CFO Community Conversation looks into striking a balance between people and profit

Walter Leonhardt, FD of CCBSA believes that if they care for people profitability will follow.

In what has become a weekly fixture in the calendar of many leading CFOs, a group of finance leaders gathered for an online Community Conversation to discuss balancing people and profit.

While many business leaders are embracing a more empathetic approach to professional demands on their teams as the Covid-10 crisis has sent employees home to work, the fact remains that the business can’t be neglected. With this in mind, CFOs shared their experiences of trying to focus on people AND keep their companies afloat.

The group of CFOs first heard from Rivasha Maharaj, the CFO of the AFGRI Group, about her experiences since the start of lockdown. She said:

“Finding balance is important and this is a time for change. We need to think about business and people differently. This has forced a complete mind change in our managers in terms of trust and respect. Our employees have come to the party like cream on a cake. They produce all their material, they don’t miss their deadlines… I would work form home every day if this is the kind of productivity you get.”

Walter Leonhardt, the financial director of Coca-Cola Beverages SA, said that his management team believes that by caring for their people to the best of their ability, the profitability will follow. Among their various actions to do so were:

  • Consistent, clear, organisation-wide communication from the MD and various senior leaders, which included properly communicating new work procedures and practices,
  • Moving very fast with regard to personal protective equipment, spending R30 million in the first couple of weeks to ensure (and show) that their staff’s safety was their topmost concern,
  • Being lenient with customers and suppliers and taking their requests for payment terms on a case-by-case basis, and
  • Capex cuts – Reducing investments for this year, and anticipating the same for years to come. And completely freezing all vacancies.

In the breakaway sessions, the CFOs were given the opportunity to share among themselves to benefit from the insights of the collective. Craig Sumption, the director of finance at Hatch Africa shared that because his company hasn’t experienced extreme losses, they are able to consider not only their own staff, but also the security of their entire value chain.

“One of our key factors is that as long as we are continuing with our projects and generating revenue, we are going to keep our value chain going as well. With all our contractors providing office services, we’ve maintained the full contract value and kept payments going in. We know that everyone else needs it as well because they are in such a squeeze. Because we still have profits, and we’re still going, we’re going to keep everyone else going at the same time.”

Noloyiso Mhlubulwana, the financial director of Tsebo Facilities Solutions, outlined the importance of different areas of the business working together towards a common goal. "We had to adjust and work closely with HR, in order to support our employees. We've been working with employees, working with clients to keep them motivated during these tough times. We’re trying different things to be supportive to clients and employees and staying on top of that cashflow."

Michael Meiring, the CFO of Nokia, said that while the demand for technology has been increasing, they are aware that they have to be cautious moving into the future. “We trial and weather the storm. As a company, we are maintaining our cost-saving measures as we are committed to our shareholders. It is important for us to be sustainable into the future.”

The CFOs expressed that it was good to come together with their peers to have a sanity check on actions that they may be taking and to learn from others who may have solved challenges they are facing. Rivasha in particular was grateful for the feedback she received, which affirmed that she’s not missing a trick in her own business.

Craig Henery, the CFO of DHL Express, had a positive takeaway to share with the group:

“The sun will rise again when Covid-19 is over. We need to continuously engage with our staff, customers and our suppliers to ensure they are well and are supported.”