Meet Andrew McMaster, FD of Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages

"Do the basics brilliantly. If you do that, you will get most things right," says Andrew McMaster.

How did you first get into finance? Was this always the plan?
“Hell no! (laughs) My father was very enlightened. I had a pretty chequered schooling career and visited the headmaster a little too often. I wasn’t sure what I could or wanted to do. My father said to go get a “proper” degree before I became a surfer or a beach bum. I had the opportunity to go to Australia on a Rotary exchange. By the time I came back I had been accepted to do Business Science at UCT or Architecture at Wits. To do architecture, I had to have a portfolio, which I didn’t have, so I chose business science.”

“Finance wasn’t specifically my chosen career, and I fell into doing a CA the hard way – my dad pulled the financial plug on me and said good luck my boy. I had no choice but to get a job. I bought the cheapest, shiniest suit I could find, walked the streets of Cape Town and eventually found a job with one of the auditing firms. They sent me up to George and I started studying through UNISA. In truth, I probably would’ve liked to be a cook, but everything happens for a reason. Being a chef, that’s something that was never on the cards for my generation.”

You’ve been with the company for close on 22 years. How different are things today from when you first started?
“I remember when I first came here, we had a culture of incredibly long service, and we celebrate this every year with a long service award ceremony. I used to sit there thinking, these people have been here longer than I’ve been alive. I thought they were crazy. But here I am 22 years later, and people are looking at me thinking the same thing!”

“As much as things change, so they stay the same. I think what endures is the critical things that make a difference. Our culture is everything that we believe in here, and it has grown and evolved, without a doubt. Regionally it was a family-run business, and that has meant we are more inclusive and more empowering. Our business is about people, and this has remained intact.”

“If you boil it down to the fundamentals, those have remained the same: people still want a refreshing cold drink, dealers still want to make a buck by selling our product. The customer is perhaps the one aspect that has changed. Likewise with the weighting of relationships, particularly with the growth of certain retail chains. However, if you stick to the fundamentals, those shouldn’t change too much.”

What do you consider your most noteworthy achievement over the years?
“I would like to believe that the biggest thing I’ve created is a team of people who have grown and developed while they’ve been here. I like to cultivate financial maturity across the business. This is something my team and I have developed over time, across the organisation, as opposed to us ensuring everyone is sticking to what they need to do. They’ve married their operational performance with their financial performance. That maturity has been quite good. I’ve also strengthened the planning process and taken that to another level, a world-class level. We execute our business planning cycle with excellence and this is something the team can be proud of.”
“With regards to our systems and processes, ensuring we have timeous, accurate and relevant IT systems has been very important to me. We put SAP in 10 years ago and it’s made a huge difference. I think we’re a considerably better company for this because it gave us a great way of looking at our business. We’ve embraced it well.”

What is the most significant thing you have learnt over the past year, in your role as FD?
“We are very strong on culture and have done culture value assessments, as we really wanted to take this to the next level. So, as directors, we took a trip to America two years ago to go and look at culture. We found some incredible culture there. Philadelphia, for instance, has an incredible sense of community. In St Louis we met an engineering business, by the name of Barry Wehmiller, that comprises 70 smaller businesses from around the world. They started their own internal ‘university’. It was voluntary. We have, with them, started our own university here. We opened it earlier this year and I was lucky enough to be on the first course – ‘Listen like a leader’. Wow, what this course taught us about listening, empathy and understanding people, and being able to help people overcome their fears, has been the most powerful thing for me. Being able to let that flow out of me and embed it into the business is something I want to do.”

“Also, one needs a serious challenge or headwinds to find out if your team’s fundamentals are well galvanised or a bit loose. It’s been incredible to see, with the sugar tax, how well the whole beverage industry can pull together and do the right thing. I think there will be some very positive things that come from this.”

How does Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages fit into the Coca-Cola Beverages SA landscape?
“We cover the Northern Cape and a large chunk of the Western Cape. So yes, while we are a separate entity we are still a part of the broader Coca-Cola team in South Africa.”
“In the Coca-Cola system, some of our pioneers were very interesting people, very colourful personalities. There’s a lot of history that goes back many years. What we are doing today is building on the incredible work that has been done by these legends. Whether we are one homogenous entity or a few separate parts, we’ve still got to work together. Being relatively small compared to CCBSA, we can do things differently and at times be more flexible. Things like innovation are easier for us.”

Were you affected by the amalgamations of the various brands into one and if so, how so? 
“Any change creates ripples. Those were felt throughout the system and will be by the whole beverage industry in South Africa. We’ve definitely been impacted. While I was doing my articles, I was involved in a merger. My first job out I was involved in a retrenchment. I’ve seen how lumpy and bumpy these things can be. You’d think in an auditing accounting firm if you put two firms together it will be relatively easy, but it’s not. You bring different personalities, different cultures and different ways of doing things together. The merger was done well. There was a lot of pre-thinking and the right people were put together. The ripples we feel are positive ripples.” 

In your opinion, what is necessary for successful ‘big picture’ thinking? 
“One has to have context of the environment that you’re in – the micro context, the macro, the world, brands, trends, etc. Part of this context is understanding what your own purpose and vision is. We have become very clear on what our purpose is in the world. As a finance person, I’ve always stayed clear of talking about profit. I talk around this. I think, if your purpose is talking to something slightly greater than your day-to-day function, and greater than just making a profit, this drives you. Your vision has got to talk to this; you’ve got to experience the journey. If you know where you’re going, you can take diversions along the way, as long as you have the context of where you’re going to end up and what you’re going to encounter along the way.”

“Also, having empathy is so important – for what you do, the people around you, other stakeholders. If you understand what they need, that helps you deliver the big picture.”

What makes you an effective leader?
“I run a team of around 65 people in the group, and look after finance, admin and IT. I have three direct line leaders who report to me (it used to be seven). Effectively it’s better to have four to five at most. Then I’ve got about 150 people in the broader business who are involved in admin and information services. I don’t get daunted by the number of people because the focus is on how we structure things so that people understand what they need to do. The message to them is relatively clear.”

“Being an effective leader, time is your gift or your enemy. If you can create time to be with people and to hear people, that is probably the essence of effective leadership. Using that time effectively is really important, as is being able to communicate clearly. Being able to get people to tell you what they need efficiently is important, and trust is a key component here. I like to believe that I look at life relatively simply and clearly. I like to boil things down to simple items; break things down into relatable ways.”

“In my area, which is relatively compliance-oriented, l like to talk about keeping the castle strong. I have a picture of a castle that I share with everybody. It’s got five pillars. I basically talk about these all the time: firstly, the process, systems and controls, secondly, the reporting side and thirdly, decision support), and building this on teamwork and shared values.”
“I also encourage people to do the right things and to do the basics brilliantly. If you do that, you get most things right and will generally come out winning more often than losing.”

How do you get the best out of your team?
“You need to have a bit of a whip, a bit of a carrot. I am quite tough. I like people to do things properly. I suppose I set very high standards. I’ve tried to instil pride in people, and a desire to be the best. I realised a few years ago that with my very high standards I probably hadn’t recognised this in the team – and you must recognise your people when they do stuff well. It’s amazing how trust builds confidence to grow and do better things. I wish I’d known this earlier on in my career – to trust people and show them that you trust them, because this allows them to go on and be the best that they can be.

“I encourage my team to get out there and get into the business; to talk to people. They’ve got to know what is needling people, and you only find this out by talking to people. So, I encourage them to get to the real root cause of the issue; to scratch below the surface.”
“I find, when talking to people, you need a mantra, a sentence that you can build your story around. That’s fundamentally important. I use simple mantras with my team; for example, our role is to ensure ‘financial stability of the business by reducing risk’.”

“I am also a serial planner. I drive my wife absolutely dilly because I spend all my time planning. But I believe if you plan and understand what you need to do upfront, your chances of success are so much better. I also like change a lot. Every year I try to change the angle or the dynamic just a little bit. That drives me because I need change; I need that energy.”

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“I would hope to have in place the next generation of leadership in this business; to have ensured the business is in a good space to hand over. I will probably then be considering handing over and going into something more people and environment oriented.”

Tell us a bit about yourself outside of work.
“I once described my wife at one of her birthday parties as being someone who needed her crayons – her friends – around her because they add colour to her life. She said I’m the one who needs crayons. I do need people around me but a variety of people – I thrive on people’s energy. Growing up, I had a fascinating mother and father. As a family, on holidays we’d sit around the dining room table with lots of different people popping in and out. We’d all sit and talk about all sorts of different things. I always had a voice at the table. So, debating things in life and having the ability to talk to people is important to me.”

“I need my ‘me time’, and that’s where I use running on the mountain and exercise. Exercise is my time for me; the time where I get my own energy and my own flow. I also read a lot. I’m a terribly slow reader and a bad reader. Currently, I have ten books next to my bed. But I don’t read what everybody else is reading.”

“Other than that, I love eating and cooking and sitting around a table talking to people. My two kids are at the point where they bring their friends home and I love talking to them and hearing what’s impacting their lives. I also enjoy travelling with friends – we have some friends that we travel with every year. We’ve done a few sailing trips. We like doing different things; getting out there and experiencing the world. I try not to be too much of a conformist.”