How CFO Elisa Mkhize improved governance at Kiara Health


Elisa Mkhize joined Kiara Health in January 2021 to help the company implement new governance, processes and systems to help the business grow.

Elisa Mkhize stepped away from her role as CFO of Clinix Health Group in June 2020 to take some much needed time off. She went on a six-month sabbatical.

“It was so beautiful. It gave me the opportunity to rest and reflect on my career. I did a lot of self-introspection, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life next – hoping it would be meaningful,” she shares.

When the time came for Elisa to return to work, she signed up for consulting work in finance, in the capacity of CFO, with Kiara Health, a medium-sized world-class pharmaceutical manufacturing company in South Africa.

“I wanted to find small- to medium-sized entities where I could add more value and contribute my skills and expertise in finance and business to help them grow,” she explains.

When Elisa joined Kiara Health in January 2021, they had just acquired a world-class manufacturing plant from Novartis in August 2020. After acquiring the plant, they quadrupled in size and needed to move from an entrepreneurial business to a corporate machine with well-oiled structures.

That’s where Elisa came in. “They had a CFO at the time, but needed a well-seasoned finance professional to come in and help them put in place systems and processes from a governance and financial reporting perspective,” she says.

Her immediate goal and focus was on streamlining the financial reporting systems to all key stakeholders, such as the executive management, the funders and the board, so as to ensure efficiency and agility in decision-making.

Elisa also implemented a project management office, where a committee led by exco looks at all the capital projects in the business and decides which to prioritise based on where the business can get the most return.

“I consciously didn’t want to bring in any new tools or systems either, and instead focused on augmenting what was already there,” she explains. “The company had invested in SAP S4Hana already and still had a lot to leverage from it from an ROI perspective."

She also knew the importance of making sure the ERP system is stable and functional before she could recommend the rolling out of any new reporting tools: “If your ERP system is unstable and you introduce a reporting tool on top of it, it adds a layer of complexity as opposed to producing reliable, user-friendly reports."

Elisa went to work restructuring the finance department to make sure staff had the skills they needed to implement these new financial reporting processes. “As you implement these processes, compliance with accounting standards is obviously key, and you need the skills to ensure that. Firstly, we onboarded a CA, because they only had bookkeepers in the finance team at that time, and needed to bolster the skillset in the finance department,” she explains.

She also successfully led and concluded a capital raise transaction, which saw Kiara Health exit a strategic investor who had been acquired by a foreign investor.

Seeing value

Elisa has also led the introduction of key governance structures and processes to the Kiara Health board, including the recommendation of board subcommittees. The reason is, even for small or medium-sized businesses, “governance and culture of the business are key,” she says.

“Culture is influenced, not imposed. You can’t force people to behave a certain way, you have to emulate it and set the tone from the top in order to show its value.”

Elisa explains that, whenever you implement processes, there’s always resistance because people associate processes with red tape. “But that’s not the case, conversely, it’s the well-structured organisations that are agile. Contrary to common belief, it is the unstructured organisations that take a lot longer to implement things, because if there are no structures and processes, you end up spending all your time asking questions instead of delivering value.”

She believes that the reason Kiara Health has been able to implement new processes so successfully is because the leaders of the organisation have been able to demonstrate the value it adds to the organisation.

“It’s been a very rewarding journey to see this business grow from where it was when I joined to where it is going next. Even with the persisting economic pressures imposed on all businesses today, it is truly a humbling and rewarding experience to witness a medium-sized, pan-African business thrive, and carve a new path towards success,” she concludes.

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