Clinix CFO Elisa Mkhize: To yourself be true

Clinix Health Group CFO Elisa Mkhize thinks deeply about her role and her place in the world. She shares her mantras, professional vision and personal commitments with CFO South Africa.

Elisa Mkhize has two mantras that she lives by. The first is: Success begins from within before it manifests on the outside. “This is why I do a lot of work on myself,” she says.

The second is: Always do the right thing. “Everyone knows what the right thing is. You just have to gather the courage to do it. I live by those two mantras, and that’s how I find myself where I am today.”

Where she is today is in the role of CFO of Clinix Health Group, a private hospital group that owns and operates six private hospitals in South Africa. There are five hospitals in Gauteng, and one in Mafikeng. “We are the largest private hospital group in the market we operate in, and we pride ourselves in what we do,” Elisa says. “We run just over 1,400 beds, and we’ll be adding another 150 with a new hospital that’s going up.”

The Clinix group’s purpose is to make affordable and quality healthcare services accessible to its market. Elisa is very proud of the company’s “rich and strong” history. “The CEO and founder is Dr Peter Matseke, who started the company just over 20 years ago, with a vision to solve for socio-economic issues in the post-apartheid era, with just R70, 000 in his pocket. We’ve preserved that rich legacy. We want to continue to preserve that by continuing to provide quality and affordable healthcare services that are easily accessible to our communities.”

She is very excited about a Greenfield project – Clinix’s new and third hospital in Soweto called Dr Nthato Motlana Memorial Hospital, named after a struggle stalwart that historically fought for democracy and the provision of quality healthcare in black communities. This hospital is going to be the first 4-Star Green rated hospital in South Africa, and will boost the group’s footprint to include 1,600 beds across the country.

The hospital is close to the Protea Glen Mall and will include an adult ICU, Neo-natal ICU, maternity and paediatric wards and state-of-the-art theatres. This hospital will be a mother-and-child specialised facility, bringing world-class care to Soweto residents. The group has also recently opened new cardiac facilities at its other hospital in Soweto, Dr SK Matseke Memorial Hospital, bringing complex cardiac healthcare services to its patients.

Of Clinix’s clients, 90 percent are medical aid patients in the middle-class income bracket – predominantly police, teachers and nurses.


 
The Clinix finance strategy
In her role as CFO, which she took up in 2016, Elisa developed the finance strategy to support the business strategy, with the intention of driving growth. The group’s finance and admin team consists of about 500 people, working at the group’s various hospitals. She is very clear on the challenges and opportunities facing her in this role.

“With the current low growth economic climate, people are opting for lower medical aid options or opting out of medical aids altogether. That puts a lot of pressure on the medical aid schemes, who in turn push down on the hospital groups. Every year we negotiate tariffs with medical aids, and we’ve seen lower and lower tariff increases with the sluggish economic growth. This impacts on our top line directly. So our biggest challenge is to make sure that we run as efficient a business as possible so that we can generate additional profit margins to ensure sustainability.”

The opportunities, she says, are aligned to that. “We have to make sure we leverage systems and technology to aid us. We have a project at the moment to optimise the usage of our current systems and also identify processes that we can automate in the patient admin/revenue cycle, that will have the highest financial impact and returns. The aim is to empower the business in allocating those resources in such a way that every rand is invested in projects that will yield the highest return.”

She says that the finance function has evolved from pure stewardship or “financial gatekeeping” to being a business partner and an enabler of business growth. “The health industry is also fast advancing with technology and automation and we cannot afford to be left behind,” she says.
She adds that getting an organisation to buy into the changes that come with automation can be tough. “Before you can even talk about robotics and automation, you need to make sure your basics are right. You’ve got to have a solid environment to work in and this is where it’s crucial to ensure a strong control environment and robust business processes, that systems are in, working well and are well-integrated. It’s also equally important to have strong governance structures so that we can make sure that there’s no revenue or cash leakage in the system. We’re making a lot of good progress in the group in this regard.”

She says that Clinix is well positioned for the National Healthcare Insurance in the market in which it operates. “Universal health coverage is a policy we advocate and support. A healthy country with healthy people will result in a healthy economy. We’re gearing up and ready for it.”
 
Learning and influencing
When asked how she chose a career in finance, Elisa says that her parents had a lot to do with it. “They are very passionate about education. They were both teachers with honours degrees and they led by example. They made sure all their children had a degree at a minimum. To this day I am very grateful for that. They’ve had a great impact on my life, giving me a strong foundation that I’ve built on to this day.”

Her parents saw the potential for finance leadership in her and recommended that she go into accounting – as it was not only aligned with her competencies, but also with her core values. She takes that to heart in her current role, all these years later.

“I believe that the role of the CFO can’t just be played by anybody. Strong ethics and good governance must be at the core of every single CFO. They must form the base and foundation of the value system that you operate by. My professional life is aligned and fully congruent with my personal values and who I am.”

She believes that people should never be confused about what to expect when they approach a CFO. “They must be able to anticipate what answer they are going to get when they come to you. It shows that you are consistent and truthful. The truth is hard, but it ultimately has the highest returns. Ultimately people will get on board with what you are doing and understand your objectives. Those are the values that I operate by.”

She believes in continuing to impart the importance of education to those around her. She has two mentees, one at Wits and the other at UCT, and she is also supporting a child through education.

“I am very passionate about young women and education. A degree is the minimum that you need to empower yourself, but you need to be constantly building on that. A CA qualification gives you the foundation, but as a CFO it’s your responsibility to keep growing yourself in line with industry developments, where the world is going, and economic developments. I see myself as a role model, impacting on the country and the world around me. My goal is to keep developing myself. That’s how I’ve been successful thus far, and how I am going to keep reaching higher.”

Family and fitness 
Elisa doesn’t only challenge herself professionally, she also pushes herself physically. She says she’s inspired by her husband, who has just completed the full Iron Man. “He’s on another level,” she says. “But all of that has rubbed off on me, and I spend a fair amount of time exercising at the gym, and I love running. I keep active because I believe that being healthy gives you a chance of performing at your highest level. So for health reasons it’s not an option, but I’ve also grown to enjoy it.”

Her husband is also in the same profession and runs his own business. “We bounce off each other. There are a lot of synergies.”

She says that her family is her foundation, and they need to get taken care of at all times. “I have a 15 year old, a seven year old and a six year old – two boys and a girl. I love spending time with them. I make sure that when it’s family time, I put away my laptop, switch off completely and turn my attention to them. I believe it’s more about priority and quality as opposed to a “work/life” balance, it’s about being present and attentive when spending time with family.

She also continues to be inspired by her mother, who is still studying to this day. “Now that she’s retired, she’s exploring her passion for drama and arts. She does it with her whole heart and her go-getting spirit. She’s still fit and at her age, doing all of this is just amazing.”