Finance called Simon Streicher away from a career in wildlife

The VP for FP&A at Massmart considered becoming a wildlife vet, but then finance called him.

Simon Streicher always had a keen interest in financial performance and how what businesses do translates into profit, sustainability and promising future prospects, but he says a career in finance was not a dream from early on.

“Late into my high school career, I wanted to pursue a career in wildlife veterinary services and wildlife management, but my dad encouraged me to keep my career and hobbies separate. It turned out to have been good advice!” he says.

Once wildlife was off the table, he contemplated a career in law. It was a close call between finance and law, he admits, but Simon now knows that he made the right choice, even though finance is a tough field and the retail space can be quite demanding.

Most days, challenges and obstacles are par for the course in his role, says Simon, but he has learnt how to keep ahead of the curve, and says that when you are not challenged on a daily basis, or presented with obstacles to overcome, “you have actually stopped learning or adding value”.

Teamwork is the answer to these challenges, says Simon, who has been with Massmart for four years and this company is a great example of this.

“We are a pretty tight-knit finance leadership team and need to rely on each other constantly, driving through challenges collectively.” It motivates him to succeed at a difficult challenge, or at least, to learn from a failure, trying again and learning from that, he says.

“A wise man once told me that it is less about how much you stumble, but more about how you get up, hold your head high and move onward!”

Simon has been part of teams that worked on a number of corporate transactions or turnaround plans. “Seeing those transactions or plans turn out successfully and then seeing a business prosper or grow definitely makes the hard work worth it,” he says, adding that success is so much sweeter when you worked hard and struggled through the process at times.

Understanding retail
As the vice president for financial performance and analysis at Massmart, Simon looks after planning, forecasting and measuring financial performance of each of their businesses. “What excites me about this role is that it is not traditional technical finance or accounting focused,” he says, “but rather understanding current trends and challenges, and using data and performance history to identify what are possible outcomes for the future – and then translating this into initiatives or actions to address current challenges and pressure points.”

The rapidly-shifting retail landscape has changed the way finance execs operate and it is so much more than just crunching the numbers – especially in financial planning. That is why Simon is so closely involved in many of the current initiatives and future plans of the business.

“What makes me most excited are the projects that touch on business innovation and growth – as the retail industry is ever-changing and moves at an incredible pace.”

Looking ahead
Simon would like to continue to deliver the best insight that he can for the business, to continue to grow and develop on an ongoing basis, and to be involved in the innovation and growth of the business. “Through this journey, I want to continue to be exposed to more senior roles and aim for a future CFO role,” he says.

He believes that CFOs should be focused on business partnering and adding value, thinking about finance on a strategic level. His CFO, Mohammed Abdool-Samad, is a prime example of a CFO with an all-round understanding of the business who is able to strategically guide the business from a financial strategy and capital allocation point of view.

Their boys and a bucket list
Simon and his wife, Heidi, have two busy boys at home. “I’m the proud dad of two entertaining boys. I spend most of my spare time with Heidi and the boys and try to get some quality family time in. I do enjoy the occasional round of golf and some social mountain biking.”

He also has a bucket list and has already ticked off one or two items on it such as watching the Springboks beat England at Twickenham, surviving shark-cage diving in Gansbaai and experiencing Austria and Switzerland in winter.

“The next item on my list is probably something involving an overland trip through the Kalahari into Namibia and Botswana,” he says.