In the News: Travel and IT innovation for Spur’s longtime CFO Ronel van Dijk

Last month Spur Group announced that sales across its restaurants have increased by 13.5 percent and that restaurant turnover per annum now exceeds R5.5 billion. In the next year the group wants to open 10 new Spur outlets, 10 Panarottis‚ 7 John Dory’s‚ 8 Captain DoRegos and 6 outlets for The Hussar Grill. We thought that was reason enough to phone longtime CFO Ronel van Dijk and ask her about how her finance team has contributed to this success and the group’s exciting international prospects.

What does a CFO need to do to make her company grow faster than the economy?
“I see the role of the CFO and the Finance team as supporting the business. Our turnover is driven by the number of customers that walk through our doors, so the most important thing is that they receive good service. Finance and Treasury are support functions that need to be sensitive to the needs of the rest of the company.”

What recent innovations are you most proud of?
“First of all, we have introduced a standard costing system for our manufacturing business. That has led to much higher efficiencies. Secondly there is IT, which is also my responsibility. We have introduced a mobile operations management system which our area managers have started using on their tablets. They do monthly service and health and safety checks and until this year this all used to happen on paper. That meant it took a very long time and meant that feedback to the franchises was also delayed. Now all the information gets synched the moment it gets entered on the tablet. We have not done a calculation, but the difference in time and money is quite significant. It is gearing us up for the future. Fewer people can get a lot more done, with more time spent on value add rather than administrative work. ”

You have been at Spur since 2003 and in the position of CFO since 2005. What’s different these days?
“My role has changed significantly. I now only spend around 30 percent of my time on the traditional CFO role, looking after accounting and reporting. I spend a lot of time on other areas of the business like IT, HR, strategy and compliance. I am also very involved in the international operations. The level of time required ensuring legal, regulatory and governance compliance has increased significantly.”

“The demands on my time have therefore increased substantially and the only way to deal with that is delegation, management and supervision. I had to learn to “manage” rather than “do”. The key is to ensure you have the right people around you, so accurate recruitment is essential. I work with two excellent CA’s – we practically finish each other’s sentences.”

What can you say about Spur’s international expansion?
“In the UK we will soon be opening an offshoot called RBW, which stands for Ribs, Burgers and Wings. It is smaller than Spur and it offers counter service (like you find in the UK and Australian markets). We want to open our first outlet before December this year. In Australia two franchises have opened this year and we’re hoping to add two more in the first half of 2015.”

“Africa is keeping us very busy. We now have 37 restaurants and our aim is 50 by the end of the next financial year. These restaurants are all franchised, which means that our franchise holders deal with regulatory and other local issues. In Namibia we’ll soon have 12 restaurants and that is why we will be opening an office there. We are concerned about the impact of ebola on our African business, but trust that the virus will be contained and not spread further.”

It seems you travel quite a lot?
“I visit the UK 3 times a year and Australia twice a year. African countries are visited on an ad hoc basis. I really enjoy Namibia and Kenya, but Nigeria was a bit of a shock to the system. Early next year I plan to visit Arusha in Tanzania where we are opening a Spur and a Panarottis at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. I am hoping to combine that trip with a few days off to maybe reach the top of Kilimanjaro.”

How are you involved with international operations?
“I am involved in a much wider range of activities than the finances and the accounts. I maintain our relationship with the franchise holder and assist with financial issues, but I also discuss operations, marketing and corporate social investment. In Australia and the UK I also get involved in leasing and legal issues.”

It looks like you have created a CV for yourself that fits a CEO?
“It would be presumptuous to say I want to be CEO of Spur and we have never had those discussions internally. But a general management role is appealing and I am glad my experience gives me options. During my time at Spur this company has grown from strength to strength. I still remember the celebrations when we reached restaurant turnover of R2 billion, and now it exceeds R5.5 billion. The experience I have gained will no doubt stand me in good stead.”

Two years ago we spoke to Van Dijk about a variety of finance topics - read back what she had to say in the interview “Shortly after I took over I changed the way we report on our inter...

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Tags: CEO, CFO, CFOs, In the News, Ronel van Dijk, Spur, interview

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