Brooks Mparutsa, Hollard Insurance: success requires vision
“At the age of 16 I made the decision to become a CA and a business leader,” says Brooks Mparutsa, the eloquent Group Chief Financial Officer of Hollard Insurance. His impressive career in the public and private sector has taken him all over the world. “I am following the path I set out for myself. What many people lack is a vision for their lives and careers. I benefited a lot from staying at my audit firm for a number of years and spending years in the public sector – it is a path I definitely recommend.”
How do you value your time as an auditor?
“I have greatly benefited from that period in my life. I started my career at what is now PwC in Mafikeng. After doing my articles, I decided to stay on for another three years. People tend to leave as soon as they can because they want to be business people. For me it was important to stick around. When they qualify as CA’s, many people think their learning is complete. I hate to say it but when you’re in articles, you’re a unit of production. That is why staying on was so valuable. In my role as audit manager I got my first exposure to managing people. That is very important, especially at the start of your career. You need to feel a sense of ownership of the role and learn to be a leader. At the firm you are not on your own and you can learn from the Partners. It is nice to learn the ropes in a familiar environment, where you have built up goodwill already.”
In the late 90s you joined South African Airways. What was that like?
“At South African Airways I was Director of Structured Finance. That was also an important part of my learning curve, moving away from audit to finance and accounting. I still remember one aircraft cost US$150 million. I really learnt a lot: I had to work with banks, lawyers, financiers, most of them in Europe. I got the opportunity to travel all over the world, which was amazing because I love traveling.”
Why should CA’s consider spending time in the public sector or at parastatals?
“Success in the public sector is very important for the success of South Africa and Africa. I see the period I spent at SAA and later at the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) as my national service. These organisations provide CAs with the opportunity to learn about complex transactions at a young age and to be exposed to many diverse issues. I was in my mid 20s when I was financing large long haul aircraft. Look at Eskom or Transnet - they have some of the biggest infrastructure programs in the country and on the continent. It is hard labour and the remuneration is not great, but it makes you understand the opportunities and challenges of the public sector, of doing business in SA and this will stand you in good stead for the rest of your career.”
It seems that you have planned your career meticulously?
“When I was 16 years old I made the decision to become a CA and a business leader. I am following the path I set out for myself. I wanted to get international experience, which I got at SAA, Stanbic Africa and ACSA. What a lot of people lack is the vision. I benefited a lot from staying at my audit firm for a number of years and spending years in the public sector – it is a path I definitely recommend. Part of my vision is really focused on the economic success of Africa. That is why I spent some time as Head of Finance: East Africa at Stanbic Bank. Through my travels I have seen that every economy has challenges. I want to be part of the solution and I don’t want to stand on the sidelines and criticise.”
You became CFO at Hollard Insurance in 2007 and you’re still going strong. What do you like about it?
“At the time I was approached by a head hunter. I had no insurance experience, but it was the company and not so much the industry that attracted me. There is a very deep entrepreneurial spirit and people are empowered to make decisions. Hollard focuses on its people and I am a firm believer in leading people. We have a huge focus on culture. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take our work seriously. I have only worn a tie to work twice during the last 7 years. It is not about how you look but about your outlook. Hollard believes in win-win-win for our customer, our partners and Hollard as a company. We continuously balance these.”
Do you see yourself as a partner to the CEO?
“Of course strategic planning is important, but as CFO you always need to keep a finger on the pulse and make sure that the day-to-day runs smoothly. It is not always a role of stargazing into the future, but of course strategy and the partner role are the most exciting parts of the job. The CFO role is one of the most rewarding positions to hold. A lot of young CA's want to be in business, but they should realise that sticking with a finance career can be a great way to get a bird’s eye view of a company and to influence the entire business and its trajectory.”
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
“A lot of people would talk about their financial success, about attracting funding, large transactions etcetera. For me every career milestone has been important. Becoming a CA was a huge milestone, but seeing the success of people I have inspired makes me the most proud. Often we talk about ourselves. I like to be a leader who inspires people to be all they can be. That is the most rewarding part of what I do. People generate the profit. I look at my role as being responsible for inspiring our people so they enjoy work and create good results and profit for the company.”
What is next for Brooks Mparutsa?
“I mapped out a journey for myself and that journey is far from complete. I still see myself at Hollard for the foreseeable future. My portfolio has changed over time and keeps changing. I am getting more involved in the other African operations, which fits in with my own vision. As far back as 2001, after an insightful trip to Rwanda, I set a goal for myself to contribute to the growth of Africa. I realised my focus needs to be on the continent. I see myself as a leader with a finance background. The title is less important, but I can’t be Hollard’s CFO for the next 30 years, right?”
Why do you endorse CFO South Africa?
“The round tables are a great way of learning how other people are dealing with similar challenges to the ones I face. Networking and the social element is also important. We don’t live in a cocoon as CFOs; we deal with similar pressures and it is nice to chat, even just about the rugby. It also provides business opportunities, especially because a lot of CFOs are involved in strategy nowadays. It is a great way to build new partnerships and find new opportunities."