eThekwini CFO Krish Kumar set to retire after 40 years of service

Krish says he leaves on a high, with the eThekwini Municipality's finances doing better than ever.

Krish Kumar is set to retire as the CFO of eThekwini Municipality after 40 years with the city, 24 of which were spent in his current role. He says that retirement will give him the opportunity to spend quality time with his family after a difficult year.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on me and my family. I lost my brother-in-law and my brother,” he explains. “I also tested positive and had to be quarantined when my brother passed away. This made me introspect and gave me a fresh perspective.”

Krish hopes to spend more time with his wife, Annie, two children, Alisha and Nikhla, and one grandson, Aryan. “I am a 24/7 person,” he says. I have gotten on the wrong side of my family at times. I had to make a lot of sacrifices. I regret not attending sports days, awards days and plays. I also had to go back to work the day after my wedding and couldn’t go on our honeymoon.”

However, he says that spirituality keeps the family and himself focused. “My family is vegetarian and we belong to the Divine Life of South Africa. I got the blessing of Swami Sahajananda to accept the post of CFO, and over the years I have learnt to strike a better balance between work and family life.”

Krish said he would not be leaving his post immediately but would stay until a suitable replacement was found, to ensure there was a smooth transition.

Highlights of being the eThekwini CFO
Krish joined the municipality straight out of matric as a trainee accountant and worked his way through the ranks to CFO. Looking back, he says there have been several highlights.

He was appointed by the President of South Africa as a commissioner on the Financial and Fiscal Commission from 2009 to 2013, which involved providing input and advice with regard to the national budget, and interacting with parliament and sectors of government. He was also appointed by the Minister of Finance as a member of the Accounting Standards Board for two terms, which included working on the generally recognised accounting practices (GRAP) standards and ensuring that municipalities were practically ready to implement them. “It also afforded me the opportunity to work closely with the late Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu,” Krish says.

Krish served as president of Chartered Institute of Government Finance, Auditing and Risk Officers (CIGFARO) for two terms and also chaired the CFO Forum for over 10 years, which enabled the sharing of best practices and lessons learnt. He also won the Public Sector CFO Award at the 2018 CFO Awards.

A recent highlight was that he was able to maintain the financial stability and viability of the city during trying times, including the global economic recession, the state of the South African economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I leave on a high, with the city’s finances doing well. We have the highest rate of collections,” he says.

Learnings during 40-year long career
Krish explains that some of his biggest learnings during his career has been to “do it now”. “I leave work with a clean in-tray every day,” he says. “Respect everyone and their time. You must be hands-on and lead by example. Create an environment that is open, transparent and driven by best practice. Be decisive, don’t procrastinate on decisions.”

He says that, in public life, you can’t expect everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet. “Everyone has their own interpretations and perspectives. You can’t take any issue or perceived criticism personally. You have to be factual and have the tenacity to deal with any criticism or observation that may not be well-founded but based on their personal political stance.”

He adds that he learned to maintain a zero-tolerance approach towards fraud and corruption. “Our unqualified audit opinions bear testimony to his. There can’t be any issues around a CFO. If the CFO is corrupt, there is no hope. You need to be careful not to be captured. You can’t buy a good man or woman. It all comes down to your own value system. I can’t be a role model for my children if I get caught with my hands in the till. It is als about doing the right thing when nobody's watching.”

Plans during retirement
Asked what he plans to do first when he steps down, Krish said he will continue to be involved in climate change activities. “I am currently on the C40 global board and have been approached by them to facilitate a CFO Forum on a regional and global basis as climate change is a major threat we face globally.”

He hopes to give back to the profession and has offered his services to training young professionals at an academic level for CIGFARO.

Advice for future CFOs
Krish loved accountancy and mathematics at school. “I was always the top student in accountancy. It was my aspiration to become an accountant and my dream was always to become a CFO,” he says. And that’s exactly what he did.

Asked if he has any advice for future CFOs, he says to stay focused. “Drive a clean administration and ensure that the objectives in terms of a clean audit and consequence management are being met. You must have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption.”

When it comes to politics, he advises that, while you must respect the submissions of all politicians, the role of administrators and politicians must be clearly appreciated and the line between the two must be clear and distinct.

“Leadership is about managing relationships and getting the three Ps right: the right policy, processes and people,” he says.

Krish says that he is grateful to the eThekwini Municipality and that the company has been a wonderful employer. “I am thankful to all the people who helped me along the way at work and in life.”

He also thanked the people who had closed their doors on his face during his career. “They made me stronger and built in me tenacity and persistence to always fight my case.”

Finally, he says that his favourite saying is “work is service to mankind” and explains that he is grateful for having had the opportunity to serve.