CFO Day asks Andries van Heerden about the role of trust


Afrimat CEO Andries van Heerden discusses the importance of trust in bringing people and tech together.

Once a year, 100 of South Africa’s top finance executives come together for the full-day learning and networking opportunity known as CFO Day. This year, it took place in the luxurious conference hall at The Leonardo in Sandton, and touched on the role man and machine play in the future of work.

As part of the day’s agenda, guests received the exclusive opportunity to ask three CFOs and one CEO their burning questions about integrating technology and people in a meaningful way.

In this article, we reveal Afrimat CEO Andries van Heerden’s answers to some of the questions asked on the day.

1. How has trust played a role in Afrimat’s people and tech strategy?

Trust is one of the most valuable assets in a company – and I learned it too late.

In 2004, there was a big move for the construction material sector needing to be integrated. At the time, I was working for a small quarry and I went to my boss with this idea. Our lawyer at the time told him that the idea would never work, and that nobody would ever buy a share in a listed quarry. He advised that the company fire me, because I was leading them on the wrong path.

And in April 2005 I was fired – because I had never built enough trust around my having the company’s best interest at heart.

A year later, a colleague in the industry did exactly that and proved that it was possible. My old employer eventually came back to me, having been shown that I could be trusted, and we’ve had a strong relationship since.

This was also during a time when there was a lot of corruption in the construction space, especially around the competition commission.

Now, we’ve set out to build Afrimat on that same element of trust. Today, we are the fastest-growing share on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

2. What is the top priority for your business in the next five years, and how is that supported by people and technology?

We recently announced a couple of deals, including Lafarge and Glenover, so for the next five years, we will be focusing on getting the culture integration right. We’ve done many acquisitions over the years and we know this is where the biggest risk lies.

It's becoming more difficult to get really good skills in the mining industry in South Africa. The average age of a diesel fitter in the country is 57 years old. Getting young people with those skills into the organisation is an important focus area for us as well, so we’re spending a lot of time and money on developing these skills.

3. Are you seeing a move towards greater freedom of thought in the finance function?

The finance department has become a critical strategic partner, because by their nature they are good at interpreting data and presenting it in a way that the engineers can understand it. That’s become a very critical part of our success over the years.

I sometimes joke with Pieter [de Wit, Afrimat FD] and ask him if he can even do accounting anymore, because we are so busy focusing on taking information and putting it in the right place to make the right decision for the business to thrive.

CFO Day was made possible by principal partner Workday, executive partner BDO, and associate partners Allan GrayCaseware AfricaCircitCoupaSoluGrowth and Transparent.

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