100 days of Frey's: Learnings from my first seven days

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Brad Wentzel shares his top five takeaways from his first seven days as the CFO of Frey's Food Brands.

Experts recommend taking a time between careers where you can rejuvenate, reflect and reset. Unfortunately, like many of us in career transitions, I was not able to enjoy the luxury of a quiet phase to prepare me for what lies ahead, and only had a weekend to change my career and relocate from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal.

It was only during my drive down to the Valley of a Thousand Hills that I was able to reflect on my time at Douglasdale Dairy, and set my ambitions and goals for the first week at Frey's Food Brands. Those first couple of days in a new career are crucial, as you set the tone and get to know your team and the environment that comes with the new role.

On 3 January 2023 I began my tenure of the Dh-a portfolio of companies including Frey's Food Brands, a choice employer of around 2,000 people from the local Cato Ridge area in KwaZulu-Natal. The dh-a group (short for Dharma, a meaning to grow from one’s natural energy) is an organisation that focuses on growing the Cato Ridge business community by investing heavily in the people and infrastructure in the area.

The main group business activities include a pork and dry dog food business that are both in the top three of their kind nationally, however, it’s the inspiring upliftment of and expansion plans into the local communities that are most exciting for me. It was the organisation’s intention to create a business hub for the area, which has been stricken by riots, floods and general unrest, that drew me to the role.

Here are my learnings from my first seven days at Frey's:

1. The experts are right: Try and take at least a week off between careers. In that time invest in yourself and prepare for your new team by researching who they are and what they have been through.

In that period, you need to do three major tasks:

  • THINK about where you have been, where you are going, and what you need to get there.
  • REFLECT on where your shortcomings lie, where you need support, and where you can support the people around you.
  • REAPPRAISE the first two points again, with new perspectives and reformulated views on what you need to do.

2. If, like me, you are unable to do that, be aware of the stress that you are under, which could bleed into your new environment. Think about your actions and be cognisant of how your heightened emotional state will affect your new team.

3. Admit that you are new, and that your team are the experts, both technically and emotionally, in your new environment. You have been brought in to lead, be strategic and uplift. Understanding will come, but for now, use your leadership and upliftment skills as often as possible.

4. Take time to learn everyone’s names. Sometimes this isn’t possible all at once, but then break everyone up into easily identifiable departments. Acknowledge that you are new when you get someone’s name wrong the first time, but make sure to never repeat that mistake.

5. Listen. To everyone. About anything. From business history and challenges, to their personal strife, absorb as much information as possible around every facet of the business and the people who are involved in it. This process is crucial in your understanding of how you will lead the business and your team going forward.

These first few days are critical to your team, the business, and yourself. Make sure you are overly conscious of how you, as a new person entering their workspace, are affecting the people around you. Take time to listen to everyone, as it’s not just about you, but about everyone around you too.

Read the full series here:

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