The CFO is the wingman to the CEO and the business, says Lushen Pather

We talk to Lushen Pather, who recently announced a move to SARB, about his time as Sasfin CFO.

Lushen Pather was recently appointed as Divisional Head: Bank Supervision at the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), a role he starts on 1 January 2018. He was Sasfin’s CFO prior to this and, as acting group FD, was slated to take over the reins from his long-serving predecessor Tyrone Soondarjee. Lushen, who built a strong relationship with the SARB during his tenure at Sasfin, says it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t turn down. “There were no push factors at Sasfin and I left on excellent terms. As a CFO I feel I can gain invaluable experience by working on the side of the SARB, an internationally respected regulator. I will also be exposed to banking regulation on a global level, which is very exciting.”

 

By Ebrahim Moolla

 

“A CFO of a growing business must find solutions to solve complex problems within the risk, compliance, regulatory and accounting frameworks – or else you will never grow,” says Lushen, who was nominated for the 2017 CFO Awards and lists moulding a younger high-performance finance team among his biggest achievements. “How we manage the risk, grow our business and bring in and retain the people are major challenges,” he says. “My view is that the CFO must be the wingman to the CEO and the business. Too often in a highly regulated industry, we just hear ‘no’ from finance executives.”

 

One thing is clear: Lushen is a solutions man who did not take the well-trodden road of elite universities and well-established social networks to the C-suite, like many of his peers. Born into a humble home in Shallcross, Durban, Lushen didn’t even set foot into a bank branch during his childhood, let alone dream that he would one day be managing the financial destiny of an entire banking group.

 

Attitude

While at school, Lushen stumbled upon an aptitude for accounting. After matriculating, he had to take on a job as a filing clerk at NBS Bank to pay for his studies towards becoming a chartered accountant, which he did part-time through Unisa and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

 

“I was never the smartest guy in school and didn't pass my CTA or Board exams the first time around. But I love my job and am enthusiastic about coming to work everyday. It is more about attitude than aptitude,” says Lushen, who values hard work over many other things and exudes an ironclad determination.

 

In July, Lushen took up the cudgels as group FD from the Cell C-bound Tyrone Soondarjee, a man with whom he enjoyed a close working relationship. He will continue in an acting capacity of the group and is financial director designate of Sasfin Bank Limited, subject to regulatory approval. He says he is enjoying the extended strategic ambit of the role.

 

Restructure

When we spoke to Lushen, Sasfin was in the process of completing a restructure that will see its banking, capital and wealth businesses operate independently and with their own dedicated management teams. The group is already realising the benefits of increased efficiency and focus, according to Lushen. Sasfin has recently also concluded a B-BBEE deal with Women Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited that sees the empowerment group subscribing for 25.1 percent of Sasfin’s issued share capital for a total consideration of R413 million.

 

Apart from these initiatives, the industrious former head of group financial planning and budgeting at Standard Bank was instrumental in overseeing the group’s acquisitions, which play a pivotal part in the future direction of the company.

 

“Sasfin acquired Fintech (Pty) Ltd a year and half ago,” Lushen explains. “The assets of the equipment finance company were approximately R1 billion and added R30 million to the bank’s profitability, so it was significant. The deal called for due diligence and SARB approval. There was a huge team and different systems to take on and it used up quite a bit of executive bandwidth. Finance was integral in concluding the transaction and bedding it down post acquisition. The group is now looking to acquire another equipment finance book of approximately R1.5 billion, that of Absa Technology Finance Solutions.”

 

Strong people

An amiable man with a laid-back demeanour, Lushen took on the role of diplomat when seeking to build a strong relationship with SARB, but isn’t one to shy away from tough decisions. On arriving at Sasfin, he was not satisfied with the output of his finance team and was compelled to make changes. Where others may have chosen to be conservative soon after joining an organisation, Lushen looked to youth to transform his department and a facilitative leadership style that is the hallmark of his people-centric management approach. Together with his young team, they effected significant enhancements to the group’s financial, capital, liquidity and regulatory reporting.

 

“I try to send out the right message by hiring strong people – experts in their fields – and trusting their expertise, taking them into my confidence, asking them what the best way to achieve the desired outcome is. I feel that people and stakeholder management is a big part of my role than my pure technical expertise and the real benefit that I bring to Sasfin.”

 

This mindset should stand Lushen in good stead going forward.

 

This article first appeared in CFO Magazine.