Change is inevitable, embrace it, says Loveness Khunou, Dow Southern Africa CFO

Originally from Malawi, Loveness Khunou, Dow Southern Africa CFO, moved to South Africa in 1989. She has a passion for cultures and languages, and is fluent in eight different dialects. “It shows respect if you learn another’s language. It shows that you value them,” she says. “It allows you to better engage with people, and people relate to you differently if you talk to them in their Mother tongue.”

Loveness has been in the CFO role at Dow, a multinational chemicals company, for a little over one year. She says the mission in finance is to use an ownership mindset and financial discipline to create enterprise value and drive sustainable growth. "Finance is everywhere and we need to be involved; we want to be part of the strategy. Whatever you do at the end of the day comes back to finance, so, you want to partner with us from the beginning. We can give a lot of guidance because we've got the knowledge."

You've been in the CFO role for a year. What changes have you made since taking on this position?
"The previous CFOs had worked in silos, which I've been trying to change. Also, multinationals aren't big on BEE, so I've been working with the different businesses (we have several reporting lines) to shift the levels and bring the company up to a level two - currently we are level eight. I've been engaging with the different functions on this, collaborating to make it happen. We are almost there."

"Being an emerging market, the culture within the business needed some tending to. The South African team may be small but we have others who report to us from different locations, so there's a certain culture that needs to be developed. We've also got a lot of millennials and we need to change the culture to understand how these individuals work and how we can integrate their experience and talent in the organisation. I've been a strong driver in that as I've got a passion for people."

What is the most significant thing you have learnt in the past year, while in your role?
"Change is inevitable. You need to embrace it and welcome it."

How have you put your stamp on the finance team and on your CFO role at Dow?
"As finance, we are often seen as boring and keeping to ourselves. I'm a different type of finance person; engaging and collaborating with employees is my thing. I really enjoy interacting with the different functions and making it known that we are here to serve the various departments and be their business partner. I've found myself in situations where the different businesses send requests for us to look at their business cases and consider different scenarios on their behalf, for instance, if they are looking to open an office in Angola, can we assist in analysing their EBITDA. I guess my stamp would be saying, we are here and we are here to serve you. So, finance is now being recognised and our other businesses see us and want us to partner with them."

"Finance is everywhere and we need to be involved; we want to be part of the strategy. Whatever you do at the end of the day comes back to finance, so, you want to partner with us from the beginning. We can give a lot of guidance because we've got the knowledge."

What sort of a leader are you and how do you get the best out of your team?
"I am a fun leader; I like to have fun when I work. For me, it's not just all about work, it's about having good, collaborative discussions and engaging with each other. I also believe in walking the talk and leading by example. This is in the little things, like how you speak to people. Respect is number one for me, followed by integrity."
"I get the best out of my team by being open and encouraging them. If someone does something wrong, don't dwell on the mistake, rather get to the root cause of the problem. Also, protect your team - you as the leader are responsible for them and must ensure you get the best out of them. I think it's important to be flexible too, and to have a flexible mindset."

"I'm big on people enjoying what they do and enjoying their time in the office. If you have fun you'll go the extra mile. That's how I get the best out of my team."

Tell us about your team - its strengths and its weaknesses.
"The team is diverse and based in different locations. In total, we have 10 to 12 people dedicated to Sub-Saharan Africa, though only eight of those are based here. We interact a lot with the team in Dubai."
"One of the strengths is that Dow has made it possible for us to work together even though we don't all sit together. Our systems have been designed to work in real time. So, if somebody does something it's immediately visible. We also have tools to communicate with each other. That said, I think that, despite having all these tools, we don't always get the message across correctly. There are sometimes communication breakdowns."

As a young CFO, how do you think the role of the CFO is different today to say, 10 years ago? What do you think the CFO role will look like in 10 years' time?
"What's different now is that we aren't just number crunchers who only have to present the financials and that's it. The CFO needs to know what's happening in the business, be involved in strategy and know where the business is going in terms of numbers and logistics. In short, be more like a CEO. The role of the CFO in future will be even more so - like a CEO but with a fine-tuned financial acumen. I think we'll get to the point where the CFO will run the show; where the CEO can take a break and operations will continue - the CFO is that good. Today's world is quite different to the past. CFOs have the opportunity to speak their minds and know what's happening in terms of operations, and to think outside the box."

What are your interests outside of work? Who are you outside of the office?
"I love spending time with my family and friends. As you get older you realise that you must make time for the people who matter. For me, that's my parents, I'm so grateful that they're still alive and I want to spend time with them. I've got siblings and we've got a family ritual: every Sunday we rotate houses and meet up for a meal."
"Outside the office I'm a wife, a good cook - Chef Luvy - so I'm called, and a mom - I've got a three-year old and a 19-month-old; a girl and a boy. If people meet me on the street and see me at the office, I'm the same person. I believe you must be like that. I don't want to be a horrible person at the office and someone else outside of it. I'm probably more relaxed outside the office but otherwise I'm the same: bubbly and cheerful. Work is home - you give so much to it, it has to be home. You become a family with your work colleagues. Whatever character you have should be in both. I try to balance the two. I would say that character-wise, I'm the same person. I'm cheerful and have a positive mindset, and I always find the solution to a problem."