Ahmed's exposure to the inner workings of government embedded a deep sense of responsibility.
National Consumer Tribunal (NCT) CFO Ahmed Moolla says working in the public sector lives up to all the stereotypes of being demanding and complex. But more than that it has allowed him to contribute to his country – something he has a huge passion for. It is this that has enabled him to thrive at the NCT, an independent adjudicative entity mandated to hear and decide on cases involving consumers, service providers, credit providers, debt counsellors and credit bureaux.
Having done his articles at Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA), Ahmed’s exposure to the inner workings of government embedded a deep sense of responsibility early in his career. In his 14 years at AGSA, he developed a depth of knowledge of the challenges the country faces which impressed on him the significance of auditing as relates to the public purse and importance of maintaining a clean administration. “In the public sector there are thousands of people providing services; from those providing healthcare, to educating children, to building houses. Having a role to play in this huge machinery is an honour,” he says.
For Ahmed, working for the people of his country is not a mere job but a task with a far deeper meaning. “You serve your country, and as a CFO you are tasked with looking after taxpayers’ money and ensuring that we are complying with the law when spending funds.”
Pursuing a career in finance
Ahmed, who grew up in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, as the second of three children and the son of a retired accountant, realised from a young age that he had a knack for maths and accounting, but when he chose to pursue a career in finance, he had no idea how difficult that would be. As a first step it meant leaving his home and finding that “Johannesburg is not an easy city to navigate, it grows on you, you have to learn to love it. It can be scary and intimidatingly huge.” However, with youthful exuberance in his back pocket, he viewed the adjustment as more of an adventure than a burden. “I lived with roommates, with barely any money, very little food, no car, but it was a whole lot of fun!” he says.
Ahmed’s family was not in a position to offer financial support, and after concluding his studies it took some time for his circumstances to improve. “When I moved to Pretoria to do my articles I had one bag with one pair of shoes, sneakers, and I boarded in someone’s house. Coming from humble beginnings, I didn’t think I’d make it to become a CFO.”
Working at AGSA was life changing. “The calibre of people I worked under was exemplary. When starting off training, my senior manager at the time threw me in the deep end, pushed me to go beyond the basics and gave me a lot of responsibility.”
He learned from the front row the value of a work ethic and doing things right the first time, “If you put in the time, plan properly and are committed you don’t miss deadlines or fail quality reviews. Back then, the tedious amount of reviews was tough but set me up to do a much better job now.”
Ahmed considers himself blessed to have found a career he loves coupled with an awesome opportunity to serve in government in a leadership role. “I came from extremely humble beginnings. Many times it was hard to eke out a living and I didn’t think I would be where I am today.”
All these learnings have been helpful in navigating the Covid-19 crisis, which he says has been new and different – trying to figure out how to deliver from a finance perspective with less interaction and face to face contact, engaged rather via calls and video conferencing.
“We have sustained our delivery, have still been making payments, are keeping on top of reporting and haven’t missed deadlines,” says Ahmed. “Elevating communication has been very important and has been shifting the focus to output rather than managing people. But we have a great team, so it has been a successful period.”
He explains that the impact of Covid-19 on the organisation has been positive because they sign off on debt re-arrangement agreements, enforce them and on average conclude 25,000 per annum. “Due to a loss of jobs or income disruptions we could potentially get more cases which will have a positive impact on revenue flows into the organisation. This is however unfortunate because it signals financial trouble for consumers.”
With the adjustment to a Covid-19 world with Covid-19, Ahmed’s view is that “We need to keep on looking at what’s happening in our environment and in our society. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to need support, having lost jobs and loss of life. These will impact us all.”
Working in finance, the pressure is on to consistently deliver on the needs of the organisation. As an example, Ahmed explains that they had to procure protective gear and experienced delays with providers. “This requires appreciating the challenges suppliers face, while pressing them to make sure the organisation receives what it needs at the right time and right price.”
Leading with a collaborative approach
Ahmed says success is a team effort and hiring the right people from the onset, as well as setting up solid systems is key. “Look for people who know more than you, have the right mindset, who are technically strong and knowledgeable about the public sector. Having people who are ambitious, hard-working and reliable makes your job as a leader easier.”
Ahmed prefers to lead with a collaborative approach, which he says fosters good relationships. He adds that, when there is trust in the team and you communicate the correct message all the time, it becomes easy for everyone to deliver quality results. “I draw on the collective knowledge and expertise of those around me. When presented with a problem I involve them in finding solutions and have robust discussions and resolve matters collectively.”
Now working on financial statements, he leads by drawing on the best behaviours of those he learned from. Three years in his current position, he is proud to have achieved two clean audits with the support of his team.
Providing direction and consensus is important when running a portfolio such as his and Ahmed says this means understanding that each situation needs to be managed on its merit. “You can’t apply the same solutions to different problems. This also means you can’t show up in the same way. You have to be able to adapt your response to the circumstance, whether its with suppliers, auditors, or any of our other stakeholders. However, flexibility doesn’t mean being a pushover, or cutting corners; it’s very important to remain ethical and work within the confines of the law in everything we do.”
As someone whose path to success hasn’t been easy, Ahmed knows the value of a helping hand and believes in reaching back and pulling others up. He is especially proud to have played a part in mentoring high-potential people. These are often young, black women who are often faced with difficult circumstances but are smart and capable. “Being in a position to contribute to the development of gifted individuals and seeing the impact they go on to make in their lives and others is something I am proudest of.”
Outside of work
Outside of the workspace, Ahmed credits his ability to weather many storms to his wife who supported him unwaveringly back when he was a struggling student and still supports his every move. “Honestly, I couldn’t have achieved everything I have without her there.”
In his spare time, he spends time with her and their three children.