CFO Community Conversation reveals: Companies need to start feeding back into society

CFOs discuss the importance of supporting society while ensuring the survival of their organisations.

On Wednesday night, 22 July, CFO South Africa hosted a CFO Community Conversation, in which finance professionals gathered online to talk about the seesaw act of managing the expectations of various stakeholders in the company.

Coronation Fund CFO Mary-Ann Musekiwa opened the conversation with a question: 

“During these tough economic times, how do we as finance professionals balance the survival of the company and continue to support the vulnerable members of society.”

Equites Property Fund CFO Laila Razack was first to answer, saying that, as the landlord of logistics assets, it was very difficult for Equites to balance its shareholder requirements at the start of Covid-19 and lockdown. “We wanted to maximise collections and protect our shareholder interests as far as possible, but we were also dealing with tenants who may have very real requirements to keep their businesses alive.” 

Equites engaged with tenants to understand what they were trying to achieve and what their difficulties were and tried to come up with a mutually beneficial agreement. “Most of those were rental relief, which assisted with their cash flow difficulties.” 

The company also wanted to try and make an impact on construction companies who were engaged on its sites and offered subsidised wages for minimum wage earners over the construction shutdown period.

“Our executives also contributed a third of their salaries for three months to charitable causes of their choosing to assist with Covid-19 relief as every bit counts,” Laila said. 

UCT executive director of finance Ashley Francis explained that, as a higher institute of education, UCT has a social contract with society. “We’re a feeder to the economy and we need to keep the pipeline going, we can’t create a blockage.” 

From an employee perspective, UCT has made sure that their staff’s jobs are secure and that they are being paid in full. “We’ve been blessed to have strong financial management in place to ensure that it’s possible.” 

For students, the university needs to complete the academic project, even if it’s only in 2021. “We needed to move our education online, but also needed to ensure that all the students were on an equal footing by providing our vulnerable students with laptops and data.” 

They also had to provide laptops and data to staff who were unable to work from home. 

UCT also owns two hotels managed by Marriott and attempted to apply the same employee principles, albeit within the bounds of their policies. “We also have contracts in the property industry, where we had to ensure that we could continue to pay them, even if it meant at marginally reduced amounts.”

UCT’s campus is also shooting a Netflix series called Blood and Water. “It’s a great opportunity for them to be shooting while there are no students on the grounds and ensures continued work for the actors and filming staff,” Ashley said. 

CFO Craig Henery says that one of DHL Express’s key focus areas is to improve people’s lives. “In South Africa, we have also continued to ensure we take care of our people’s physical, emotional and mental well-being,” said CFO Craig Henery. “We also continue to maintain our service excellence by adhering to our processes and ensuring we are fully resourced, securing additional resources as required, to support our staff and our customers.”

Hatch Africa has various projects in place that it supports on an annual basis, largely in the education space. “Over this period we’ve had to look over and above that,” CFO Craig Sumption added. “We looked at other areas where we could get involved.” 

Two of Hatch Africa’s staff have been working on the Business for South Africa Programme, and a couple of people are working on the Umoya ventilation project for hospitals. Outside of work, Craig started making sandwiches for Rays of Hope. “We now have eight families in our street that are making sandwiches twice a week.”

The CFOs came to the conclusion that companies need to step up and start feeding back into society through the communities they serve. “If you are not part of the solution, it will become a risk to your organisation’s survival. You need to look at how you can partner with your stakeholders to contribute to the change,” said Mary-Anne.