Brad Wentzel believes knowledge is the best gift CFOs have to give

The Douglasdale Dairy CFO explains that it is up to finance leaders to always keep learning and imparting new knowledge.

In an ever-changing world, finance professionals need to take on new skills and capabilities in order to become business partners of the future. Now more than ever, the finance professional of the future needs critical thinking skills, but also soft skills, the ability to collaborate, but also to make tough decisions. Over the next few weeks, we interview some of South Africa’s leading CFOs to find out how they are incorporating continuous and broad learning and personal development into their lives.

Douglasdale Dairy CFO Brad Wentzel believes that, for CFOs, learning does not stop at the end of your formal accounting education. In fact, that’s when it should begin. “The business landscape, our staff, and ourselves are constantly changing. We are living in a time where new ways of thinking and new methods to solve the same old problems should be adopted, and passed on to others,” he says.

He adds that accountants have to see the big picture when they are compiling the financial statements, so understanding the human elements behind the numbers is a great asset to have for any CFO. “This often means getting out of the numbers and into the thick of it in order to fully comprehend how the numbers are derived and how I can best garner extra knowledge on the make up of those numbers to assist the business and my team.”

Brad explains that he has consciously looked to bolster the weaker elements of his skillset, and looks to improve on his leadership abilities to adequately equip himself to support the people around him. This has meant a determined move from the traditional, purely accounting-focused education, to including multi-faceted and more balanced studies in his quiver.

“The greater understanding of some of the softer elements of management has been a wonderful addition to my personal brand and leadership style,” he explains, adding that this conscious view of performing a gap analysis on his leadership skills means he is constantly challenging himself to improve for the sake of his future self and future team members. “I believe this forward-thinking, people-centric approach is exactly what we as a country need to begin the long process of empowering all our great citizens and slowly rebuilding our economy.”

Becoming Dr Bradley Wentzel
He recently finished his doctorate on the reduction of food waste in the retail channel. “When looking at some of the challenges we face as a society and some opportunities in my place of work, it became quite clear that there is a gap in specifically the South African context, where we have a large populace who are below the poverty line, and large amounts of food being wasted through poor planning and demand management. This creates a unique opportunity for us to repurpose some of that waste and move it into the hands of those in need, while still safe and ethical to do so,” Brad says.

As part of his doctoral studies, Brad wrote a proposal to reduce the supply chain waste of eggs, meat and dairy products in South African production, distribution and retail, which would in turn prove beneficial for society.

However, he explains that the task is mammoth, as South Africa has nuances from a legislative, retail chain and societal standpoint, and finding the right solution for all parties is proving to be a challenge. “What we have identified is that a solution, championed by all parties, is required for the betterment of all. I hope that by collaborating with some of the brightest minds the country has to offer, we can obtain buy-in from the retailers to assist in moving the needle for the impoverished among us.”

Balancing the CFO and Dr titles
Being a full-time CFO while studying for your doctorate is not an easy task either, but Brad explains that there were two main focus areas that helped him juggle this: “Firstly, cutting out non-essential and non-value-adding time stealers, like social media or binge watching television, freed up plenty of time. Secondly, connecting my studies to my work. This means further studying things that are already in your ‘wheelhouse’, which you can implement in your role as CFO, or taking learnings and opportunities that are apparent in your daily duties to assist you with your studies.”

He adds that having the ability to use what you are learning daily creates a buzz of excitement and keeps you engaged through what can be a long and arduous process.

Never settle
Asked if he has any advice for CFOs who would like to improve their learning and development, Brad says to “keep moving forward. The you of today needs to get ready to be the you of tomorrow.”

He advises other finance professionals to study any business administration course, which offers a great foundation to all the elements of business. This is especially important in a world where CFOs are delivering strategic input on all the functions of an organisation.

“There are great three- to seven-day executive management options available, which are also great to chisel some new skills, or refresh some of the things you learnt about years ago,” he says.

Brad also encourages CFOs who don’t want to take up formal education to make sure they are networking – learning from other professionals and seeing how they do things. “Always look for different ideas, even if they are conflicting with your own ideas.”

He adds that learning from as many sources as possible will make CFOs better managers.

“Never settle for the knowledge you have. The more you learn, the more you have to impart to those around you. Knowledge is truly the greatest gift we have to give,” he concludes.