Afrimat Bulk Commodities’s FD unpacks results and divulge a personal secret or two

Meet Andre Smith, the financial director of Afrimat Bulk Commodities, dad of two teenagers and a closet Eminem fan.

“My wife says I can make a mean braaibroodjie and I’m happiest with a good steak sizzling on the grill,” says Andre Smith.

It may surprise his colleagues, but the FD of Afrimat Bulk Commodities is a closet Eminem fan. Outside of work, he enjoys a good book, good music, and a gripping television series. His favourite fiction authors are Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and his favourite non-fiction authors are Jim Collins and Simon Sinek.

“My wife, Cindy, and I have been married for 19 years. We have two teens in the house, Nathan (16) and Melissa (13), and we all live blissfully together with our two Yorkies, Coco and Lulu. Most Saturdays, you’ll find me on the golf course, trying to improve my game,” he says.

When at work
Andre has been with Afrimat for 15 years. It’s a leading black empowered group with its main business and core competence in open pit mining. The group supplies a broad range of products ranging from construction materials, industrial minerals and bulk commodities.

As the financial director of Afrimat’s bulk commodities, he is responsible for the financial departments of the businesses in this segment.

“Some specific tasks I’ve been involved with have been performing due diligence procedures on possible acquisitions, Competition Commission applications, being part of steering committees to ensure the successful implementation and integration of acquisitions, to name but a few. I have also been involved in negotiations of long-term customer and supply agreements.

“The exciting thing is that it changes constantly. It is fulfilling to be in a position where I can give back by sharing the knowledge I’ve gained through the years and thereby assisting in the development of individuals in our business to ensure they are ready for promotion, should the opportunity arise.”

Andre has enjoyed accounting since he was first introduced to it as a subject at school and it quickly became his favourite and best subject. After graduating at the University of Stellenbosch he completed his articles at PwC in Worcester.

“After eight years in the auditing profession and having qualified as a CA(SA), I got the opportunity to start at Afrimat as an accountant and haven’t looked back since,” he says, adding that after so many years at Afrimat, the business still excites him, and he enjoys being part of the decision-making management team guiding the direction of the business.

“It is a privilege to be exposed to some of the most brilliant minds in our industry and to learn from them. I value the fact that I work for a company that encourages personal growth and further development, which exposes me to different challenges.”

It is also a company with stellar financial results. The latest results for the six months ending 31 August 2021 showed that revenue increased by 55.4 percent from R1.6 billion to R2.4 billion culminating into an increase in operating profit of 65 percent from R353,1 million to R582.8 million. An improvement in the operating profit margin from 22.7 percent to 24.1 percent was achieved. Headline earnings per share increased by 60.5 percent from 183,9 cents to 295.1 cents. The balance sheet of the group remains strong with a net cash position, ending the period with net cash flows from operating activities of R806.5 million, an increase of 141.7 percent from the comparative 2020 period.

The strong results that were achieved despite the hard lockdown levels are testament to the brilliant team at Afrimat, Andre says.

“Afrimat’s management team got together, and certain measures and plans were put in place to minimise the impact of the lockdown. We were also assisted by the allowance of the iron business to continue trading during this period, and the favourable iron ore price at that time. A lot of focus was placed on protecting our strong balance sheet and careful management of our cash. It was a difficult period, and the words ‘you’re on mute’ were quite extensively used during initial electronic meetings, but we are very thankful and blessed with the positive outcome and strong results.”
Andre enjoys working in the bulk commodities segment, which consists of iron ore mines in the Northern Cape and an anthracite mine in Mpumalanga.

“Recently the segment was expanded with the Coza (three iron ore deposits) and Nkomati (anthracite) acquisitions. A lot of effort and planning has gone into the development of these acquisitions and the expectation is that the Jenkins Iron Ore deposit as well as Nkomati will reach a steady state from a production perspective in the second half of this year. Nkomati includes an underground mine that is a first for Afrimat. To be able to see the physical manifestation and execution of careful planning is a great experience, and we are very excited about the contribution these acquisitions will add to the segment.”

An empowering environment
Andre is the second-in-command to CFO, Pieter de Wit. “Pieter challenges me constantly to grow and self-improve. It has been a blessing to work for a very dynamic company where there are constant opportunities to put your hand up and take on the next challenge. As soon as you start going through the motions, you stop growing,” he says.

“The most valuable lesson I learnt from him is that the financial department is much more than a cost centre in a business. It is important to be a strategic partner and add value. These departments are primarily responsible for producing timeous and accurate financial information, but more importantly, these results must be analysed to identify opportunities to improve. It is also vitally important to test business decisions through modelling to determine the possible outcomes and assist in making the correct decisions.”

Asked about his aspirations, Andre believes it is important to set goals and identify which skills are needed to achieve targets in personal and professional development and he would most certainly relish the opportunity to become a CFO of a company one day.

“I think it’s important not to become complacent and stop growing: you need to constantly challenge yourself to do better. Know yourself well and be aware of your development areas. Be humble and open to be mentored or to take advice from colleagues. It is also very important that your personal values are aligned with the company’s values. Finally, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is incredibly important.”

It motivates him to learn new skills, to meet deadlines, goals and targets, to coach others, to complete difficult projects, be part of a successful business and to play a part in that success.

“I also love working as part of a team and seeing how the different strengths of individuals add up to success of the team and the company. One of my favourite quotes is from Richard Branson: ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’”