I meet Talita Ferreira, CEO of Authentic Change Solutions, at the launch of her book, The Authenticity Dilemma Resolved, the day after having interviewed her by phone. She is busy signing, pausing to chat to each person before looking down to inscribe.
I assume she’s churning out identical good wishes to everyone, but after checking with others, I see we each have different messages. I’m surprised, but I shouldn’t be. Ferreira has devoted decades to self-development, to creating – perhaps that should be revealing – the person she was meant to be. And that is clearly not someone who writes a one-size-fits-all dedication.
Ferreira’s book is part psychology, part self-help, putting forward a case for abandoning the different personas most of us assume for work, for family, for friends, and integrating them into one cohesive whole – the authentic self.
Without this, she says, we have no chance as individuals of fulfilling our purpose, no chance as human beings of making a meaningful contribution to society, and no chance as business leaders of driving our organisations to success in the post-artificial intelligence (AI) world.
She says the workplace will be transformed by the arrival of AI. The World Economic Forum has predicted 50% of traditional jobs will be done by robots. Her feeling is that, after a period of readjustment, companies will realise there are some things robots can’t do better than people and will seek to employ, or re-employ, emotionally intelligent, creative and empathetic beings. “Robots may do many things faster and more accurately than we can, but they will not be able to build the relationships that win hearts and minds,” she says. “There will therefore be opportunities for humans to capitalise on being human.”
The companies that will prosper in this new environment, she says, will be those staffed by people who are self-aware, conscious and in tune with themselves and everyone they do business with.
“Everyone, from the CEO down, will need to connect with their colleagues and clients, but before they can do that, they will need to connect with themselves. They will need to reach deep to discover who they really are. It’s possible that, after so many years of living a fragmented, compartmentalised life, they have no access to that person.”
What she is hoping to do, first through her books (she has started her second) and then through her soon-to-be-established Academy of Authentic Change, is to give people the key that will unlock their true selves. She’s developed an authenticity “power” model that she says is applicable to every person, whatever stage they’re at: they could be leading a global organisation, entering the job market for the first time, spending time with loved ones, at school…
“Power stands for presence, overcoming fear, whole integrated being, effortless flow and resonance,” she says. “Those are really the five fundamental outcomes of being truly authentic, and they are what I am hoping to pass on through my training courses. Once people start practicing more awareness of the self and others they will bring congruence, balance and cohesion into all aspects of their lives, and should find they have more to give to their families, work and society.”
Her own arrival at authenticity came via years at the top of corporate life, including more than a decade at BMW, initially as general manager of accounting, controlling, tax, treasury and insurance in South Africa, then as general manager of financial services in Munich, and finally in 2005, as chief financial officer in the UK.
It was the kind of job she had dreamed of having when she qualified as an accountant at KMPG in Pretoria just 10 years before: “I was very driven, and had that goal in mind from the start,” she says. “I was determined to make FD by the time I was 30. In fact, that didn’t happen, but what I achieved instead was bigger than that because I was CFO by the time I was 35, managing a portfolio of £4bn.”
Despite having fulfilled her ambition, she became increasingly aware of discord in her life, and a growing awareness that her dream career was no longer making her happy. “The realisation that I wasn’t where or who I needed to be was gradual,” she says. “It started when I was still in banking, working for Investec. That’s when I saw that though I could deliver projects on time and on budget, I lacked the ability to connect with my staff. I got things done, but I felt apart from my team, rather than a part of it.”
So she signed up for some personal development courses and worked hard to become a better leader. It took time, and it wasn’t always easy to look at herself critically yet without harsh judgement, but she got there. And that opened the way for her to look at other areas of her life that she wanted to change.
The pivotal moment came when she went to a talk on how to be your own boss given by Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company. “She urged all of us in the room to look for that one thing that kept us up at night. That was the final push I needed to leave behind the career I thought I wanted, and had worked so hard to achieve, and to start my authenticity programme.
“This is my path back to the person I was born to be. I was always meant to be an entrepreneur. I’ve found my purpose, and I am sure I will be able to help others unlock their future too.”
Career in a nutshell
2016 Founder and CEO of Authentic Change Solutions
2013 CFO, BMW (UK)
2005 CFO, BMW Financial Services (UK)
2003 General manager, BMW Group Financial Services (Munich)
2000 General manager, BMW (South Africa), accounting, controlling, tax, treasury and insurance
1998 Accountant, Investec Bank
1995 Qualifies with KPMG
1989 Bachelor of Commerce (accounting, law), University of Pretoria