A CFO is highly in tune with the business, says Warren Prinsloo, Group CFO of Jasco

Jasco Group's finance head Warren Prinsloo talks about taking your business to the next level.

“While I was doing vacation work at EY in return for a bursary, I picked up the nickname ‘Billy bank recon’, because there wasn’t a bank recon I couldn’t do. The name stuck,” says Warren Prinsloo, Group CFO of Jasco Group. Warren has been in his role for 12 years, and has his sights set on a CEO position, one day. “Because CFOs work so closely with the CEO in partnership, this is like a natural progression. You know where the risks and opportunities are in the business, you know the pain points and the pleasure points. As CFO, you’re very in tune with the business.”

Tell us in brief about your current role and responsibilities. Is your role focused more on finance or on strategy? 
“I’ve been with Jasco for 12 years. When I first started, my role centred around the finance function, though over the last three or four years it has shifted, and I now have more to do with strategy and better understanding our customers. A big part of my role is understanding my counterparts’ requirements. I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the requirements of the telecoms operators and what role we play; how we can come to the party. I am also very involved in due diligence and assessing teams, as well as understanding the business’ problems and figuring out how to solve these.”

Tell us about your team. What are its strengths?
“Given the size and nature of the business, I’ve structured my teams accordingly. We looked at what kind of minimum scales we needed to achieve – for example, we put businesses together to reach affordability levels, so we had an FD and MD combination. That combo can look at several business areas, and each of the businesses benefit from that level of expertise and experience. I’ve structured my teams in line with this and have a mix of FMs, accountants and admin clerks in the teams. We’ve got Carriers, where we build and maintain networks; an enterprise business unit, which looks after corporate SA; and we’ve got Electrical Manufacturers in Durban; and the Intelligent Technologies and Enterprise businesses. The businesses above R200 million revenue have an FD, and businesses below this revenue level have an FM.”
“I run a monthly finance forum that includes the FDs and FMs, plus some of the younger accountants to give them exposure. The discussions are topical to the time of year, so we might have a budget theme or a year-end theme. We cover different activities at different times of the year.”
“In terms of strengths, we’ve got a good blend of technically qualified staff and experienced staff. Those at the top know how to run a finance department and support the MDs. We also have a routine where we run monthly review meetings of the businesses, looking at the operational and financial performance. This includes sales pipelines, orders on hand, where we focus on the forward projection.”

What is your leadership style like? 
“I think I lead by example. I’m prepared to walk the hard yards and put the hours in. My team has seen this from the outset. I’ve got empathy and I understand people’s problems. I’m also a very fair person. People know if they’ve not performed, what they’re going to get from me. I’ve always applied that rule in my career –  you don’t tolerate substandard performance, you deal with it.”

To what do you attribute your career success?
“Over the last three or four years, I’ve started working smarter not harder, which I’ve put down to the influence of our CEO, Peter da Silva. During my first five years at Jasco, I worked hard and built strong relationships with the business unit MDs and FDs and understood their challenges and how I could support them. I looked at my group role as an enablement role. The next five years were full of new learning experiences as we set about restructuring the organisation. That chapter ended in 2016 for me. Since then, I’ve been taking the new-look Jasco into a challenging environment and, as we are in a growth phase, looking for acquisitions to take our business to the next level.”

What external factor has the biggest impact on the company’s results?
“Political factors resulting in rand volatility unexpectedly impacted the forward cover positions we had, which resulted in both profits and losses between 2015 and 2017. In the longer term, we don’t like a weakening rand because our imported technologies become more expensive for our customer base."

"The rand volatility, where the currency moves in an unexpected fashion, is difficult to contend with. It doesn’t matter if you have a hedging strategy in place and if you regularly review this, our policy is not to speculate on the rand. When the rand does something suddenly you could end up with a smile on your face or a frown.”

“Economic growth locally has also been a problem. This is part of what motivated us three years ago to go to Kenya in East Africa, where we set up shop in 2015. There is a lot of opportunity there; resources are very qualified and we can train them on our technologies if needed. We are looking at our portfolio and what we can sell in the Kenyan market. The political situation in 2017 has impacted negatively on the corporate sector and we hope for stability to return in 2018.”

You have your eye on a future CEO role. How do you think the CFO roles prepares one for this move to CEO?
“This move is becoming more common these days, probably because CFOs work in partnership with the CEO. You know where the risks and opportunities are in the business, you know the pain points and inner workings of the organisation. As CFO, you’re very in tune with the business. Can every CFO make this transition to CEO? No, it depends on the character of the person. I think, because I’ve always had good leadership attributes and inspire confidence in my teams, it would be a natural progression to move into a CEO role.”

In your free time you are a hobby farmer – tell us about this.
“This goes back to 1992. I learnt a lot from one of the audit partners I worked with. He said land is in short supply, ensure you have enough of it. I bought a small farm in Magaliesburg. When I bought it, it had two cows on it, but I discovered I was scared of cows, so I sold them. Instead, I started breeding miniature horses. I’ve sold some off but kept a few. I also tried my hand at small-scale sheep farming.”
“We have an interior atrium in Jasco’s building and for about a year I pushed our facility manager to do something different with this space. We eventually pulled the ferns out, put compost in, and planted some vegetables. Now our facility management staff take these vegetables home with them.”

How do you like to spend your free time?
“I have three children, ages 20, 18 and 14, so free time is spent together as a family. My youngest recently discovered golf. My wife also enjoys going onto the golf course. So, we play a bit of golf as a family. I also spend a fair amount of time with my son on the sports field.”