CFO Summit hears how finance leaders are keeping their people


Cape Town’s top CFOs reveal how they are making sure their people want to stay in their organisations.

In the last year, the pressure for South African companies to prove their resilience when it comes to people retention has been immense. For many, the pressure has been unsurmountable, but for most, it has been a catalyst for change.

Working for a startup, SnapScan CFO Derick Truscott said his biggest challenge is competing on an international scale for local talent. “The majority of our talent is looking at emigrating because of the economic challenges we are experiencing. We have to find a way to keep the youth talent in South Africa. They are the ones who will be in the executive seats in 20 years, but once they leave, we won’t get them back.”

Hulamin CFO Mark Gounder added that:

“The best part about our country is our people. If you want to make money in South Africa, you have to take care of its people.”

The right value proposition

EOH FD Ashona Kooblall explained that having the right employee value proposition can make a huge difference in your people’s willingness to stay.

“People want to see a direct link to what they are putting in and getting out,” Derick said. “We need to instil short-term rewards in our culture, where people can see the immediate benefit of their actions.”

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In2Food CFO Steven Kilfoil referred to a study in Australia, where they asked schoolchildren what they wanted to be when they grew up. “The most popular answer was barista, because it provides the instant gratification that the next generation of workers is looking for. They want to give someone a cup of coffee and see the smile on their face when they take their first sip.”

Derick added that:

“Everyone wants to make an impact and have a purpose. The clearer you can make that impact proposition, the more optimistic your people will be.”

A reason to stay

Derick explained that one of the things that has helped many organisations keep and bring in new talent is their brand. “If you are a consumer-facing brand, it will play to your benefit. For example, everyone has SnapScan on their phone, so people will recognise the brand and think we’re somewhere cool and innovative to work for.”

He added that CFOs also need to make sure their policies are fit for new ways of working. “If you ask people to come back to the office for five days a week, you can forget about keeping them.”

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Ashona explained that, instead of getting to the point of exit interviews, EOH does stay interviews, where they look at some of the challenges their people are facing, areas of development and upskilling opportunities.

“You have to create an environment that helps people develop and grow. As the CFO, it’s your job to empower your team through their careers, even if it isn’t monetary. Focus on making them part of your story, embracing their focus areas, and fostering a sense of belonging. If it’s important to me, it’s important to them.”

A conducive environment

Hulamin has done just that. “We needed to reinvent ourselves three years ago. We had been operating with massive losses in the prior three years, and we didn’t have the money to reinvest in the business,” Mark explained.

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Instead of building a new business, however, they focused on growing their people, who have grown the business in return. “We created environments that fostered innovation from everyone in the team, not just upper management. In these environments, even plant workers could discuss the issues they were facing, and everyone would work together to find a solution or improvement for that problem,” he said.

Through one of these discussions, Hulamin was able to increase its production by 5,000 tons capacity, with zero capital investment.

“Allowing people to have a voice can realise great value,” Mark added.

The power of people

Hulamin’s people focus paid off during the civil unrest in July. As Pietermaritzburg’s largest employer, the company impacts over 20,000 people’s lives in the surrounding communities. While looters were burning down Makro and SA Breweries’ offices next to the plant, workers had created a human shield around Hulamin to protect it – despite management’s protests. “We watched as a forklift truck drove past us filled with stolen alcohol,” Mark said incredulously.

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The riots lasted three days. On the fourth day, while the rest of the province was counting its losses, Hulamin was already back to normal production. “It’s because we treat our people like family,” he added.


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