CFO Terri Ladbrooke finds comfort in numbers and collaboration

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Libstar CFO, Terri Ladbrooke, led her team through a treacherous period by trusting in the steadiness of numbers, as well as the power of agility and collaboration.

As one of South Africa’s leading food producers, Libstar manufactures, distributes and markets leading branded and private label consumer packaged goods. The Group is gradually turning the tide after a few rocky years since its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
A new executive leadership team was introduced in 2023 which set a new strategic path for the Group. Integral to the new team and financial turn was Terri Ladbrooke as CFO. Backing her was her strong team and her in-depth understanding of the business given her eight years’ experience in various roles at Libstar.

Passionate about numbers

Terri’s love for numbers started at a young age. “There was never really a choice, I loved numbers growing up, and I was always going to go into finance - wanting to be a CA,” she says.

After dabbling in actuarial science for a year with plans to eventually work her way back to accounting, her father advised her to follow her passion. “Start at the highest you can go and if you don’t enjoy it, you can always go down”, he told her.

“There’s a comfort for me in numbers because you just know where you stand."

It’s clear-cut, there’s always a logical explanation for it. Languages were never my subjects at school, it’s really just because it’s so open-ended and there are too many variables in it. I found comfort in the solidity of numbers,” explains Terri.

Terri joined Libstar in 2015 to help fill a maternity leave contract and was requested to stay on in Group Reporting and to start an Internal Audit program. After a year and a half, she was asked to join the Rialto Foods division of the Group. “That’s where I got a lot of exposure to operations and by the end of my tenure there, I was in charge of the HR, finance, IT, BI, planning, warehouse, technical and factory departments. So, I really got to understand operations from the ground level,” says Terri.

The experience came in handy when she became Group CFO in 2023, as Libstar was shifting gears after a rocky financial period. “We had a couple of years of disappointing results in the business and we wanted to unpack why that was. The answer was that our operating model just wasn’t fit for purpose anymore,” she notes.

Libstar had been acquisition- and entrepreneurial-based since going into business in 2005. So, when Terri stepped into the CFO role, it was much-needed time for a strategic review.

“We’re in a different life cycle of the business now, so we needed to relook our operating model,” she adds. The business’ new direction has gone from a divisional-based operating model to a super category-based model, a path that Terri says has started yielding positive results.

Making quick decisions

As the food industry continues to grapple with South Africa’s weakening economy, a constrained consumer environment, and the looming energy crisis, Terri explains that ensuring the availability of accurate, timely information and efficient systems remain crucial.

“The biggest part of my job requires me to make decisions quickly and with the right information on hand."

 To help her do this, Terri uses a collaborative approach with her team. “I want to build trust with my team and for me to do that, you have to get into the trenches with them. I’m going to have my team’s back, I’m going to work with them, and I’m not going to expect them to do anything that I’m not prepared to do myself. And that just builds a rapport amongst everyone that motivates the team. You bring them along the journey,” she says.

One of her team’s values is “being Champions for Good”, an approach that has helped her to maintain integrity within her team by leading by example. “You have to truly live those values and when your team sees and understands that - they deliver that to you.”

The practicality of it, Terri adds, is that whenever you are making decisions, you bring your team along with you.

Though there are systems in place for compliance and maintaining regulations, Terri concludes that she values agility by remaining transparent and empowering her team to be proactive in decision-making.

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