Afrimat's Pieter de Wit opens up about strategy, growth and learning
The FD is completing Stanford's Emerging CFO course, to support his focus on staying relevant.
Pieter de Wit, the FD of Afrimat, has attended the first week of the Emerging CFO programme at Stanford University and will be heading back to California to attend the remainder of the programme in May. This two-week “Strategic Financial Leadership Program” claims to help CFOs guide their organisations through growth and innovative training that blends financial expertise, strategic thinking and leadership skills.
“It’s targeted at CFO level, and basically focuses on our changing role,” says Pieter. “You can’t look back and report only the past but have to deliver business value by anticipating future trends or outcomes.”
He adds that the course also supports leadership competencies. “There are people from 27 countries, so there’s lots of exposure to what’s going on in the rest of the world. The lecturers are some of the best minds internationally, and are authors of the handbooks in their areas of expertise.”
Because of its proximity to Silicon Valley, the Stanford course also includes case studies of some of the tech giants located there.
“In America there’s a big focus on tech,” says Pieter. “Amazon, Apple, Google… And a lot of industries are being disrupted by Amazon. So much so that they have a phrase of ‘been Amazoned’. Whatever Amazon takes on, they aim to be ‘best in class’. So if they take on logistics, they become best in class at logistics. They’ve just taken over Whole Foods and will roll out an Amazon Go model – where if you are an Amazon Prime customer, you can pick something off the shelf, put it in your basket and walk out without visiting a cashier, and it will automatically be billed to your account.”
Afrimat’s growth through diversification
Pieter believes that the course will deliver insights on how businesses need to stay relevant and test new things. This is clearly close to his own heart, as Afrimat, an open-pit mining, materials, aggregates and industrial minerals business, has specifically implemented a diversification strategy to ensure growth from a range of commodities so that it isn’t at the mercy of any one demand cycle.
Its iron ore operation has delivered growth in export income, despite a slowing in the local construction sector, which is a big user of many of Afrimat’s construction materials, in the last year.
An increase in iron ore prices was recently experienced, explains Pieter, in the wake of the unfortunate slimes dam collapse at Vale’s Brumadinho operation in Brazil in January 2019, which saw the subsequent closure of all operations that made use of that model of slimes dam.
Afrimat is diversifying through expanding operations outside of South Africa. “Our construction materials operations are well situated to supply into the liquid natural gas project in Northern Mozambique and should start delivering in the near future,” says Pieter. “We are currently busy supplying the materials for the resettlement project.”
From these activities, Pieter says that overall, Afrimat’s diversification strategy is working.
Downtime for a CFO
Diversification strategies and learning opportunities notwithstanding, Pieter tries to make the time for mountain biking to relax. “I tend to have balance,” he says.
In his office, there is a large chess board with stone pieces. While Pieter does play himself, he says that the real chess passion in his family lies with his three sons, who are 17, 15 and 10, and all have their South African colours. Pieter says that he spends a lot of his free time supporting their interests, taking them to tournaments.