CFO Cape Town Summit reveals how to build a better tomorrow

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The Mother City’s top CFOs unpacked the challenges SA is facing, and how to solve them.

No matter what the problem, South Africans will make a plan. This was evident during the annual CFO Cape Town Summit, which took place on 19 April at 180 Lounger, where attendees confronted some of the biggest challenges they are facing currently.

“South Africans are extremely resilient and no other country faces the challenges that we do. But we need to consider how lucky we are to live in this country, which is why we need to remain optimistic – I’d rather live here than any other place in the world,” Afrimat CFO Pieter de Wit said.

At the top of the list of challenges was the energy crisis in the country.

CFO Cape Town Summit


Keeping the lights on

In2Food CFO Steven Kilfoil explained that there isn’t a company in South Africa that hasn’t explored their own power generation because of the increasing disruption caused by loadshedding.

CFO Cape Town Summit

“BP drove a reinvent programme during Covid-19, where it created a Global Regions and Cities Solutions team purely focusing on finding solutions to problems that countries and cities are facing,” said BP CFO Welmie Schoeman. “That team is ready to go, and we can lobby for as many solutions as we want, but there needs to be a pull as well. We can’t force it onto the government.”

She explained that while the energy industry sees the opportunity and the immediate need for renewable and more sustainable solutions, African governments are focussed on monetising coal and hydro-carbon resources, for which global demand is projected to decline sharply over time.

CFO Cape Town Summit

Pieter agreed with Welmie, but said that solar and wind energy might not be the solution South Africa needs.

“You can’t run a mining plant, for example, on fluctuating energy. You need a steady base load, and the only one we have right now is coal. So it’s going to be in our lives for a lot more years before it can be phased out.”

He explained that the problem with the international push for green energy is that banks are no longer funding the coal projects, so a lot of junior miners are operating irresponsibly and not meeting the mining standards. “So you’re still not protecting the environment.”

Pieter added that South Africa does need a new energy plan. But first, “we need to get our base load right”.

“We need to find a sustainable way to be practical,” he said.


Ensuring tomorrow’s talent

Talent management was the second item on the list of challenges South African CFOs are currently facing.

Working for a startup, SnapScan CFO Derick Truscott said his biggest challenge is competing on an international scale for local talent. “The majority of our talent is looking at emigrating because of the economic challenges we are experiencing. We have to find a way to keep the youth talent in South Africa. They are the ones who will be in the executive seats in 20 years, but once they leave, we won’t get them back.”

CFO Cape Town Summit

However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the war on talent, as the great resignation seems to have tapered off, the panellists said. “People in the technology industry realised in 2022 that their big hiring sprees in 2020 were unsustainable. Now, they are laying off in scale,” Derick said.

Ironically though, he explained that the cost of labour hasn’t come down.

Everyone agreed that in order to keep this talent, organisations have to find ways to invest in their people’s purpose. “You need to have the right EVP to make sure people stay. You need to make sure there are enough opportunities for your teams to develop and leverage their key strengths,” said EOH FD Ashona Kooblall.

CFO Cape Town Summit

Hulamin CFO Mark Gounder then unpacked how he had managed to build environments where this was possible.

“We've created an environment where everyone can contribute, despite their roles in the organisation. Through this, our plant workers have helped us increase our can production by 5,000 tons capacity with zero capital.”

It also paid off during the KwaZulu-Natal civil unrest in July 2021. “We’re the largest employer in Pietermaritzburg, impacting over 20,000 people’s lives. Our team were so passionate about protecting the plant, they created a human shield against looters – despite management’s protests. And while the rest of the province was counting losses, we were already back and operating normally again.”


Still growing strong

Santam CFO Hennie Nel emphasised that, despite these uncertainties, businesses have had to develop, and are still developing. “We needed to find new ways to grow the business, such as new distribution channels and offering higher-value products. We also have to consider cost and make our products affordable, especially for the average South African,” he said.

He explained that there is reason to be optimistic, but that leaders must figure out how to make a significant difference in the country.

CFO Cape Town Summit

“We just need the will and look at our own shores for opportunities. I am an eternal optimist; as such I’m more concerned about how we can use what we have and make it work. We have the raw material, but the question is: What can we do with them?” Welmie added.

Ashona said that, in order to succeed, you need a great deal of optimism.

“For me, making a difference means creating jobs and moving forward as a country. We need to focus on facing financial and economic challenges head-on.”

Derick agreed, saying everyone wants to make an impact and wants to have a purpose. “The clearer you can make that impact proposition, the more optimistic they will be too.”

CFO Cape Town SummitCFO Cape Town Summit

Steven added:

“It’s amazing how robust our economy is despite everything that’s been thrown at us. People always told me they experienced their worst trading during the first 12 months after Covid-19 started. I don’t think it was anything close to what we’ve been dealing with in the last 12 months. We had the Russia-Ukraine war impacting fuel prices, the Rand performing poorly, the talent scarcity, and the energy crisis. If we start getting a few things right, this place will be amazing.”


You can’t run on empty

“Doing what you love is for amateurs but loving what you do is for professionals,” leadership coach Inge Walters said while challenging attendees to define what thriving means to them as individuals.

She explained that, while CFOs have to navigate all of these challenges and still make sure their team are surviving and thriving, they have to remember to take care of themselves as well.

CFO Cape Town Summit

She asked half of the attendees to fill out Post-it notes with one of their greatest challenges, and the other half of the room then got to pick a note they felt they could help the other person solve. Together, they had to come up with a plan to address the challenge.

They switched, and the other half of the room got to raise some of the things they were struggling with.

CFO Cape Town Summit


Dreamy sunsets

At the end of the evening, guests took to the balcony amidst the city skyline, overlooking the ocean on one side, and Table Mountain on the other. Drinks in hand, they further discussed ways to solve some of the challenges South Africa is currently facing.

And, even though the night air was cold and wet, the CFOs left encouraged and optimistic for the future of the country.

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