Garth Saunders - CFO SAB Miller: `As a modern leader you need to lead by example`


CFO South Africa had the pleasure of interviewing a large number of CFOs of leading South African companies. Today we meet Garth Saunders, CFO of SAB Miller, South Africa’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer and soft drinks. The company operates seven breweries and 40 depots in South Africa with an annual brewing capacity of 3.1 billion liters. The company has a yearly turnover of R40bn, including a R7bn profit.

Leading the financial department of SAB Miller - staffing over 500 people - is Garth, a chartered accountant holding a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (B.Com) from the University of Natal. He joined SAB as a senior accountant (taxation planning) as early as in 1984, to be appointed group financial manager for SAB in Botswana three years later.

From 1997 to 1999, Garth held the position of financial manager for various regions and departments including Isando, Northern Transvaal and Orange Free State, Beer Division, and the development division. In 2000, Garth was promoted to financial director of the Czech and Slovak Republics. He returned to South Africa in 2002, when he was appointed finance director of the South African Breweries Ltd.

1) How has the role of the CFO changed in the last ten years?
There has been a greater diversity to the role which has become far more focused and involved in strategy and risk management. The demands for a finance head to be more value adding have also increased.

2) How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
The CFO will spend more time on developing and measuring the impact of company strategy. Providing advanced, analytical analysis and insights will also become key to business success.

3) Which achievement or project in your business career so far are you most proud of?
The turnaround of our Czech Republic business which we acquired at the end of 1999 was a particularly proud accomplishment. I had the privilege of serving as financial director of the Czech and Slovak Republics business from 2000 before coming back as finance director at SAB Limited in 2002.

4) What do you enjoy most about your job?
I find the challenge of constantly improving performance particularly fulfilling. This is a vital success factor that must not only permeate through your team, but as a modern leader you need to lead by example.

5) Which skill do you think a young professional should master to be most successful in his career?
Besides the obvious technical skills, the most important other skills fall into leadership, being able to challenge constructively and communicate effectively. You also need to adapt to and learn from an ever changing business environment, economy and country.

6) Which education would you recommend for a successful career in business? Or, alternatively, would you advise young professionals to go overseas to get some work experience? Did you?
I find that a CA or CIMA qualification is a good foundation, although other disciplines in mathematics or engineering are good choices. Working overseas is always a plus. I only went overseas late in my career but the global experience certainly stood me in good stead.

7) What is your biggest lesson learnt?
It's difficult to restrict this to one aspect, but being the best at what you do, showing commitment, attitude, dependability and the ability to learn and add value to an organisation are some of the ingredients to a distinguished career.

8) What is the ideal way to end a hectic day in the office?
I enjoy relaxing with family or friends and sharing an ice cold Castle Lager.

9) Who is your role model in life and why?
My father. He was a very principled man, with a great sense of humour and incredible determination to succeed.

10) What vital piece of personal advice would you give young executive professionals?
Complete every challenge to the best of your ability, challenge mediocrity, but most of all, have fun.

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category: Interviewing the CFO

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