A CFO must have great interpersonal skills, says Craig Coltman, CFO of De Beers Consolidated Mines


"The bulk of my team is female. If I reflect on how well the finance function operates, I think this has a lot to do with their diverse views."

How did you come to pursue a career in finance? Did you ever consider a different career path?
“It was almost by fluke. Accountancy was the only subject at school that I excelled at, and my dad thought it was a good idea to enrol me in a college to study accounting. So that’s where it started. I also did my post-grad in finance at UCT and am also a registered Chartered Management Accountant (FCMA).”
“During the course of my career I did consider something else. I’ve been very fortunate at De Beers because they’ve invested a lot in me along my journey. At one point in time they took me out of finance and I was dedicated to massive projects as a project manager. So, there was a time I considered project management as a different career.”

What do you most enjoy about your chosen line of work?
“The people. Finance is not what it used to be. Being part of directing the future business outcomes, dealing with operations folk, mapping out the future of the business – all of that culminates in what I like best: being able to understand the business and tell the story behind the numbers.”

You’ve been with De Beers since 1987. What keeps you so loyal to the company, and how different is the company now to when you first started working there?
“I resigned twice during the 30 years but was persuaded both times by my manager at the time to retract (laughs). It’s the quality of the people and the values that the employees and the company display on a daily basis that drives me to stay with this magnificent organisation. While the company is certainly very different largely because of technology, the values today are no different to when I first joined. That’s why I’ve stayed.
“I’ve worked on various operations in Southern Africa. I spent ten of my 30 years at corporate, the rest were operational roles.”

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Tell us in brief about your current role – is it focused more on strategy or day-to-day finance tasks? Which do you prefer and why?
“I’d say that 90 percent of my focus is to the future, looking at future scenarios for the company. And that’s what I prefer. I have top quality staff that are far better than me who focus on the day-to-day tasks.”

What are you currently working on? What occupies most of your time?
“Ensuring we have sufficient cash to finance our underground mine in Limpopo, which is a $2 billion investment. My focus is also on the performance management of the business. As the business changes, so must the performance management (measures).”

“I am also involved with my executive in formulating plans to improve the efficiency of the business. My project management skills really come into favour here, because finance is also about finding solutions to make the business more efficient.”

In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing currently happening at the company, or perhaps the most exciting aspect of the company’s strategy?
“We’ve gone out of our way to embrace diversity, which is really exciting. We are very focused on the inclusion of gender diversity. We are targeting absolute parity (50-50) in senior roles. We know that companies which embrace diversity offer better results and conditions. At all our board and exco meetings we invite up-and-coming promising females to attend. Gender diversity is a massive driving force for De Beers.”
“The bulk of my team is female. If I reflect on how well the finance function operates, I think this has a lot to do with their diverse views.”

What external factors have the greatest impact on the company’s performance and how do you mitigate these?
“The exchange rate, but we focus on what we can control, namely, to make the business as efficient as possible in a sustainable manner.”

What is the most pressing issue currently facing the mining sector and how does that affect De Beers?
“There are two things: number one is safety. The mining industry has suffered 46 fatalities in South Africa this year alone. We had our first fatality in ten years in March this year. It was one too many. We place an enormous amount of focus on safety. The second is the finalistation of the Mining Charter. We would like to see this finalised in a collaborative way, as quickly as possible.”

In your opinion, what makes a great CFO?
“In the modern era, a CFO has got to have great interpersonal skills because you spend more time with non-finance folk than with finance folk. While a focus on the traditional stuff will always be a critical part of the CFO’s makeup, it’s key to be able to understand the business and the key drivers, and to tell the story behind the numbers. Linking the story of the business and the numbers must be done in a very simplistic way to be successful because your audience is not all finance folk.”

“What’s also important is that life is a project, so you must ensure you are properly equipped with project management skills. Whether you are refinancing the business or implementing a turnaround strategy, it’s still a project, so project management skills are critical for a great CFO.”

What are you most looking forward to as this year unfolds, both personally and professionally?
“Clearly I am looking forward to being successful in the areas I am currently focused on but I also look forward to seeing the staff develop and position themselves for bigger roles in the future, particularly the women.”
“On the personal side, I’ve recently purchased an equestrian centre – my daughter is an avid showjumper. So, I am moving into those premises with my daughter in a few months’ time. In addition to shovelling horse manure in the rose garden I’ll spend some time on the finances of the company (laughs). I get great joy out of watching my daughter compete – she’s even ridden for South Africa in Mauritius.”

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time, or what does the future hold for you work-wise?
“I have a five-year plan in mind and it includes being out of the corporate world as an executive finance director – these can be stressful jobs! I see myself serving on a few boards as a non-executive director. I have a lot to offer and believe there’s much room for improvement in the make-up of boards in South Africa.”
“Every year I try to take a trip abroad. Witnessing different cultures fascinates me. Serving on boards as a non-executive director should allow me more time to travel – right now, I have very little time to myself.”
“Also, both my sons have started entrepreneurial businesses and I see myself assisting them on that front.”

What are your interests outside of work? How do you like to spend your free time? 
“I don’t have much time to myself (laughs). On average I am with my daughter at a show jumping event twice a month, which is an all-day affair. In summer, I try go to the river for water sports as often as possible. If I had more time on my hands, I’d travel more abroad. The most unique city I’ve ever visited I’d say is Venice. I recently spent two weeks in Europe, starting in Barcelona and marvel at how well they maintain those old buildings. The colosseum in Rome is just incredible too. I’d say that one of my favourite island destinations is Bali. I’d like to go to Bali more frequently. I just find that, on the very first night in Bali you unwind and relax, whereas other places it takes a few days. I think it’s the people in Bali that make you feel so special and relaxed; it’s so tranquil.”

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