Carla Seppings’ never say no attitude and where it’s gotten her

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The Bidvest Automotive CFO isn’t afraid of a challenge, and brings her fearlessness to her leadership role.

Carla Seppings, group CFO at Bidvest Automotive, which encompasses the McCarthy Group, is anything but a conventional FD. With an adventurous spirit, she has travelled to various exciting places in her life. She is also always up for a challenge, which has resulted in her very average sporting capabilities being tested when she agreed to complete a couple of Amashova and 94.7 cycle races, run a few Two Ocean half marathons, and finally run the London Marathon in 2015. Carla’s ultimate adventure, however, was to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in 2017, which she completed with a good friend of hers.

She believes sport of any kind, and or played at any level, is important as it helps provide balance in one’s life.

All these experiences have taught Carla a lesson or two when it comes to her role, which also includes getting involved with the operational aspects of the company. Among these is the need to remain relevant and know what’s coming over the next hill. “Not planning ahead could adversely affect a company’s sustainability. At the same time, you need a 360-degree view of what is happening – you don’t just put your takkies on and start running.”

One of the aspects that keep Carla in her current role is the constant change, with electric and self-driving cars coming onto the scene. Changing legislation and a dynamic economic environment have also kept her from being bored. “Based on the nature of the business, we continually look for growth such as through acquisitions. It’s never just the same old same old.”

In the automotive world, says Carla, one must remain relevant, because failing to do so would impact the company’s sustainability. “We’ve got to stay on top of the technology aspects around mobility and some of the disruptors in our business,” she says.

“As the vehicle industry moves away from fossil fuels by 2035, South Africa cannot afford to be left behind, as this will cost the economy many more jobs,” Carla adds.

A wider view
Carla says that being involved in her current role doesn’t just mean she is limited to numbers, but rather, that everybody does a bit of everything. “I enjoy the broader role, rather than purely a financial role,” she notes. “I need to be able to touch the business. Once you get into the motor industry, you can't go, it’s addictive. It’s a very dynamic business.”

She is also involved in the operations, such as elements of HR, legal, and the day-to-day operations. The favourite part of her role is the people: “It's always been about the people. I love developing people and passing on your experience.”

Mentoring is also a constant at Bidvest Automotive with programmes dedicated to just that. “We have a number of internal and OEM programmes focused on training within McCarthy. We also participate in a number of Bidvest programmes that are focussed on mentoring, supporting and equipping smaller businesses within our supply chain to grow and become more sustainable,”

A circular route
She ended up in finance because she was terrible at languages while at school, and found numbers a better route to a career. For her, finance came easily, and was something she knew from an early age, before having to select key subjects in Grade 10.

Having done her articles at Deloitte, she stayed there for a while before moving to be a financial manager in a listed property environment at Marriott/Old Mutual for five years, before a stint at Masscash and then moving on to her current role.

Changes in laws and regulations in a developing country with a thirst for developed world laws is one of the challenges that Carla deals with in her current role. “Being part of a listed entity means there is no choice in terms of compliance or otherwise. I think that is quite onerous for most businesses these days.”

Risk compliance falls into this area, Carla explains. She says that dealing with this and legal complexities is aided through having a strong team. “We have a flat and small structure in our office, so, when we need it, we rather employ specialists to help us.”

At the same time, the state of the economy is always a massive challenge, with unemployment and reducing disposable income for many people as interest rates keep rising to keep inflation under control.

Next up for Carla, is she will be assuming the role of Bidvest Automotive’s CEO, effective 1 July 2023. A challenge she is very excited about!

However, her next big personal adventure will be staying at home for a while. “It’s been a very strange two-and-a-half years,” she says. “I think it's time to sit down and get back to a new normal.”

 

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