Gatekeeper and brand ambassador - Discovery Health CFO Brett Tromp

“The role of the CFO is changing dramatically and I believe being a brand ambassador is critical,” says Brett Tromp, CFO at Discovery Health and winner of not one but two CFO Awards this year. Brett's optimism, energy and strategic acumen earned him the title Young CFO of the Year and he also managed to win the High Performance Team Award. We spoke with him about Discovery’s new pharmacy offering, his push for reporting on health indicators and his values of integrity, intelligence, optimism and energy. “Integrity, intelligence, optimism and energy are my four key assets."

What has been keeping you busy lately?
"Recently I became CEO of our new Discovery Healthcare Services (DHCS) business which includes our courier pharmacy business, our Home care business and our Wellness business and retained my CFO role"

"I remember how tough the decision was to go ahead with the Pharmacy business. We were concerned about various risks. It was a back and forth from our Board. Should we? Shouldn't we? But in the end the service for members and the risk savings for the Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) were compelling enough to proceed. We already do over 5 000 scripts per month and we're finding great savings for DHMS. It is not all about making profit, but also about driving down healthcare costs. If we do that, everyone benefits. This was a strategic decision and these are often hard for CFOs to handle if the profit is not there."

More about Brett Tromp:

"Another new business we started is Home Care. That means you don't have to go to a hospital anymore for basic wound care, IV infusions and a list of other specified treatments. Those are big decisions, because they open new ways of offering quality care to our members and driving down Healthcare costs"

"This year I also presented my idea for the fourth bottom line - which encourages corporates to report on health indicators - during a ministerial health care conference in Zimbabwe. People were skeptical, but I held true to my conviction, as great leaders should. It was a big success and all 15 ministers endorsed it".

You operate more as a business leader than a bean counter. What does a modern CFO look like?
"As CFO you get to really influence your business and work with all aspects of it. I am involved with most business decisions, because most of them involve financial guidance. I enjoy working with people and teams, not only my own. Is very rewarding being a CFO and seeing the fruit of your labour and the success of your business and your people."

"I really enjoy promoting my brand. The role of the CFO is changing dramatically and I believe being a brand ambassador is critical. As CFO you are part of the executive team with unique insight in the business that even others on the Exco don't have. CFOs are often seen as gatekeepers. That means people in the organisation trust you when you say 'this is what I believe' or 'this is what I stand for'. CFOs should be living the brand and believe in the company they work for. I believe that is the future of the CFO role."

What is your role, as a CFO, in strategic decision making at Discovery Health?
"I am very fortunate as when I was CFO I always looked beyond the numbers into the bigger picture of the business, I guess this has helped me become the CEO of DHCS. So yes I guess I have always tried to make strategic decisions."

"I had studied at Oxford the year before and learnt that most successful businesses don't have their Innovation and R&D departments together with Operations. We brought that idea back and now we have a separate development lab and we are managing to launch new products twice a year, while our competitors are still doing it only once a year."

"The split between operations and innovation has really given us agility. As the Group grows around the world, we need to be as agile as a start-up. I write a column for Accountancy SA, speak at conferences both locally and internationally. Those things all help me - and Discovery - to stay current."

As winner of the High Performance Team award, what is your recipe for success?
"I always believe in 'make your time matter'. Be strategic, where do you focus your time? It is a bit of a cliché, but smart bosses have smart teams and you are only as strong as your weakest link. I like to hire people that are smarter than me. It is important that you do not feel threatened. If you take care of your people, they take care of you."

"Integrity, intelligence, optimism and energy are my four key assets. I always tell people to treat they company like it is their own. Most people will follow me in that way of thinking, the detractors fall off."

How do your internal stakeholders see your Finance team?
"We do a survey once a year by Towers Watson and at the end of 2014 the Finance team came out near the top. When there are problems, people say 'send it to Finance'. People in Operations come to us and ask us 'are we efficient?' They know we are there to help and there is no friction. It took a long time to build that up. It started by building dashboards for Operations to use and we built good relationships. I never have to go to [Discovery Health CEO] Jonny Broomberg and say 'Operations is inefficient'. I go directly and tell them, it's this type of relationship that builds trust and performance."

What is your involvement in the recruitment?
"I like to be totally involved. I always let the team make the decision, but I get involved in all appointments, even interns. I look at the last 3 CVs and usually meet with them. For the candidates it is also important to know that the leaders take them seriously."

How much time do you spend on coaching?
"We have a masterclass about leadership spread over 7 sessions that middle to senior management take. [Discovery Group CEO] Adrian Gore and I did one on inspirational leadership recently and we make podcasts and videos of that. We also have a program for middle management and below. That is for 900 managers, who break away in small groups and go through leadership techniques."

"There are also quite a few people that I mentor internally and externally. I also write in Accountancy SA about leadership, which is a way of coaching as well."

What role does BEE play in building a successful team and company?
"It's very important to be a diverse company and invest significantly in BEE. A big challenge is that when the talent gets to a certain level it is in demand in the market and retention often becomes difficult. There is a war for talent. One way we deal with this is by linking BEE Executive Assistants to Exco members. Ultimately we strive to be an employer of choice that embraces diversity and hopefully this will attract talent from all cultures and races that want an environment they can thrive in, and most importantly have a societal impact by improving our members Health."

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