Hatch Africa FD Craig Sumption has been a leader since high school
Hatch Africa FD Craig Sumption's has developed a deep sense of responsibility and accountability.
Craig Sumption, director of finance at Hatch Africa, started his journey to leadership at a young age. As part of the first cohort of Rand Park High, he became the first head boy of the school, having filled leadership roles from Grade 9 until Matric.
“As the eldest students, our group developed strong leadership skills. For me, it was abilities such as being able to interact with others, learning how to read and understand people and appreciate how they handle different challenges.”
As head boy, he had to plan and assign duties, head meetings and, in some instances, lead Prefects and others who didn’t necessarily want to be burdened with responsibility. “I developed a deep sense of responsibility and accountability, and if something didn’t happen, I took it upon myself to step up and make a plan. This mentality of finding solutions has stayed with me until today.”
Craig knew as early as when he was 10 years old that he wanted to be a chartered accountant, “I was playing chess by the time I was six and so I was already developing the ability to be strategic and tactical in my thinking. I first heard about the profession from my uncle, who I was pretty close to. As he described his work, I felt an immediate resonance with it and, as I went through school and enjoyed numbers more, my path was pretty certain.”
At Hatch, Craig leads a local finance team of 18 in a business that supplies engineering, project and construction management services, process and business consulting and operational services to the mining, metallurgical, energy and infrastructure industries.
He says so far, the Covid-19 crisis has not disrupted the company too much and they have been able to maintain a lot of stability. The biggest modification has been a change in communication, as the team moved to remote working “We have had regular weekly calls and catch up sessions. The team know what needs to be done and accomplished, so operationally there haven’t been major hiccups.”
The team is largely located in Joburg with a regional team which oversees India, Russia and UK.
Addressing the challenges
As the weeks rolled by however, Sumption started noticing that a mundaneness starting to creep into calls and challenged himself to think about how to keep people engaged “I have made it a point to keep an eye on who is participating in conversations and call on those who aren’t.”
From his love of reading (he enjoys genres such as non-fiction and autobiographies) he tried to pick up interesting concepts that he can bring back to the team as conversation starters. “For example, I have used Bruce Whitfield’s book, ‘The upside of down’, to ask questions about how well we know our country. By presenting new angles to commonly held ideas, or reasoning around the numbers in the book, I saw increased engagement. The people on our team already have a liking for numbers, so interrogating fresh ideas and sharing our thoughts has enhanced how we connect and relate as a collective.”
He admits that though his team have made it through the last few months in one piece, they have not been immune to the general uncertainty in the world. “Even though this stage has been fine, no one can be certain what the workload will be in the future. We don’t know whether we will land other big projects and what the volume of work will be moving forward. That uncertainty sits in the back of everyone’s mind, with questions around job security six months to 12 months down the line.”
He shares that it’s difficult to cope with that uncertainty and that as a leader you are in the tough position of being expected to offer comfort, but also not knowing what the future holds, “You don’t want people to get overtaken by worry, but can’t make false promises. It's about striking the balance between being as realistic as possible without painting doom-and-gloom scenarios. I remind people that now is the time for us to be cautious, not just as business but in our personal finances. Hold back on any splurging and prepare for a rainy day. Finding that fine balance in the message is important, but sometimes tricky.”
Sharing wisdom and insight is important to Sumption, having benefited from close relationships with Hatch’s previous managing director, and the managing director of the Infrastructure Business unit. “In my early years at the company, their support and guidance, including me in discussions and guiding me where there are shortcomings was extremely beneficial. Their influence developed both technical and softer skills which made a huge impact on my ability to lead.”
Craig knows that mindset and perspective are important and he asks the team to share any positives that have come out of the pandemic. Apart from people saying they appreciate the extra time with family, they also report that they are not spending a lot of money on extras that they don’t need and are diverting it elsewhere. “I expect that we are heading into a tumultuous time, every industry is faced with different challenges and we are in different stages and phases of change. Getting the economy back on its feet is going to take a while and won’t be straightforward.”
Life and leadership
Born in Cape Town, Craig moved with his family to Johannesburg when he was a small child. The middle of three boys, he is also the father of three sons. He says growing up with boys who tend to bounce back from disagreements, taught him that holding on to things doesn’t do anyone any good.
He has a naturally calm temperament and finds that as a result people come to him as a sounding board to test the rigour of what they think, without the risk of a major reaction. He thinks that being calm de-escalates situations and leaves space for listening, gathering information and getting the full picture of a situation.
His leadership style is one of engagement, talking to people and finding out what is happening in their corner of the world. “I believe I have an ability to read people and get a sense of who they are. Once the objectives are clear, I prefer to trust people to get on and achieve what needs to be done. I don’t like to micromanage people because that’s how they learn and gain ownership over the process.
His biggest career challenge has been being involved in a process of liquidation, which he says was not an easy time. “The people issues were very tough, but I got through this period by not panicking and overreacting and taking it one day at a time without having to do everything immediately.”
His central approach to life is one of being committed to doing the right thing in the most fundamental ways. “This looks like making the right conscious decisions; I don’t like waste and the principle of value for money is constant. It doesn’t matter who’s paying for something, if something is not well priced, it’s often not wise to purchase it, or invest in it. Value goes both ways; you should receive it and make sure that you also deliver it to others.”
Outside of work, apart from reading and golf, Craig and his wife are enthusiastic church goers and he admits to being a chocoholic. With three grown sons, one abroad and two living locally, he counts himself fortunate to have been able to give them a good home environment and be a present dad when they were growing up.