Opportunity, deep pockets, the right people and tech make disruption tick, said A2X CEO Kevin Brady.
South Africa’s second annual CFO Day saw some the country’s top finance leaders gathered for a day of exceptional networking, inspirational thought leadership and fantastic cuisine.
Held at Marble Restaurant in Rosebank on 23 July, the event kicked off with CFO South Africa MD Joël Roerig thanking the sponsors – principal partners Deloitte, Workday, SAGE and SAP Concur, and associate partners KPMG and Cushman and Wakefield | Broll – for their ongoing commitment to supporting the CFO community.
“What I’ve learned in the seven years since CFO South Africa was founded is that there is massive need for CFOs to come together in events like this,” said Joël.
South African performer, author, satirist and social activist Pieter-Dirk Uys delivered the opening performance and hilarious ice-breaker in which he shared the story of his career, in the personas of the various political leaders of the apartheid regime, from Henrick Verwoerd to PW Botha, in a segment titled “Adapt or Dye”
“All the Bothas have been very good for my career – Pik Botha, Stoffel Botha, P W Botha…Botha-lezi,” said Pieter as the room erupted with laughter.
Four pillars of disruption
After a lunch of Marble’s finest sirloin and salmon was the Disruption Debate, a panel discussion in which various challengers to the market leaders shared their thoughts on the how they had managed their approach to disruption.
Kevin Brady (pictured), the CEO of two-year-old stock exchange A2X shared his views on what it takes to disrupt the market, as one of the new exchanges that have emerged to take on the 132-year monopoly that is the JSE.
With 25 listings now on A2X, Kevin outlined the four things he believes are key to making such a big move in such a heavily regulated market. Firstly, he said you had to identify the opportunity. The second is finding the right funders with deep enough pockets to be partners in the new venture. Thirdly, he said it was extremely important to find the right mix of people who believe in the purpose and culture of the organisation because, in those early days, it will be nigh on impossible to motivate people using money. Lastly, he said it was extremely important to employ the latest technology at an affordable price in order to create efficiencies that can be passed onto customers.
“We also reached out to people that had done similar things in other parts of the world and we were amazed by their willingness to chat to us. They spoke to us about how the incumbent would respond and we needed to position ourselves against that.”
Growing too fast
Victor Sekese, CEO SNG-GT, said that becoming a disruptor to the Big Four audit firms was a journey that very quickly took on a life of its own as the market had been yearning for an alternative for a long time. It meant the company had to grow much faster than it had anticipated and that this came with challenges of its own.
From a people perspective, the challenge was in asking people to stay committed to the cause despite have to forgo of the fruits of labour that were promised from the onset.
We had some people saying, “look, I’m still earning much less than I was earning in when I left my previous firm and I was promised that I would earn much more,” said Victor. “And we’ve had to say to them, wait, your sacrifices will pay off… Ultimately, we can’t duplicate what the incumbents are doing. And, over the last five years, we have been defining what that difference is.”
Technology is the differentiator
Mel Brooks, the CEO at G4S, a security company that is one of biggest employers on the African continent, explained what they were doing to fight against disruption from smaller more innovative firms. With 125,000 employees in 110 countries, G4S faces the challenge finding the tight mix of people and technology.
“Thirty percent of significant global security events happen in this country alone,” he said. “But there are many companies, large and small, that are using technology to deliver the same service more efficiently.”
Their challenge, however, stemmed from the fact that the companies have limited leeway when it comes to investing in new technologies. “We are a high-volume, single-digit margin business and that means we have to be very careful about how we invest,” said Mel.
Investec Life CEO Michael Goemans described their company startup within an established corporate firm, saying they benefitted from being able to leverage the resources and relationships of their parent company. Their biggest advantage, however was that they aren’t burdened with 50-year old legacy systems that large corporations are burdened with.
The day of learning and networking continued with more inspirational words from CEOs, a presentation on turning stress into resilience from stress expert Richard Sutton, and another side-splitting performance from Pieter-Dirk Uys.