Chantelle Ah Sing - CFO Sekunjalo: "The CFO has to find new methods to expand business in smarter ways to add to its growth and profitability"

Chantelle Ah Sing is CFO of Sekunjalo Investment Group. The Sekunjalo Group is a collation of companies and investments and funds. In 1997, Dr Iqbal Survé, a self-described medical doctor, philanthropist and social entrepreneur, and three of his comrades founded Sekunjalo, an investment holding company that sought to offer "a gentler capitalism" that stressed putting people before profits, and talent development as a means of raising the lives of previously disadvantaged South Africans. By 1999, the company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, making 36-year-old Survé the youngest CEO of a listed diversified conglomerate. From its inception, Sekunjalo only purchased controlling stakes in companies, hoping to empower black workers. Sekunjalo staffs nearly 600 employees, of which approximately 50 at the financial department of the company. The company has a yearly turnover of R440 million.

Chantelle's career with Sekunjalo Investment Group started with the associate company, Bioclones (Pty) Ltd (biotechnology company)as Financial Manager in 2007. She was then asked to financially manage the Health Care group of companies in 2008. In Nov 2009 she accepted the role of CFO with a position as executive director on the Sekunjalo Board. Prior to joining the Sekunjalo Group, she was completing her studies to qualify as chartered accountant and worked as Financial Manager at a Italian company involved in the FMCG industry.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?
Sekunjalo group is diverse and involved in many different types of industry - IT, Fishing, Healthcare, Biotechnology, Media & Financial Services. I am constantly learning about various aspects of business and the industries that we operate in.

How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?
With the economic downturn in 2008/2009, CFO's in general had to focus on operational efficiencies and cost - cutting strategies to ensure the business continued sustainably over the past 4-5 years and begin to find new methods to expand its business in smarter ways to add to its growth and profitability.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
As each company evolves to a more mature company, so does the role of CFO who can respond better to the ever-changing regulatory and compliance requirements for a listed company and able to focus more on strategy planning and risk management.

Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets? How do you deal with the volatility?
The changes in the market are constant and monthly forecasting enables us to react better to these forces and its impact on the operations. Risk management is key in order for us to identify these volatile factors way before they start to take a real effect.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
Due to the global financial downturn, the access to financial resources to expand the various businesses to the next level will take longer in the current markets.

Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
It is important to have the ability to assess how finance staff can work effectively in a team and independently so that the maximum result can be achieved in a short period. This can prevent the stresses of underperformance in some staff, excessive workload in other staff and insufficient support from each other.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
My first challenge in the associate company was to work with the other managers to run the company when the CEO had departed after joining the company for two months. The company operated in highly specialized industry and a pioneer in its field. It took a lot of perseverance from all involved to understand the business quickly and make correct decisions to take the operations forward.

Please name something - a procedure or process for instance - that was implemented in your company before you were appointed CFO, which you changed after you took the position of CFO.
The previous CFO obtained the correct finance people to ensure that we met all listed company deadlines but my role has been to fine tune the system and its people so that we could deliver our year end results within two months and save the company the additional costs incurred with the later delivery.

Who is your role model in life and why?
I do not have specific role model and admire many people for the things they have done. I do admire Nelson Mandela for the peaceful way he obtained freedom for his people

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
Work smart by rolling up your sleeves to gain the right kind of experience that will add to your career path. Respect all walks of life and learn from all walks of life to gain a positive attitude and what they have learnt in their life.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you.Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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