Imperial’s Logistics Africa CFO Rochelle Gabriels leads with humility, authenticity and agility

Rochelle has driven change throughout her career with a focus on people, processes and technology.

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Rochelle Gabriels, CFO of Imperial Logistics Africa business, is passionate about positioning finance as a world-class function within the business.

“Our vision is to ensure that finance is a true strategic partner that adds value to the business,” says Rochelle. “This means transforming the way we work, our processes, and enabling a single version of the truth in the finance environment through the implementation of a core ERP system.”

She says that the uncertain times South Africa is currently facing have required businesses and individuals to be agile and responsive to remain relevant and competitive. She also adds that her ability to adapt to change has made her resilient.

“Throughout my career, I have driven change and transformation within finance, with a focus on people, processes and technology, and this has become core to my skills and capabilities,” she says. “I’ve built up strong resilience over time, and the experience gained through driving change has really created a sense of purpose for me. This extends to my team, because we are a part of creating something new and driving change for the better.”

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According to Rochelle, the key successes of any change are leadership support and buy-in from the start, communication, and partnering with the business throughout the change. A structured change management programme and team that is involved from start to finish is critically important and bringing your team along the journey and supporting them along the way is non-negotiable.

When Rochelle found herself aiming to drive change at Imperial, a quote from Robin Sharma’s book, The 5AM Club, stood out:

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”

“When dealing with change and driving it, it is important to have the end vision top of mind, and that’s what motivates me in my role at Imperial,” she says.

Rochelle’s role, as part of Logistics Africa’s executive team, includes supporting Imperial’s broader ‘Gateway to Africa’ strategy, which aims to position Imperial as the leading market access and logistics partner in Africa by focusing on core industries.

Career journey
Originally from Cape Town, Rochelle moved to Johannesburg when she accepted a role as Head of Finance at Multichoice SA, where she later became CFO. She joined Multichoice after MWEB was sold to Dimension Data by Naspers.

“Within a year of joining Multichoice, we embarked on a Future Fit transformation, with the aim of revisiting the operating model and organisational structures, making the organisation agile and future fit,” she explains. “It was through this transition that I was promoted to the role of CFO at Multichoice SA Group.”

Rochelle was involved in several exciting projects at Multichoice, but the one that stands out as the most rewarding for her was the engagement with the Phuthuma Nathi shareholders through roadshows, when a further 5 percent stake in Multichoice SA was gifted to the shareholders. Hearing how the returns have empowered and enriched their lives is something she describes as a full-circle moment.

“During my time with MWEB, I bought shares in the Phuthuma Nathi share scheme, which holds a 25 percent stake in Multichoice SA. So, when I joined Multichoice, it really hit home that I was part of a team that helped to grow this business and would now have a direct impact on the returns of the Phuthuma Nathi shareholders.”

Aiming high
Rochelle grew up in the Cape Flats, a tough neighbourhood in Cape Town, and was encouraged by her parents to further her studies.

“I really enjoyed mathematics in high school and I also excelled in accounting. I honestly had no clue as to what I would study after school, but since I was excelling in these subjects, I was encouraged to pursue a BCom degree after visiting a careers centre.”

She decided to take the CA route when she learned that it would offer her several career opportunities within auditing firms or corporates.

Already occupying a senior role as CFO, Rochelle believes that there is more to achieve as there are different levels of CFOs. “As CFO at Multichoice my portfolio only included the South African businesses. Now, as the CFO of Imperial’s Logistics Africa business, my responsibilities span our growing African footprint. However, this doesn’t mean I’ve hit the ceiling.”

Having also gained exposure to the board in both her CFO and company secretary roles during her time at Multichoice, Rochelle would like to pursue more non-executive board opportunities in the future.

Work ethic and family life
Rochelle is not afraid of hard work and says her work ethic comes from watching her father hold down multiple jobs. She says strong Christian values were instilled in her as a child and this also informs her leadership style.

“My father still reminds me to remain humble throughout my successes, and I think that sums up my leadership style: leading with humility and authenticity. I am also a firm believer that your attitude determines your altitude, and in maintaining a positive attitude,” she says.

However, Rochelle says managing a team during the pandemic hasn’t been easy and that the strength of working moms has really been tested. “Women have been taking on more roles lately, ranging from being leaders, colleagues, mothers, wives and part of support systems. One of the keys to making it through these times for me, was to set boundaries and specifically ask for support.”

For Rochelle, her husband – a fellow CA and an entrepreneur – provided much-needed support at home while she was working.

When things get a little hectic, Rochelle hops on her treadmill for a good run. She also enjoys listening to music and taking a warm bubble bath to unwind. Her most precious time spent away from work, however, is with her husband and their two sons.