Barry Doran, CFO G4S Africa: Believing in human capital


“For a CFO, working in Africa is almost like a Rubik’s cube, it is a challenge but it’s very rewarding,” says Barry Doran, Finance Director for Africa at security firm G4S, the largest private employer on the continent. “The development opportunities are very rewarding professionally and it’s great to see cities changing. The last time I was in Lagos I suddenly saw traffic lights where there were never any.”

Born, bred and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in Ireland, Doran provides a refreshing perspective on living and operating from Johannesburg. “I am quite committed to Africa. I have got a young family here and find it personally and professionally very rewarding to work here.” Contrary to some prophets of doom, he strongly believes in the potential of Africa’s human capital. “Something I am quite firm on is that there is actually a huge amount of talent available. It is about how to see the opportunity in people, instead of trying to buy the finished product off the shelf.”

At G4S the HR team is building strong local teams in 30 African countries, says the Irishman. “We have a network of people that we can rely on. The most important is to have good local staff on the ground. We have a very strong HR team building this up.” According to Doran the sought after skills are usually available in African countries, but the right people need to be scouted and nurtured. “We have really good examples at G4S of junior staff that have become seniors. You have to approach the labour market with an open mind and give it some time before the rewards come.”

After his training in Ireland, Doran ended up in London following a year in New Zealand. He worked in an auditing job at KPMG and later moved to high tech multinational Motorola, which eventually brought him to Johannesburg in 2005. “When Motorola started divesting from mobile phone and networks, I decided to stay in Africa. I set up a consulting business and did some work for MTV Africa.”

In February 2011 Doran joined G4S Africa, an organisation of a staggering 112,000 employees. “I was attracted to G4S because I was ready to get back into the pan-African space. We are active in 30 different Africa countries and our businesses are diverse across the regions. We do security work in mining, oil and gas, technology, journey management and we even have a private prison in South Africa.” The Irishman is enjoying the dynamic environment and doesn’t mind the travel. “On average I am probably away for two and a half weeks per month, sometimes it’s a week, sometimes three weeks.”

Although G4S Africa employs a fraction of the 630,000 worldwide G4S staff count, labour costs are always on the mind of the Finance Director. “Labour, fuel costs and vehicle costs are big issues. Cash flow management is difficult, because you can’t get favourable payment terms on your own payroll. On top of that there are a lot of issues around tax and legislation in all the countries we work and it is often very complicated to get money in and out of African countries.”

To some that might sound draining, for Doran it is exactly what he enjoys. “As the Finance Director I have to look after the strategy, make sure we reach our organic growth targets and check on our win rates on bids. It’s very interesting.” About 30 percent of G4S Africa’s business takes place in South Africa, with other main operating countries being Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Morocco. “We have lots of big projects on the go to secure large projects in the extractive industry. Often we are already working in the background while mines or pipelines are being constructed.”

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