A great CFO has a strong backbone, says Bombela CFO Chantelle Loots

A 2016 SAICA Top 35-under-35 finalist, Chantelle Loots, CFO of Bombela Concession Company, says she feels fortunate to be a part of a young group of "fantastic CAs" in South Africa who are leading the way to the future.

You were selected for the 2016 SAICA Top 35-under-35. Tell us about this.
"That was a great experience - one that's helped me to enhance my professional network. The selection criteria was based on education, work experience, what you've achieved in your company, as well as what you do in the social environment. They were looking for people who possessed different skill sets. Going through this process has made me more confident and through it I've come to realise that there are some amazing people out there doing amazing things. Being surrounded by so many great people was humbling. It was one of the best experiences of my life."

Tell us in brief about your current role and responsibilities.
"I look at the entire finance function and our socioeconomic development obligations. It's a combined finance and strategy role. I enjoy the strategic role a bit more, but doing some number crunching every now and then is still very satisfying."

How closely do you work with the CEO and what is this relationship like?
"Our CEO Andre van Rensburg was the operational executive before he was appointed as CEO, therefore I've always had a close working relationship with him. I think the CEO and CFO have a special relationship. Certainly, ours consists of honesty, trust and integrity. We work well together."

"When we do disagree, we sit down and both give our views. We never agree to disagree. We put our thoughts and arguments across and determine the best way forward for the company."

You've been with the company for seven years. Tell us about your progression to CFO.
"Working for Gautrain was my first job after exiting the auditing environment. I was originally appointed as a reporting accountant looking at contractual and financial reporting aspects for the company. Subsequent to that I moved into the financial accountant role. After a few years I was promoted to financial manager. During my time as FM, the CFO position became vacant and I was promoted to senior FM, however, this was more of an acting CFO position. I was officially promoted to CFO in July 2015."

Tell us about your team. What are its strengths, what are its shortcomings and how are you addressing these?
"I have five individuals in my team. It is a young and vibrant team, eager to learn and very loyal. Each team member has their own set of skills and expertise, which adds great value to the overall finance function. I rely on them to bring their skills to the forefront. I love mentoring and teaching them and strongly believe in transferring skills. I'm a keen teacher, hence I teach on the job daily. I wouldn't say there are any shortcomings. We deal with any issues as and when they arise."

What is your leadership style like? What makes you a strong and successful leader?
"My team appreciates the fact that I continuously try to enhance their skills by transferring my knowledge and not keeping all the 'good stuff' to myself. I'm happy to share with them the experience I've gained over the years. I do value their input, which I think is very important."

"Communication is a non-negotiable for me, and this must always be effective. I lead by example and I'm not afraid to make tough decisions or step in and get my hands dirty."

What achievement in your current position are you most proud of?
"For the past seven years all our audits have been unqualified and unmodified. More recently I was involved in negotiating a very large deal which has had a significant impact on the cash flow of the company."

What are some of the challenges you face in your current role?
"I'm quite young, 35, and admittedly it's sometimes tough to be a young independent woman in what is predominantly a man's world. I find that challenging at times, albeit not in the company that I work for. It's sometimes challenging to get my opinion across, however, I don't have any doubt in my ability so I am quite confident in those situations."

What is the hardest lesson you've learnt in your career?
"You need to be prepared to make some personal sacrifices… especially in the early stages of your career. While a work-life balance is important, there will be times when it will seem that work is getting more of your energy than feels completely fair. I have, however, recognised that this will not always be the case and that my early commitment levels will pay huge dividends in the future."

In your opinion, what are the traits of a great CFO?
"A very strong backbone. Soft skills are also essential, and you must be adaptable to change. An important feature is that a CFO must have the ability to collaborate with and influence the CEO, and work together as a team."

Was it always your plan to be a CFO? How did you come to pursue a career in finance?
"I was interested in child psychology. However, I needed to save money to further my education. My mom convinced me to start working full time and study accounting part time at the auditing firm where she worked. And that's where my career started, I've never looked back. I have a natural aptitude for finance."

What keeps you busy outside of work?
"I am a very keen golfer but unfortunately only get to play over weekends. I play beach volleyball twice a week, which is great! Our company also started a Bombela cycling team. Very little training goes into this, but 25 kilometres off-road is very manageable with your colleagues!"