a leading position in South Africa in managing the dynamics of the pandemic in an emerging market country with profound need. It was important to lead by example and to this end, I donated (alongside my Board Directors) 30% of my salary for three months towards the national Solidarity Fund, with proceeds used for those in need during the pandemic.

The JSE Board and I encouraged other listed CEOs to join us in our act of solidarity. I also pioneered an industry-wide #trade4solidarity initiative which resulted in more than half of our market donating trading fees for two days to the Solidarity Fund. As the JSE is the frontline listings regulator in South Africa, we ensured we were responsive and innovative in managing the effects of the pandemic.

We rapidly introduced a number of important changes to listings requirements to improve the position of listed entities in managing through the unexpected effects of the pandemic. Early in the crisis, we expanded our Green Bond product by launching a new sustainability and social bond structure to enable fund-raising for sustainable needs.

During the crisis, I led the JSE team in providing financial support and PPE equipment to vulnerable citizens in townships. We extended financial support to small-cap SME companies and traders in need. I contributed to numerous business leadership initiatives at industry level advising the national government and the President on how to kickstart the South African economy.

Contribution on the global stage in sustainable development. I was appointed by the UN Secretary General as Co-Chair to a small group of the top 30 global CEOs of the largest banks and asset managers around the world. It is an honour and privilege to lead this group, especially as a female leader from an emerging market. This group made significant progress in improving the global standard of sustainable development by delivering a
unified set of outcomes to globally improve investment into sustainable development.

The JSE Building in Sandton Central

The Sustainable Development Investing (SDI) definition agreed by the Alliance, serving to facilitate a common understanding, promotes investment aligned with sustainable development, and prevents “SDG-washing”. This has been circulated widely to relevant entities including ratings agencies and is being piloted by our own members.

The SDI Navigator maps existing initiatives, including sustainability standards and frameworks, which will make it easier for investors and corporates to build on these initiatives to operationalise the SDI definition.

The report entitled “Renewed, recharged and reinforced: Urgent actions to harmonize and scale sustainable finance” served as an input to the European Commission’s consultation process on its Renewed Sustainable Financing Strategy. It provides 64 recommendations and strategic considerations which, if followed, will enable leaders from the public and private sectors to harmonise objectives, coordinate global standards and align efforts to facilitate, promote and scale up investment towards
the SDGs.

A Call to Action for Covid-19 bond issuance was launched to encourage companies and governments to issue innovative social bonds to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Funds raised through these bonds will be used for the immediate response to Covid-19 or to support a sustainable recovery. The Call to Action defines the direct and indirect challenges presented by the pandemic and outlines the expectations for a Covid-19 bond issuance in alignment with the SDGs.

Pioneering an innovative response to the global contraction in financial markets. In my capacity as group CEO, I introduced a number of new business innovations to counteract the contraction in traditional capital markets. Under my leadership, our exchange acquired a stake in a UK fintech company and have begun launching a private placement market in the SME and infrastructure markets.

The SME and infrastructure markets are important growth nodes on the African continent and will provide a viable and innovative alternative to traditional public IPOs. The exchange also responded to the pandemic in a rapid and agile manner by launching one the first virtual AGM services. This solution used a small fintech company in South Africa and demonstrated a responsiveness to the needs of listed entities.

Who has inspired you to achieve your professional success?

Many of my life lessons come from my mother and grandmother. Both female figures taught me the importance of resilience, curiosity and forgiveness. On the public stage, I am inspired by Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice. I am inspired by Curie’s relentless resolve to continue her pursuits and a dedication to sharing knowledge. Marie opened the way for women in her field.

More recently, I have been inspired by the many women leaders who have played an active role in leading through the pandemic.

I believe that the role these women leaders played during the Covid-19 crisis will re-position women in leadership and open the door to a more equal representation of women in leadership roles. I was particularly struck by Jacinda Ardern for her empathetic and strong leadership in successfully managing the scourge of the pandemic.

What advice do you have for other women who aspire to be in leadership positions?

I am entirely aligned to the view of leadership expressed by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. He said: “Be passionate and bold. Always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don’t learn.” This quote really resonates with me because it encompasses some of the characteristics I believe are central to being a good leader. Passion, courage and thirst for knowledge.

In the past, different events have called for different types of leadership and as a result, different characteristics. In my view, a singular passion for the collective goal and a commitment to the people they are privileged to lead have time and time again proven to be the strongest and most successful leadership traits.

In my view, a singular passion for the collective goal and a commitment to the people they are privileged to lead have time and time again proven to be the strongest and most successful leadership traits

I have sponsored a concept of servant leadership at the JSE as one of our corporate values. I felt strongly about this value, because when we engage with humility and appreciation of those around us, we are able to make considered, informed decisions. This is an important skill for all employees, whether they are in a leadership role or not, because it fosters an inclusive culture.

We recently ran a project with staff, wherein colleagues partnered across divisions to establish solutions to various business challenges. The high point of this exercise was hearing the innovative ideas that the groups were able to put forward, which were a result of collaborating with people outside their usual teams and divisions. Knowledge shared truly is knowledge gained and we make better decisions when more voices are heard.

How does it feel being nominated as one of the world’s most outstanding women leaders at a time that was the most difficult to lead?

It’s a privilege to be associated with distinguished leaders and to be acknowledged alongside my global peers. We faced so many different challenges as we navigated through the impact of the pandemic on our businesses and economies while also dealing the devastating human impact. So, this acknowledgment is particularly special to receive.

Dr Leila Fourie
Group CEO of The Johannesburg Stock Exchange
Academic History

Dr Fourie has a PhD in Economic and Financial Sciences and won the Economic Society South Africa Founders’ award in 2012 for best Master’s Economics thesis in the country.

Career Highlights

With over 25 years of international experience, primarily in financial services, Dr Fourie has served on multiple boards and held senior roles in banking, capital markets and payments.

Dr Fourie was appointed as CEO of the JSE effective 1 October 2019. She also serves as Co-Chair for the Secretary General’s UN committee – Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) as well as Co-Chair alongside the LSEG CEO for the Sustainable Stock Exchange model guidance on climate disclosure and on the UN climate disclosure.

Dr Fourie is a director on numerous boards of companies in South Africa, including the CSD Strate and Business Leadership South Africa.

Prior to joining the JSE, Dr Fourie served as Executive responsible for Consumer Finance at Australia’s largest bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and served as the NSW Vice President of the Economic Society of Australia and on the Board Audit Committee of Lifeline Australia. Previously, she held the role of CEO of the Australian Payments Network. Before moving to Australia, Dr Fourie served on the Board of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as Executive Director.

Dr Fourie previously worked for one of South Africa’s largest banks, Standard Bank, as Card Division Managing Director. During this time, she served as Chairman on the board of Diners Club and board member at Discover Financial Services based in Chicago. Dr Fourie started at Standard Bank as global director of credit analytics and capital and portfolio management for South Africa, the UK, Hong Kong, Russia, Brazil and Argentina.

The World Federation of Exchanges is the global industry group for exchanges and Clearing Houses and its Women Leaders initiative aims to shine the spotlight on the talented and gifted women in the industry. A panel of nine judges selected 21 female leaders from a pool of 60 nominees.



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