Paul O'Flaherty - CFO Eskom: `Companies have great strategies but fail in executing them appropriately`

CFO South Africa is interviewing a large number of CFOs and CEOs of leading South African companies. From now on, we will publish them on our site regularly. Next in our series is Mr. Paul O’Flaherty, CFO of Eskom, a company staffing 42,000 people, which he joined in January 2010. He was appointed to the Board as executive director responsible for the finance function overseeing nearly 3.000 employers in the finance and shared services departments.

Mr. O'Flaherty did his degrees at Wits University, writing his board exams in 1987. He then worked for Coopers & Lybrand (and ultimately PwC) through the ranks and up to audit partner level and then construction company Group Five as CFO before relocating to the UAE, where he worked in a family owned construction company.


1.
Which achievement or project in your business career so far are you most proud of?

The number one achievement in my business career was definitely becoming a partner at Coopers and Lybrand. My dad was a partner at Ernst & Young, and I always wanted to be one too. From a more project oriented point of view; the fact that both at Group Five, as well as in the Middle East and currently at Eskom, I have worked with ERP-system implementations (Enterprise Resource Planning), which all were very successful.


2.
How do you perceive the changing role of the CFO in the last ten years?

The role of the CFO has shifted from an accounting and numbers game far more to one involving a great deal of strategy and risk management. The modern CFO must be equipped to assist companies strategically and to back them up with business plans.


3.
How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?

I think the role will continue evolving in the direction of more strategy and risk management. The CFO will moreover become an execution role in which he/she needs to, next to offering them, also be able to help companies execute the offered strategies. That is one of the flaws many companies nowadays deal with; they have some great strategies but fail in executing them appropriately.


4.
What do you enjoy most about your job?

That it all is extremely complex. There really never is a dull moment.


5. Which skill do you think a young professional should master to be most successful in his career?

To be resilient is definitely essential; to have the ability to deal with all the ups and downs in a fast moving environment. Also, I think professionals should more and more have the mindset of project management and execution performance, like I mentioned earlier.

6. Which education would you recommend for a successful career in business?

I would highly recommend the South African Chartered Accountant (CA) education. It gives you a very all round feel for business. Although I advise young professionals to get some global experience to get a better understanding of other markets and working environments, South Africa offers great chances and advantages for young finance professionals: because of the skills shortage, you get responsibility early.


7.
What was the most interesting business book you have ever read?

The most interesting business book I ever read is called 'Boards that deliver' by Ram Charan. Another book that I found extremely interesting, although not a business book, is 'Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell. This book raises a variety of concepts which are all said to have a tipping point where you can go two ways. Very interesting indeed.


8.
What strengths have other people commented on about you and your accomplishments, and what strengths do you see in yourself?

I get the job done and never give up. Plus, I play the execution role of the CFO very well. I guess I have to agree with people noticing these strengths.


9.
Who is your role model in life and why?

That most definitely is my father. To me, he was the ultimate chartered accountant that I looked up to and aspired to be.


10.
What vital piece of personal advice would you give young executive professionals?

That would be to believe, really. And for them to realize that nothing comes for free, but all through damn hard work.

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category: Interviewing the CFO