Craig Tingle - CFO Mediclinic: "I trust you. Don't drop me"

“Giving people and managers more power has proved very beneficial to the company.” Craig Tingle has a firm belief in giving people more accountability and responsibility, for them and the company to grow simultaneously. Craig (53) currently holds the position of Chief Financial Officer of Mediclinic International, the sixth largest listed private hospital group in the world with operations in South Africa, Namibia, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. It is supported by 21,000 staff members internationally.

Craig originally worked for the listed Rembrandt Group in South Africa before joining Mediclinic in its early stages of its development in the late '80s. He was appointed as the Financial Director of Mediclinic in 1992, and resigned from this position in 1999. He remained on as a Non-Executive Director of Mediclinic until 2005. At this time the business entered an exciting new phase with the acquisition of a 49.9% interest in Emirates Healthcare Limited in Dubai. He, as CFO, and current Mediclinic International CEO, Danie Meintjes were tasked with being the vanguard of this new venture. In 2009 he returned to South Africa, and was appointed as the Chief Financial Officer of Mediclinic International in 2010. Craig has completed a Bachelor of Science (Forestry) in 1981 and his BCompt Honours in 1986. In 1987 he qualified as a Chartered Accountant (SA).

Mediclinic Southern Africa is a wholly owned subsidiary of the South Africa-based international private healthcare group Mediclinic International, founded in 1983 and listed on the JSE, the South African securities exchange, since 1986. Mediclinic International currently has three operating divisions - Mediclinic Southern Africa which operates 52 private hospitals in South Africa and Namibia; Hirslanden which operates 14 private hospitals in Switzerland and Emirates Healthcare which operates 2 private hospitals and 8 clinics in the United Arab Emirates.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?
What I like most about my job is that I deal with a huge amount of variety - in terms of issues we face, as well as working with people in different parts of the world. Having to deal with this variety of issues and people around the world - entailing varying skills, attributes, attitudes and different cultures - makes my job very interesting and fulfilling. It requires different ways of dealing with things and people, which is one of the things I like most about an international company such as Mediclinic International.

How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?
I would say the main difference would be that the role of the CFO has expanded a lot - from being the one who implemented controls and kept the score, managed the treasury and the audits and did the budgets to one who is much more involved in the overall business and its strategy. The scope of the issues the CFO has to deal with has broadened greatly, to including sustainability issues, strategy and increased governance requirements too. The CFO now forms an intertwined team with the CEO, looking after the company together. It also entailed a shift in focus - from South Africa only, to becoming more international. These changes have added an extra layer to the CFOs tasks and responsibilities, making it more time-consuming and from time to time, complicated. That's certainly not a bad thing; it's just how it has developed.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
All changes I mentioned above will remain - the CEO and CFO will stay functioning as an intertwined team. Just like the challenges around the world will continue, so will the challenges of being a corporate organization. The current trends will continue. Our core business of patient care is dynamic, fast-changing and evolving and will remain as challenging as it is now.

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?
Over the last 25 years in South Africa we have learned to be very accurate on forecasting and budgets. Our business is fairly stable and predictable as the demand for hospital services is fairly independent of external economic factors unlike many other businesses. Therefore budgeting and forecasting are still important and feasible for us, and we can still do it very accurately. The turmoil has thus impacted us relatively less than it has other industries.

In terms of our way of budgeting - we do rolling budgets. We update our budgets on a regular basis, instead of doing it only once a year.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
The biggest challenge in health care business is affordability. Healthcare service demand increases continually due to factors such as aging populations, technology development, increased burden of disease and consumerism. However, healthcare is expensive and the provision of cost-effective quality care is our main challenge. The access and affordability of health care is an international issue and a high priority on the agendas of many countries. South Africa in particular faces a shortage of trained health care professionals, which has been acknowledged by the government and is part of current planning.

Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
Well, obviously there is the basic skill of accuracy and the ability to understand numbers; clearly that is still your core purpose as a CFO. Add to that the necessity to have good people skills; the modern CFO also needs to be able to be a good communicator, for instance when dealing with capital providers or when dealing with many other stakeholders. All of the above imply having broader business and people skills. For me personally, having to deal with over 200 people in our overall, global finance team, where so many different cultural factors come into part, having good people skills is an absolute essential.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
Two things I enjoyed most in my role as CFO come to mind. As a young guy in the nineties - while being CFO of Mediclinic South Africa we completed our first big takeover in South Africa, when Mediclinic took over the Medicor Group in 1995. The CEO and I were heavily involved in that transaction, which really set the Mediclinic group on a growth path. It was a good transaction that ended well for all parties involved.

Also, I am immensely proud of what we did in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which was our first international expansion. In 2006 we were sent to go and help set up Mediclinic there, me being the CFO of the venture. So far it has proved to be a very successful venture, and we left Dubai in 2009, with the company there in very good hands. There is a great team of people working there, and it's going very well.

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.
I think everybody makes their changes once appointed into a new position. One of the changes I made as the CFO was to empower operational people more. We had a very centralized financial system on budget spending, allowing only certain central people in finance to make decisions. Under my guidance we changed that principle and gave people in operations more power and tools to spend money, obviously under certain guidelines. At the end of the day I would oversee that spending, but giving people and managers more responsibility and power has proved very beneficial to the company. Enabling people to make quick - and more - decisions on financial matters simply proves a better overall business sense, while decreasing your workload at the same time. The operational team was very happy with the extra accountability and responsibility.

Who is your role model in life and why?
Nelson Mandela. This country had a future because of him. His amazing ability to forgive and forget and move forward is admirable. We have to occasionally remember how this country came about and he had a massive role in that. His absolute determination and vision - he stayed true to his principles his whole life - is remarkable. It's easy to change if the world around you changes, but he didn't. The lesson is that you have to have the ability to forgive, forget and look forward, to be determined and stick to what's true.

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
That would be that you will have to work hard and be positive - the cliché is indeed true - and make yourself heard, add to the debate. If necessary, add a different view to the discussion. Nowadays you have to master more than technical skills. I always tell my team the following: "do your job properly, don't make me check on you. I trust you, don't drop me."


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