Calib Cassim, the conductor inside Eskom’s financial engine room

Calib Cassim is the CFO who leads and oversees all aspects of the company’s financial strategy at Eskom.

Calib Cassim was appointed Eskom CFO in November 2018 after serving as acting CFO from July 2017. He also serves as a director of Eskom Enterprises, Escap and Eskom Finance Company. In his current portfolio he is responsible for real estate, security and the price application for electricity prices to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa).

Calib has spent over 19 years working at the power utility including several years leading the regulation department. He appreciates his current role for the broad scope it affords him. “This is not a typical finance role as finance and operations are so intertwined. I enjoy the challenge of contributing to Eskom, and more importantly, to the country. This is not an easy job, but having the support of the board and the government helps us navigate the waters,” comments Calib. Across the company, there are approximately 870 people working in finance.

Calib works 12-hour days with a weekly schedule that tends to involve back-to-back meetings. On Saturdays he tries to avoid his laptop, but Sundays he prepares for the week ahead. He is also mindful of working towards monthly and annual deliverables as well as anticipating future scenarios believing that “a leader must see what is coming around the corner”.

In its last set of financial results released in October 2020, Eskom posted a R20.5 billion loss with revenue at R200 billion and sales 1.29 percent lower than 2019 due to poor economic conditions and constrained electricity capacity. CEO André de Ruyter noted that the power utility had paid attention to its capital and operating expenditure, coal inventory optimisation, revenue recovery initiatives, and increased international revenues. The cash-strapped state-owned enterprise’s debt stands at roughly R453 billion.

Putting Eskom back on track
Eskom, established in 1923 to serve the mining sector, is in the top 20 power utilities in the world by installed generation capacity. It generates more than 90 percent of South Africa’s power and 40 percent of the electricity on the continent.

President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to split Eskom into three entities for generation, transmission, and distribution to make it more efficient. The company is on track to separate transmission by December 2021 and to split generation and distribution by December 2022. Eskom has already set up three separate divisional boards to tackle issues related to the different parts of the business.

Calib believes the next two years to be critical as management works towards the plan to unbundle and restore the company to sustainability. “We are dealing with both an operational recovery and a financial recovery. We also have to work towards a greener energy mix to decarbonise the industry going forward."

André has explained the company’s strategy through a series of roadshows and now weekly staff video calls. Calib says that employee engagement and buy-in to the strategy has been good. He values André’s private sector experience and how he challenges the status quo. “Being from the outside, he brings new ideas. He likes the details, and he questions why we do what we do. We have had to rethink many of our processes thanks to his input.”

Undoing a legacy of corruption
Calib has instituted several new controls and processes since he took on the CFO role. Within a week of being in the position, a suspicious contract came across his desk. He refused to sign it and it was later identified as a state capture transaction.

A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has begun to uncover the scale of corruption and mismanagement at Eskom. The SIU had already made 5,512 referrals to Eskom to date to institute disciplinary proceedings.

Calib acknowledges that it is difficult to read about the company’s past in the media and is conscious that reports about Eskom come with a dose of public scepticism. He also recognises that Eskom has an impact on millions of citizens’ lives and media scrutiny is necessary. “It’s important to listen to what the critics say and accept criticism. On the other hand, one can’t believe all the negatives and assume that all of Eskom’s more than 40,000 employees were corrupt. You’ll find that 99 percent of all employees are loyal and dedicated,” says Calib.

A passion for business
Calib grew up in Overport, Durban, and completed his BCom at the University of Natal and his honours at Unisa. He is a qualified chartered accountant and holds a master’s degree in business leadership (MBL). At school he enjoyed maths and accountancy. The 1980s television show, Dallas, with Texas oil tycoons and deal making inspired Calib to enter the business environment.

For Calib, success in finance requires both healthy self-esteem and ethics:

“The most important thing is to believe in your own ability. People can tell when you don’t believe in yourself. Secondly, you need to have strong values and morals. These are worth standing by and even worth losing a job for.”

He believes that his greatest strengths as a leader is his calm temperament and ability to keep his emotions in check. “I like to listen first before commenting. I appreciate criticism and seldom lose my calm. I’m a straightforward character – what you see is what you get.”
Making the most of free time

Calib is the father of 10-year-old twins and a 12-year-old – he spends most of his free time with his family. He describes himself as a morning person and he likes to wake up before the rest of the family to watch the day break.

He likes to watch sports including soccer, cricket and rugby. During lockdown, he began playing tennis in the evenings. When he has the time, he enjoys getting stuck into a book about leadership.

“I don’t have a role model, but I do enjoy studying leaders through the books I read. I learn about their leadership qualities and try to take elements from all of them and apply them into my own life,” says Calib.