CFO of the Week: Clint Capitano, Cunningham Lindsey: take decisions and move on

Decisiveness is one of the most important characteristics of a good CFO, says Clint Capitano, Chief Financial Officer at loss adjusting firm Cunningham Lindsey. “People procrastinate and take a long time to take decisions; being decisive is one of my strongest points. I do research, get the information I need, take a decision and move on. I get things done and live with the consequences of my decisions.”

Capitano has a long history at accounting and advisory firm PwC, but moved to Cunningham Lindsey four years ago. He feels his goal-driven approach has given the South African branch of the multinational a real boost. "You also need to realize you are not on your own. I can always run things by members of my team or my CEO, but decisiveness is crucial. You can't wait for six months to take a decision."

In Capitano CFO South Africa has a staunch supporter. "What I love about the CFO network is that you meet people from other industries that have resolved issues and problems that you may be dealing with," he says. "I am meeting a lot of people at the events. It is a brilliant initiative and I even go to the events if the topics are not relevant to me. The networking alone is worth it."

Cunningham Lindsey delivers a professional service to insurance companies, Capitano explains. "When there is a commercial claim, for example when a factory burns down, we investigate the claim and provide a report to the insurer. The insurance company will use our report in deciding on the outcome of the claim." He says BEE and the lack of skilled loss adjustors are the two single biggest challenges the firm is dealing with at the moment. "The new BEE-regulations come into effect in May 2015. We need to make sure that we implement a strategy, so we can match our current BEE rating and improve our rating going forward. Otherwise we risk losing some clients."

The battle for skills is possibly an even tougher task, says the CFO. "The industry is really struggling to find talent. There are a limited number of young adjustors coming through the ranks. In auditing it is the other way around, with many young CAs graduating. So what happens is that we try to head hunt staff, but that is not the ideal solution." Capitano feels solutions to the BEE and staffing issues are linked. "We have now started discussions with some of our clients to create learnerships that include practical, on-the-job training. We can't hire skilled and experienced loss adjustors, because they are a scarce commodity, so we need to identify CAs or engineers and interest them in becoming loss adjustors."

The industry is fascinating, when you start realizing the opportunities, Capitano enthuses. "We have guys that do major commercial claims. To write reports on those claims, you need a whole team that includes engineers, accountants and other specialists. It is not a boring job and there can be a lot of travel within South Africa and in the rest of Africa. Each client is completely different, you get exposure to many diverse industries and customers- and the remuneration is market-related."

When looking at his career so far, Capitano says he is proud of three things in particular, "The first thing I want to mention is that I passed the board exam on my first attempt, which I understand does not happen that often. Secondly, being selected for PwC's Altitude Leadership Development Programme was a big deal. It is similar to a mini-MBA for which you cannot apply; you have to be approached. In the year I did the program, we were a very small group from across South Africa." The CFO is also proud of his accomplishments at Cunningham Lindsey. "Things have changed drastically in the last 4 years at Cunningham Lindsey. I have improved things and changed the way we do things drastically, for example when it comes to processes and procedures."

After doing his articles at PwC, Capitano stayed on as a manager and later was promoted to associate director - also working as the de facto FD for his division. "The idea was to stay on and become a partner, but PwC were unable to give me a firm commitment. As a result, I decided to move on because I did not want to would lose too much time in my corporate career. When I decided to leave I had the full backing of PwC and I also understood their rationales. There are no hard feelings."

Although Capitano has had to get used to dealing with IT and HR matters, his leadership style also needed to change. "At PwC I was dealing with highly driven professionals. There was no need to motivate people. Here, I work with many people who have not had the benefit of tertiary education. I have learnt to motivate people on a different level and to assist them in dealing with issues outside of the work environment."

Nevertheless, Capitano feels he has been able to make his mark. "When I joined I had my own ideas about how things should be done. I changed the internal controls, changed things around in IT and made sure we moved towards working with cutting edge technology. From the beginning I assisted the CEO with the business. I am more involved in operations than I envisaged; finance runs itself now. I am hardly involved in the day-to-day finance issues. The CEO and I are the decision makers in South Africa. We report overseas, but we're mostly left to our own devices."

Capitano makes no secret of the fact he wants to be a CEO somewhere down the line. "From early in my career, I wanted to run my own business. But CAs are risk averse and afraid to take that step. These days, I read a lot and try to attend as many seminars as possible. I specifically try to improve outside of the finance field. When our CEO retires in the next 3 or 4 years, I would like to replace him. If that does not happen I would look at a CFO role at a bigger company, maybe a listed one. But I would prefer a CEO role; I like to be in charge."