Colin Brown, Super Group: a CFO that doesn't understand IT is at risk

“I believe that a CFO that doesn’t understand IT is at risk,” says Super Group CFO Colin Brown, whose recipe for success includes his deep understanding of IT, something he believes will aid any CFO tremendously. Brown was the winner of both the Finance Transformation and Strategy Execution award at the inaugural CFO of the Year event in 2014. In the run up to this year’s CFO of the Year gala, we are publishing a short version of the interview we had with Colin for the first issue of the brand new CFO Magazine – which will be launched during the CFO conference and awards event on 14 May.

Brown has quite a story to share. "When I joined Super Group the financial reporting was slow and chaotic. Many of the financial processes were not world class. I had 10 years of experience working for American and Japanese multi-national companies." Despite the doom and gloom at the time, Brown managed to keep a good number of talented finance people on board. "Most team members embraced the challenge to implement world class processes and reporting, which provided the executive with the necessary visibility during the turnaround phase."

His knowledge of IT was pivotal during that period, which saw the company clawing its way back from the abyss to a successful growth path. "For example, I can program in Microsoft SQL. This has really helped me in analysing large amounts of data across numerous entities and systems in a meaningful way. I learnt SQL in a previous company, and did basic programming when I was a kid."

Brown recalls how he put those skills to good use when he joined Super Group in June 2009 as Head of Treasury, and later when he was appointed as Group CFO in February 2010. "The banks had basically taken control of the purse strings. They demanded daily cash reports and payment requests and it was a very cumbersome process to provide the numbers required by the banks. That is when I personally built a database that collated daily bank balances for hundreds of bank accounts. I used SQL and Excel to create treasury reports that were submitted every day to the banks. In addition, the analysis of trends at different levels enabled us to accurately predict cash requirements, allowing us to early settle expensive borrowings and terminate onerous banking arrangements ahead of plan."

This approach continues to pay handsome dividends. "Our treasury division is still using that same database today, and we have been able to drive significant interest benefits through cash management within the group. We produce a full cash report first thing each morning. We can then analyse the cash trends at our different businesses and can quickly identify businesses where there are abnormal cash movements. This enables a quick reaction by the executive to possible problem areas. If you only rely on the month-end financial reports, it could take a couple of months before you notice any cash flow challenges."

In the end it all boils down to creating a world class organisation that allows the executives to pursue ambitious goals, reaffirms Brown. "As the Finance Division, our objective is to provide accurate and timely financial information to management. Through technology, good processes and disciplines, we have refined our month-end processes to be quick and accurate. Every month-end should be like a year-end. If you do not have a clear idea what is going on in the company on a regular basis, you can come across some unforeseen surprises during the year-end process."

  • The annual CFO Awards will be held at the beautiful Summer Place in Johannesburg on 14 May 2015. Speakers will include Mervyn King, Doyen of Corporate Governance, the immensely popular 'lifehacker' Martijn Aslander and awards chairman Vusi Thembekwayo. CFO South Africa invites you to buy a table at the CFO Awards, attend the CFO Conference and become our partner. For more information visit CFOAwards.co.za or email Jurrien Morsch at [email protected].
  • CFO Magazine will be launched during the awards event on 14 May. Subsequently, copies will distributed to the top finance leaders of South Africa. To enquire about inclusion or advertising opportunities in the next issue of the magazine please email Jurrien Morsch at [email protected].
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