Lucas Ndala believes that, during times of change, people have to consider what legacy they are building.
It was while growing up in the rural areas in Winterveld, north of Pretoria that Lucas Ndala set his sights on becoming a chartered accountant. The current CFO of BCX recalls seeing vacancies in the Sunday newspaper for CAs and deciding that would be his chosen career path.
“I never had career guidance at school. When I was in high school, a friend of mine used to sell newspapers. He would sell me the Sunday newspaper at a discount on Monday and I was always impressed with the accountant advertisements in the paper,” he says.
This career aspiration was further bolstered by his accounting teacher. “Initially, I wanted to be an engineer, so I joined the science class, but the accounting teacher moved me to the accounting class. I then had to drop business economics in order to attend maths classes as those lessons were taught at the same time. There were only four of us in the maths class who were doing accounting,” he adds.
This was not unusual in a community where most professionals were teachers or police officers. “There were not many black students passing maths. That didn’t stop me even though I was told it would be difficult. That motivated me to succeed,” he explains.
His can-do attitude stood him in good stead for tertiary education as well, with Lucas completing a BCom in accounting at the University of the Western Cape, followed by an honours in accounting at the University of Cape Town. He received merit awards and recognition at both institutions, including a UCT Dean’s Medal.
It was during this period that Lucas began to live his passion of mentoring youngsters, working as a tutor throughout his tertiary studies.
Following his time in Cape Town, Lucas moved back to Pretoria to complete his articles at Deloitte, and during this time he also wrote board exams for accountants, and passed the first time. Recognition of his dedication and focus continued, with Lucas receiving both a Best Performer award and an award for diversity at Deloitte.
With a solid foundation now in place, Lucas began his career at a boutique structured finance company, Mettle, working on securitisation for mergers and acquisitions. He subsequently joined banking group Barclays, looking at the multinational’s interests in African countries where it did not have a presence.
During the latter part of 2004, Lucas joined Royal Bafokeng Holdings as an investment manager, starting off with the non-mining investments portfolio. Just five years later, he was promoted to CFO, by which time he was also serving on a number of boards, including RB Plat, Fraser Alexander, Senwes, Metair and Atterbury Investments (now Attacq).
In 2012, Lucas became the acting CEO for Royal Bafokeng Holdings and a year later joined the community investment company’s subsidiary, Mining Oil Gas Services.
During his 12 years at Royal Bafokeng Holdings, Lucas was instrumental in the LPG port facility in Saldanha project, growing the mining assets management from R5 billion to R45 billion at its peak, with minimal debt and raising close to R7 billion in preference share debt. “This was the biggest funding at the time and we successfully executed the transaction. After three years, the share almost tripled,” he says.
This is when telecommunications provider Telkom came knocking. “I joined as CFO for Openserve and was in the role for eight months when Telkom underwent a restructuring and I was asked to head up operations,” Lucas says.
“The focus of operations at this time was on getting fibre-to-home back on track. When I joined there were 80,000 homes with a connection rate of 10 percent and by the time I left, that had changed to 422,000 homes with a connection rate of over 50 percent. We moved to the top spot in the market, after the Vumatel consolidations, and more than halved the average installation time.”
According to Lucas, the achievements were due to driving clear KPIs through a strategy and targets, which were then tracked weekly and monthly. In addition, the performance of technicians was monitored with interesting analytics and assistance was provided in underperforming areas.
“Coming from a CFO environment helped me showcase the operational side, the value of using metrics to drive business. I was leading a team of engineers and they couldn’t run rings around me,” he says.
During his tenure at Openserve, Lucas managed to drive about R2 billion in cost efficiencies by implementing an automated workforce management tool for technicians. The success of that initiative, onboarding 5,000 technicians in less than 12 months, was recognised globally, with Lucas presenting the case study at a ClickSoft conference in the US.
The four-time Comrades Marathon runner served as the COO for Openserve for four years before moving to the Group CEO’s office to assist with strategic initiatives.
Then Covid-19 happened. “The pandemic has brought its challenges and in late August I was asked to move to BCX as CFO,” he says.
Lucas highlights that the CFO role is changing. “When I started, finance looked at history and was the number cruncher. Now, the CFO environment is a data repository, with the CFO being a trusted advisor to business, including matters like automation, dashboards and the value of analytics – the numbers never lie,” he says.
In addition, Lucas cites change management and relationship building as key skills for today’s CFO. “As a finance person, it is important to build relationships with other chiefs in business. They must know that they can trust you and you become their port of call. Change management is critical. When people think of digitisation, they think my job is obsolete, they don’t think about enablement. You have to take people on that journey, and that includes all stakeholders, including the unions. A failure of a lot of initiatives is due to fear of change,” he says.
It is during such change processes that Lucas asks people to think differently, by considering the legacy that they are building.
He is very clear about the legacy that he wants to leave. “In any environment that I go into, I want to be remembered as a person who has had a positive impact, who has taken business from one level to the next, so the next person has a better environment to work in. I build deep relationships and drive good corporate governance. These are the cornerstones of my business legacy,” he says.
Lucas is also actively working on his personal legacy, which focuses on helping kids from poor backgrounds to reach their full potential.
“I give career guidance talks at high schools, especially for rural kids. I can relate to their situation as I grew up in the same surroundings. They don’t have anyone they can talk to and I am someone they can identify with. After the talk, I challenge the kids to write to me and motivate why I should be their mentor. Then we set up time together and we set the rules on what they expect of me and what I expect of them. I mentor them until after their board exams and often we continue to stay in touch,” he says.
This fits in directly with Lucas’ ethos of learning from older people around you, not being scared to venture out of your comfort zone, and believing in the potential of South Africans.