Gerhard Malan - CFO Rectron: `Did South African companies miss the boat?`

“Did South African companies miss the boat by not exploring the rest of Africa sooner?” wonders Gerhard Malan, CFO of Rectron, one of South Africa’s leading ICT distributors. “I believe South Africa is its own worst enemy when it comes to growth and expansion. It seems like this is the decade for emerging markets but South Africa is missing out.”

Gerhard graduated in 2003 from the University of the North West (Potchefstroom) and finished his 3 year articles at Griesel Nel Inc in November 2006. He came to work for Rectron straight after his articles and was promoted to CFO at the beginning of 2009.

Through the years, Rectron has grown in both Market and Mindshare and through the acquisition of new products, is now a leading computer, peripherals and accessories distributor. The company currently staffs around 300 people and has branches in Gauteng, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. Rectron is part of the JSE-listed Mustek Group, the largest assembler and supplier of PCs in South Africa.

1) What do you enjoy most about your job and why?

The ever changing and fast paced IT industry keeps me on my toes. Every week is filled with challenges which give me great experience as well as intellectual stimulation.

2) How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?

I've only been in my current position for just over 3 years but since then it feels like the CFO is much closer to the real core business of a corporation than just focusing on reporting.

3) How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next five to ten years?

Due to King III and all the added regulations the CFO will become, and already is, more involved in regulation and risk reporting. After the recession more focus has been put on risk and how it is controlled and this will maintain the focus point going forward.

4) Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets? How do you deal with the volatility?

Forecasting & budgeting definitely, accurate is another story. If your controls and procedures are in place any unforeseeable situation should be adequately overcome by them.

5) What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?

Did South African companies miss the boat by not exploring the rest of Africa sooner? Are we still seen as the gateway into Africa or has the rest of Africa become much more approachable than before? I believe South Africa is its own worst enemy when it comes to growth and expansion. It seems like this is the decade for emerging markets but South Africa is missing out. In the IT distribution industry depleting margins are definitely the greatest challenge and how to diversify our services and product portfolio to combat this. There is much focus on price points and people seem to forget the importance of after sales support and service delivery.

6) Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?

First of all one needs people skills. Doing the numbers comes natural to all finance professionals, but it is how you communicate these findings to your co-workers and business partners that are of most importance. Interpretation is just as important. Numbers will never lie, but it is how you interpret it that makes a difference.

7) Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?

My biggest achievement so far was when I was promoted to CFO. I also had the privilege of being the acting MD when our previous MD went on maternity leave as well as during the transition period when the previous MD was replaced by the current one.

8) What three things must you do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work and why?

1. To assist an employee with problem solving, whether insignificantly small or big and time consuming;

2. To pull or receive a report at the end of the day and see that there is reward for time and effort invested;

3. To be privileged enough to have a job and to be able to do what l love doing is a fulfilment.

9) Who is your role model in life and why?

I don't have one role model in particular, but there are a lot which I have come to admire and learn from different people: entrepreneurship, experience, work-life balance, professionalism, business ethics, driven etc.

10) What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?

I would advise them to ask a lot of questions, since that is the only way that you will learn. Plus: always make sure you understand the answers to those questions asked. Another two characteristics which are important to me, and I believe also to a lot of other companies and CFO's are stability and reliability.

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category: Interviewing the CFO