CFO Shaun Govender found clarity in the face of crisis


Toyota Tsusho Africa’s CFO says disasters are an unlikely catalyst for future clarity.

Shaun Govender is CFO at Toyota Tsusho Africa, a company that works in global sourcing of products and materials, provides warehousing and storage facilities, clearing and forwarding services, engineering and machinery installations and wheel and tyre assembly for Toyota South Africa Manufacturing.

For Shaun, the past few years have been chock full of challenges, but these have revealed hidden resilience and delivered great insight in the end. He took up the CFO position in March 2020 and he says, “Almost immediately, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and caused a massive disruption in our business. This presented an enormous challenge, as it brought about a complete shutdown of Toyota’s production lines, with our supply chains grinding to a halt.”

After so much turmoil, making plans to resume operations and recover lost momentum was challenging because there was still plenty of uncertainty and it took time for the market to normalise.

Hot on the heels of that challenge were other significant events: the nationwide riots that happened in July of 2021 and then the KZN floods in April of 2022. These hit the business squarely and Shaun says that disaster was significant in that it brought about a lot of instability. “I think the biggest challenge for me was how relentlessly one event followed another one. When that happens, it kind of puts you into this new realm where you’re constantly having to deal with new situations and angles. But we were able to overcome them because we gained experience with each hardship.”

He thinks Covid-19 and the riots prepared them for the floods, which turned out to be the biggest challenge of all. The floods claimed more than 400 lives and caused unprecedented damage to the province. “They were something we never expected and we had never dealt with anything like that before. It put our business completely on hold for almost four months! We needed to get back on our feet, but it was a huge challenge from day one.”

He recalls:

“We had to rescue our people on boats from our processing plants. Making sure they were safe was our first priority, and only after this could we assess damage to infrastructure and our other assets.”

When he saw images of floating containers in the water, he wondered how they would ever recover from this. “It was a tough time, but within three and a half months we had fully recovered and started business again. The fact that we had great teamwork and leadership really helped us during those difficult times.”

New opportunities
A natural solution seeker, Shaun says there were lessons learned out of this turmoil, including how to overcome challenges in the future. “In spite of all the challenges we’ve faced, we’ve managed to stay afloat financially. We paid salaries despite these challenges, which required us to think quickly on our feet. We’re still working on insurance following the floods – a struggle that has been time and resource consuming.”

He says there are a lot of lessons to learn from the success of working in new ways. “It was completely unheard-of to work remotely, given the size of the operation, but we managed to get it done and there are lots of lessons that we learned in how we were able to do it as fluidly as being on site. This crisis was a big driver for digitalisation and automation.”

He says:

“The flooding in KZN taught us that it’s important to have backup plans and to have a clear understanding of how your plan will work when the unexpected occurs. We learned to be more flexible in our responses and to think much more quickly on our feet. Also, it was important for us to have strong relationships with suppliers and customers so we could work together during trying times.”

Looking ahead
Getting into 2023, there are two major developments he is eyeing from both a company and industry perspective.

He says, “We’re excited about the next 12 months. We will increase automation and digitalisation of our processes, which will help us to improve the quality of our product. We’ve learned quite a lot in the last two or three years, but I think we are still behind the game because of digitalisation. The next phase for us over the next year or so is to fully automate our business.

“Another big thing that we are working on as a company is increasing localisation, which is a challenge for the automotive industry.”

Beyond crisis
Even though he has been able to weather intense predicaments, Shaun believes in making long-lasting impact in ‘normal’ times and prior to becoming CFO, he was the general manager of finance and accounting at the company. He says, “One of his career highlights was being part of the team that reorganised the company into three different entities due to our desire to drive transformation in our business. It was a big project, and I was in charge of it.”

He adds that as one of their major objectives, they aimed to drive transformation in the organisation, and made progress toward this goal. “We started out at BEE Level 8 and have gotten down to Level 2. I’m proud of that accomplishment, but there’s still a lot more work to do before we reach Level 1.”

Recharging away from work
Three times a week he gets up at 4am to ride his bike for about two hours, and has another long ride over the weekend. He loves being outdoors and hiking and has been to Everest base camp, which he’d love to visit again. He finds it very relaxing to be outdoors and in nature – unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough time to do all the things he wants to do, but has always loved being active.

“I used to be a competitive squash player in my 20s and 30s, competing in the first division of the Midlands league. These days, though, I’m not as competitive because of a bad knee. I still love spending time on my bicycle, however – it helps me stay calm.”

Shaun says a healthy body is important because so many people get that wrong. This balancing act is important, he says, because you have to spend a lot of time on your mental health and also on your physique – your health is your most important asset.

He favours cycling because he says, “The sport clears your mind and lets you process things, so it’s a great way to spend free time.”

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