Francois Reyneke, Financial Director Waltons: The challenge of moving into the cloud
“There should always be a challenge in life. Because of the continuous changes at my company, I have always been able to find those challenges internally,” says Francois Reyneke. The Group Financial Director at office products supplier, Waltons, is not a typical CFO type, who changes jobs every few years. Working for the same firm since 1995, he is currently in the middle of one of his greatest challenges to date: the switch from a distributive replicated ERP system with servers at all 80 branches to a centralized ERP system through a Waltons private cloud.
Reyneke’s account of the history of Waltons is peppered with a mix of experience and love for his company. Formed in 1949 in Cape Town as a family stationery company, the firm went on the acquisition trail in the 60s and quickly became a national player of note. “In the 70s the company was listed and it won various awards on the stock exchange,” Reyneke says. “If Waltons had not gone through many metamorphoses it would maybe have been less interesting to work here for almost two decades.”
The South African finance expert joined the company in 1995 when Pepkor acquired a significant stake in Waltons with the objective to obtain a majority stake on the open market. Bidvest intervened however and made an offer to all shareholders to acquire full control as from June 1997.
“The CFO of a division of a listed group has different priorities” says Reyneke “We don’t need to focus so much on statutory, legal and audit legislation as we have departments at Corporate Office advising in this regard. One of my areas of responsibility at Waltons is the IT division and in this age of rapid technological advancement we must ensure that we remain ahead of the pack.” Reyneke believes that Waltons has to develop a business strategy with IT components instead of just a normal IT strategy, hence the “journey from IT (Information Technology) to BT (Business Technology)”.
In the past Waltons worked with an ERP system that was modified to the extent that it could not be upgraded. This time around Reyneke and his colleagues are keeping it “as vanilla as possible, although we still had to modify it a bit”. The whole 2,500 people strong company awaits the last day of September with bated breath. “We won’t be able to run systems parallel. We’re going into the cloud and we’ll be running 80 branches from one server. It is a huge leap of faith to switch off a system the one day and switch the other one on the next – but that makes life interesting!”
Last year Waltons moved its head office from Cape Town to Johannesburg to be closer to their Holding Company, Bidvest, in the business capital of the continent. “At the moment all our branches are in South Africa, but our strategy involves establishing dealerships as a way to enter neighbouring countries. We have started with Mozambique but are also looking at others like Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.”
The enormous variety of corporate clients will definitely make it easier for Waltons to penetrate other African markets, Reyneke predicts. “After all we are corporate stationers, with 80 of the top 100 listed South African companies on our books. Waltons is a household name for them and although there is a lot of stationery available in neighbouring countries it doesn’t have our quality and brand recognition.”
Reyneke believes in innovation, motivation and communication. “Hence it is important to surround oneself with strong management in order to do lateral thinking and focus on ways and means of improving the bottom line.”
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