Lead the way you want to be lead, says Fabian Naidoo, CFO of Right to Care


“As a leader, you should create an environment that allows for growth in the team and for people to feel passionate about the work that they do,” says Fabian Naidoo, divisional CFO of non-profit organisation (NPO), Right to Care (Rtc). Fabian is currently also acting as finance director of the RtC Group. Fabian says his philosophy about work can be summed up by this quote from Steve Jobs, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do’.

"I remain in the public sector due to my passion for adding value to organisations that add value directly to the people in need."

Fabian explains what RtC does and talks a little about its funding model: "The RtC Group provides a variety of health services, as well as health strengthening interventions. It also provides management and capacity-building technical assistance to various levels of the public health system and provides grants and contract management for other NPOs. In addition to the funding we receive from the National Department of Health (NDOH), we rely heavily on funding and support from various international donor organisations, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Global Fund, and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC)." He says that the bulk of the NPO's funding, some 80 percent, comes from USAID and the Global Fund. "Our budget for the year is R1.5 billion," he adds.

Fabian believes it is important to lead the way you would want to be lead, and to create an environment conducive to growth. He says his style of leadership - and he lists authoritative, participative, pace-setting and mentoring as some of these - depends on the situation.

Talking about his team, Fabian says it is diverse, with various levels of finance experience and qualifications:

"One of my team's strengths is its ability to accept new roles and responsibilities in an ever-changing and growing organisation. The team operates dynamically in ensuring that they are responsively meeting the targets per the annual financial workplan."

Asked about the most significant change or improvement he has made while in the role, Fabian answers "divisionalisation of the finance department", as he says this "allowed for the efficient financial management and support towards each grant within the organisation". He says:

"When I joined RtC they didn't have a CFO - the COO was managing finance. At that stage, we had one FM and one finance structure for everything. There was a bottleneck in meeting daily, weekly and monthly deadlines. Divisionalising the whole organisation's finance by giving major grants and subsidiaries each their own finance divisions, we were able to streamline processes and ensure we were more effective in doing our work and in ensuring that we are more responsive to our stakeholders (operations teams, donors, government and our board)."

When it comes to challenges, Fabian says there are several key areas he keeps his eye on, including changes in the health sector, foreign exchange rate fluctuations, funding for the health sector through local and foreign government and funding agencies, and changes in priorities and effects of political shifts - as these could affect funding. "Counter to that, ensuring that we have a diverse range of funding, in ensuring sustainability of key programmes initially funded by donors," he says. "Most of our funding comes from international donors. While this is still in place, that's not to say it won't change going forward. If the policies change in their countries, it could affect our funding. So that's always a concern." He adds that keeping abreast of technological changes is also crucial.

Fabian says it was never his plan to be a CFO:

"After completing my high school education I had no clear career path in mind. I knew I was wanting to do something in finance but getting to where I am now was by divine intervention. Coming from an apartheid education system, into an apartheid-allocated township, we were not exposed to careers outside the norm of the industrial town of Richards Bay where I grew up. My aim was to do something that would allow me to be employed quickly."

However, he says, while standing in the queue for a qualification in Purchasing and Materials Management, the Senior Lecturer for that course advised that him to instead start with a Bachelor's in Accounting, as he said this would offer more opportunities in the future. After finishing his studies, Fabian joined KPMG in taxation. He still had not completed his CA(SA). "Through inspiration from an Audit Manager (Kalavani Naidoo (CA)SA, I was motivated to pursue the CA route. Once I qualified, I started my career in finance within the non-profit sector, in which I had remained since 2003 and developed through various senior roles, ultimately to the CFO role I am in now."

If he had a do-over, would he do anything differently? No, he says: "I have no regrets, just lessons learnt from each experience through this journey. I have enjoyed every part of this journey, every organisation, every team member and manager I had the privilege to work with. The experience has moulded me into who I am today."

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