CFO to owner – the transition that reinvigorated this CFO’s career

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Yvette Glass finds new purpose by shifting to the owner of Evac+Chair South Africa.

Co-founder and chief financial officer of Evac+Chair South Africa, Yvette Glass brought decades of extensive experience in accounting, financial management, tax and investment banking to her current business, a local manufacturer and distributor of the world’s number one stairway evacuation chair. The chair is designed to carry mobility-impaired people downstairs in an emergency evacuation when the lifts are not working.

In 2017, the previous owner, who was a client, announced he would be exiting the business. This presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Yvette and Gavin Glass, her business partner and husband, to take over the firm.

Some of the challenges and opportunities
Gavin was partially paralysed due to a spinal cord injury years ago, which changed both their lives and had a great impact on how they view safety for people with mobility impairments. This served as further motivation for the company’s growth and success in helping those in need. “It’s more than just a business now, it’s a calling,” says Yvette.

The chair helps people to evacuate buildings quickly and safely in an emergency such as fire, extreme weather conditions or a power outage where elevators cannot be used. This includes anyone with a disability or impairment, elderly people, pregnant women, and also assists those who might freeze at the time of an emergency.

Today, Yvette is responsible for the company’s financial growth and continues to maintain a broad understanding of all aspects of the business. “I'm very involved in not only the financial side of the business, but the overall business such as stocktaking, understanding the manufacturing process and how everything hangs together.”

She says having an in-depth knowledge of a business is very important when you decide to acquire it. “You need to know the nuts and bolts of the business – in our case, this is not only figurative in terms of being immersed in operations and the commercial sides, but also literally knowing all the components that go into the manufacturing of the chair.”

Getting the Evac+Chair where it’s needed most
She explains that the Evac+Chair is the world’s number one bestselling evacuation device and has been used in emergencies such as the 9/11 attacks in New York. She wants South Africans to have access to it everywhere it may be needed.

“That's my dream – I want people across Southern Africa to realise that we have this locally manufactured product that aims to help save lives through simplifying the evacuation process in an emergency, and that it also caters for everyone. My hope is that legislation will be improved to ensure that every person has the right to get safely and securely out of any building in an emergency,” adds Yvette.

The company encourages and helps its customers to maintain the Evac+Chairs they have. Maintenance is important, and just like a car or any other mechanical object, the chairs need to be serviced.

Being best in class is important and Yvette says they have recently launched a new model, the MK5, with upgrades based on feedback and suggestions from its customers.

The enterprise has exported to customers throughout the Southern Hemisphere, as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and South America, as well as closer to home to a whole host of African countries. Yvette says they have new corporates buying and investing in their Evac+Chairs, ensuring that their buildings are adhering to safety.

Partnership and family
Yvette admits that since acquiring the business, most of her time has gone into building it. However, a big upside has been the opportunity to work closely with her husband. “I know many spouses may not enjoy working together, but my experience has been the total opposite. It's wonderful to have your best friend working with you and for us, being with each other 24/7 is never an issue. I think it’s wonderful that when I want to discuss something with him, he understands the business and can give good input. For work or home, he’s my go-to. For us, it just works.”

Yvette is a perfectionist with a deep connection to the company’s mission and high regard for her team. Her leadership reflects her ambition to achieve goals. “Having worked as both a CFO and a business owner has given me the chance to see different sides of the business, which has allowed me to solve problems with creativity and make some positive changes,” she says.

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