TWK Agri FD Eddie Fivaz talks finance, farming and the Free State

Today's trying times require us to be the absolute best that we can be, says TWK Agri's Eddie Fivaz.

Eddie Fivaz had a typical farm boy upbringing. His father is a salted farmer, as was his grandfather. After he finished his final year at school, Eddie eagerly enrolled for his first year at the University of the Free State, where he obtained his degree in Agriculture. While there, he developed a keen interest in business and finance subjects and decided to also enrol for a finance degree. Eddie stands tall today with a B.Agric, B.Compt. Financial Accounting and an MBA.

After studying, Eddie gained experience in the work environment, where he eventually joined TWK as CFO. TWK is an agricultural business, primarily focusing on the supply of agricultural and related services, as well as providing market access for agricultural products, with a focus on the timber industry. Eddie has been with TWK for the past seven years, and today plays a key role as the Financial Director.

Tell us in brief about your current role and responsibilities. Is your focus more on strategy or day-to-day finance tasks?
“When I joined TWK, my focus was more on day-to-day tasks and to support the finance department, which at that stage, needed a steady guidance. While I still keep a close eye on the day-to-day tasks at hand, I am shifting my focus more towards the company’s financial and business strategies. To balance the scale between day-to-day tasks and strategising is sometimes daunting, but it certainly keeps me on my toes and makes for some interesting days at the office.”

“I am very passionate about my team of 60 co-workers and I am blessed to have a very supporting MD, André Myburgh, who involves the executive management in all the decision-making. It makes me part of an incredible team.”

What is your leadership style like? What are your strengths as a leader?
“I strive to be an ethical leader; one who leads by example. I think, in the trying times we are living in now, we have to be the absolute best we can be, by guiding, helping and supporting my team, and also other co-workers. I have an open-door policy, whereby my team can feel at ease to discuss any issues, be it work related or just asking advice on a personal matter. Being strict on my finance processes, I like to give credit where it is due, and guide where needed.”

What achievement over the last 12 months are you most proud of as FD?
“We have achieved a lot in the past few months but the one that stands out is the finalisation of a two-year process on 31 August 2017. We made history with a unique syndication financing model – the first in the agricultural industry – which we implemented with Standard Bank and Land Bank as financiers. I am very excited about thi, because the TWK balance sheet, liquidity and the risk of only one financier were identified by the board of directors as hurdles to the company’s growth strategy. We sought a solution to align the realisation of our assets with our financial obligations, and to restructure our balance sheet to support our strategy and the expectation of our investors. I first investigated the financing model two years ago and I am very pleased that we pushed through with the development, negotiations and implementation of this model. This puts TWK in a favourable position with regards to our balance sheet structure, growth strategy and cash flow.”

What are you most excited about work-wise for 2018?
“South Africa is currently moving into a critical era, which greatly complicates our business practices. To make any forecast is difficult. I, myself, am positive and optimistic. I think South Africa will really start to grow, economy-wise, albeit at a slow pace. I do believe we will soon experience some growth.”

“I look forward to seeing what results our new strategy will deliver in 2018. Last year was a record profit year for TWK and I am confident that 2018 will prove to be no less.”

In your opinion, what makes a great CFO?
“It is important to be industry-smart and stay ahead with the current news, developments and changes. It is wise to prepare for the ever-changing business environment that can greatly influence your company. Being analytical and understanding the impact of risks and developing measures to curb unwanted implications before they can happen is important for success. I also believe it is important to identify new opportunities and develop strategies to ensure effective implementation into your business model.”

What external factor has the greatest impact on the business and its performance? 
“The rand-dollar exchange rate affects us because we are an exporter of wood chip products and an importer of fertiliser products. Also, because of our agricultural core, we are greatly affected by the changing climate and drought we are experiencing. However, we are a diverse company with different income streams and we are geographically well spread, which in return reduces our risk. In that manner we can support each other in sustainable growth.”

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“I believe in self-growth and betterment. I would like to expand my leadership by developing my skills and other attributes. I plan to start a mentorship programme to encourage development and be the absolute best I can be. I strongly believe in the value that mentorship holds. There is a lot to be learnt from other great people, and which can’t always be found in text books. I also believe in making mistakes, otherwise there is nothing new to be learned.”

What keeps you busy outside of work? Do you have a family? Have you achieved a work-life balance? 
“I have a beautiful family; a gorgeous, supportive wife and three children. The eldest is nine, the second is six years old and the third is now three. They are the most important thing in my life. It is very important to me to make time for my family. I love hearing about their daily adventures, or to play some fun family games, building family memories that are everlasting.”

“I also have a keen interest in sport. Last year I completed the ABSA Cape Epic. This year, my challenge is the Iron Man, and because I am a poor swimmer, I made it my goal to learn and overcome this obstacle in my life. Sport also takes my mind off the corporate world, helping me to relax and unwind.”

“One of my fondest memories of my father, a lesson in practicality if you will, is that if you work hard and focus on your goal, you will be amazed at how much you can achieve.”