CFO Tammy Narain unpacks how collaborative thinking drives manufacturing success

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BMI Coverland CFO Tammy Narain explores some of the challenges the struggling manufacturing industry is currently facing, and explains why harnessing the power of synergies will save it.

In the relentless pursuit of profitability and market share, manufacturing companies often find themselves at a crossroads: impact quality to gain a cost advantage, or stand firm on delivering a premium product that promises long-term value.

For Tammy Narain, the seasoned CFO of BMI Coverland, one of the biggest challenges facing her company lies in the industry and economic downturn. Both general consumers’ and the building industry’s decision-making has been driven by affordability. In an industry where quality and durability are paramount, persuading stakeholders to prioritise long-term value over short-term cost savings is a constant battle.

Tammy explains that the solution lies in harnessing the power of synergies – strategic collaborations that transcend traditional boundaries and leverage the collective strengths of all stakeholders. “It’s about being confident that what we’re providing is a quality product,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s never just a roof. Seeing our customers satisfied gives us peace of mind. Coverland stands by their quality as being a well-known roofing manufacturer for over 75 years, providing the security and safety your family deserves."

This mindset is particularly crucial in the South African context, where pricing pressures, poor adherence to building standards and economic constraints often take precedence over other considerations. As Tammy explains, “In South Africa, I can lose a sale because of a few cents. A strong competitive environment follows us across our national footprint.”

Amid these challenges, Tammy advocates for a fundamental shift in how manufacturing companies approach their operations – by fostering synergies that drive innovation, add value, and differentiate in their offerings.

The importance of synergies

In manufacturing, even small shifts can have far-reaching consequences across the value chain. This highlights the need for a holistic, collaborative approach. Tammy understands this reality intimately. “It’s so easy to become lost in the finance function. What makes it exciting is putting together your expertise and cross-functionally supporting and identifying the next lever to improve profitability.”

By recognising the interconnectedness of various business functions and stakeholders, CFOs can identify opportunities for synergies that transcend traditional boundaries. This mindset enables them to create value that extends beyond their immediate purview and contributes to the overall success of the organisation.

In this increasingly globalised and volatile business environment, supply chain resilience has become a paramount concern for manufacturers. Tammy emphasises the importance of diversifying supply sources and cultivating strong partnerships with suppliers. “We’re improving our second sourcing and procurement strengths. Diversifying suppliers is key to minimising risk,” she explains.

Furthermore by nurturing these relationships and fostering open communication, CFOs can gain valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by their suppliers. This, in turn, enables them to collaborate more effectively, mitigate risks, and identify areas for mutual benefit.

For instance, jointly exploring changes to raw materials or production processes could lead to cost savings or improved product quality, creating a win-win situation for both parties. “Key to the strength that lies in our production capabilities is the knowledge and hunger for innovation and the resulting impact that innovative production processes can bring to the business’s profitability,” she notes.

Aligning with sales and customer service

Another critical area for synergies lies in the intersection between finance, sales and customer service. Too often, these functions operate in silos, leading to disconnection and missed opportunities. Tammy advocates for breaking down these barriers and fostering collaboration across departments.

“How does our logistics function improve your customer service? How does finance improve your customer service?” she asks.

“Customer service doesn’t start with the customer and end with the sales rep. It’s the full customer experience.”

She illustrates this concept through an example: convincing architects and developers that concrete roof tiles offer a superior long-term investment compared to other lower-priced roofing alternatives, which have a shorter lifespan. “If I was trying to convince an architect that the lower-priced alternative is not the way to go, and that it is concrete tiles and Coverland is who you should support, what’s going to make him change his mind?” Tammy poses the challenge.

“It’s about being confident that what we’re presenting is a quality product that lets both our customers and Coverland together grow their businesses profitably over the long-term. We also focus on the expertise that we bring to the table by providing valuable roofing knowledge and experience to guide your decision,” she says.

In South Africa, where pricing sensitivity is intense, pushing back against uninformed decisions around cheaper upfront costs requires input from finance, sales, operations and more. Moreover, collaboration between these functions can streamline processes and improve operational efficiency.

For instance, finance departments can support by tailoring invoicing and payment solutions that cater to specific customer preferences, facilitating smoother transactions. “Ultimately the question that we all are addressing is how to improve the customer experience,” says Tammy. Does each team possess the hunger and drive to transform the business?”

Embracing innovation and continuous improvement

In the face of ever-changing market conditions and consumer preferences, innovation and continuous improvement are essential for manufacturing companies to maintain their competitive edge. Tammy underscores the role of driving innovation and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

“If you don’t apply innovation, finance is robotic,” she explains.

“What’s so great about being a CFO in a manufacturing industry is that you really are touching each area of the business.”

By leveraging the collective expertise and perspectives of various departments, CFOs can catalyse cross-functional ideation and problem-solving. This collaborative approach not only fosters innovation but also ensures that solutions are practical, implementable, and aligned with the organisation’s overarching goals.

Tammy cites the Coverland Roofing Academy initiative. “We’ve started a roofing academy – with an aim to bring accreditation into the roofing industry. We’re busy working with SETA to help us professionalise the younger generation of South Africans and do our bit to empower the future of our country.” This collaborative effort between operations, training and customer-facing teams aims to upskill the workforce while strengthening Coverland’s brand value proposition.

Tammy also highlights how business model evolvement is key to a sustainable business. “This year has highlighted focus on network optimisation efforts, optimised production processes and refocused sales strategy.” By tapping into combined expertise, the company can explore new go-to-market strategies that optimise costs and drive growth.

The key, as Tammy states, is ensuring “solutions are pragmatic, scalable and aligned with organisational goals” by harnessing cross-functional collaboration and diverse viewpoints.

Cultivating a collaborative culture

While recognising the value of synergies is crucial, successfully leveraging them requires a supportive and collaborative organisational culture. CFOs play a pivotal role in shaping this culture by leading by example and fostering an environment of transparency, accountability and mutual respect.

“My leadership currency is honesty,” Tammy explains.

“I’m not someone who wants to tiptoe around the story. The story is the story. You have to be aware of it, understand it, and want to do better.”

By promoting open communication, setting clear expectations, and holding teams accountable, CFOs can create an environment where cross-functional collaboration thrives.

Equally important is making every individual feel valued for their contributions, regardless of their role. “It’s so sad how leaders forget this. We need to acknowledge and respect everyone’s role,” Tammy states. “Have I stopped to thank that worker who produced more today than yesterday? A small gesture of appreciation can make someone’s entire day and revitalise their drive to grow and do better.”

She also emphasises the importance of setting clear, aligned expectations to maintain focus: “I expect my finance team to work hand-in-glove with customer sales managers. How can we add value for that customer through innovative processes or services? That’s the real expectation – not just checking routine task boxes. Again, how do we, as an individual, each contribute to improving a customer experience?”

Achieving sustainable success

In Tammy’s view, the path to sustainable profitability and growth for manufacturing CFOs is clear: embrace synergies as not just a strategy, but a mindset, one that recognises the innate interconnectedness of all business functions and stakeholders.

“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we cannot survive this difficult period, that things are too tough,” she emphasises. “But when you focus on powerful synergies and a culture willing to execute change, that’s what propels you forward.”

Her advice for CFOs striving to leverage synergies? “It is not an easy task. Ask yourself constantly why you need this to be successful and that answer will personally drive your actions. Understand the power that this leverage brings to a business both operationally and culturally. While on this path of transformation, stay firm to your personal value system. Remaining humble, open to change and trustworthy will ensure the support of the teams that are key to the success of the actions required to transform the business.”

By taking Tammy’s insights to heart and viewing collaboration as an indispensable driver of innovation, manufacturing CFOs can steer their organisations towards a competitive edge that transcends traditional trade-offs. In this synergy-fuelled approach lies the key to unlocking new realms of success.

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