A CFO understands the entire business, says PRP Solutions CFO Hiten Keshave

“I believe in four aspects of a leader: commitment, appreciation, respect, and trust. If you put the first letter of each of those words together it spells CART. A cart has four wheels and those form part of the carriage of a company and a team going forward. If I have those four aspects to my team, I believe we’ll be successful together,” says Hiten Keshave, CFO of PRP Solutions, a company in the business of people resource planning and which provides a management-by-exception workforce-based management system that operates in the cloud.

You are fairly new at PRP Solutions. How have things been since you joined in November last year?
"The company had never had a CFO before I joined. The chairman is a CA by qualification and he wanted a CFO. Being a newcomer I could enlighten the company about where we should be going. For example, certain requirements need to be in place for a company to be financially stable. All of us who sit on exco are open-minded and able to adapt to change, as long as it's for the benefit of the organisation, so everybody is happy to work towards the growth of the organisation."

Tell me in brief about your current role and responsibilities. You seem to wear numerous hats?
"Being a smaller company, the culture has always been to strive to drive business. Being a smaller organisation allows you to implement or partake in all of that. In this regard, my Masters studies have added great value for me."

"But there's a priority list. From a finance perspective, the company is very simple. There are no complex transactions that take place here."

"Because we are trying to automate most of our finance from an invoicing perspective, less focus is required on having to manage/monitor what's being done there. We've set up a finance model on Excel, connected directly to my ERP database, so I can see immediately the status of everything."

What is the most significant change or improvement you've made since joining?
"I implemented various process changes to become more automated. Things were more manually driven before I came. I've implemented better use of ERP systems and our actual PRP management system which can be interconnected into our financial reporting (for invoicing and sales forecasting). This in turn allows for better customer management financially and operationally. I've also made changes to supply chain management. The supply chain was previously kept manually, but now it's driven by the ERP system and everything is readily available from a viewpoint and analysis perspective. Lost information is a lot less now."

"I've also changed sales forecasting analytics. We are an annuity-driven company and once-off revenue comes through ad-hoc. We forecast on a pipeline, from March to end September, therefore monitoring the sales order book and pipeline is set up on a sales model in Excel, connected directly to the ERP database. This allows me immediate access to the status of everything - from an actual viewpoint and a forecast pipeline. Planning and understanding your business growth per client and sector, understanding new and existing customer growth strategies is now a lot easier"

The company intends to improve its B-BBEE rating from a level 8 to level 2. How do you plan to do this?
"We were previously level 2 but with the new codes everything there has been a significant struggle, which many organisations have faced."

"Two key areas we face challenges with is supplier/enterprise development and skills development - giving opportunities to growth of other suppliers and employment."

"Our strategy for that is, we are analysing who our current suppliers are from a service and a product perspective and analysing where their growth needs are and seeing how we can assist them based on a "needs analysis" study."

"From a skills development perspective; we've planned a six-month rollout of internal training for existing staff, and in the process of submitting our SETA work skills plan to employ a student or newly qualified in the IT industry for R&D through a bursary or internship.

Part of your job is the formulating of the company's five-year growth plan. Tell us about this plan, and some if its key considerations.
"The five-year plan details where we want to be from an industry perspective. Presently we have a significant competitive advantage over those around us as in our industry there are only two competitors, however neither provide the full "advantageous" services that we do. We've done an industry analysis on the available employee headcount which we could bring onboard and manage on our system, and this is at a minimum around five million. We've determined where we want to go over the next five years in this regard. So, we need to identify from research and development what's needed to remain competitive and from a marketing perspective how to hold our ground to close off barriers of entry. Shareholders have invested money in the growth of the company over the years, so we need to determine how to restructure those loans within the next five years."

Tell me about your team. What are its strengths, what are its shortcomings?
"Prior to PRP, I had a 15-man team, and now I handle a three-man team. There are some inefficiencies in the department, and that mainly being due to the workload of each person. Being a smaller organisation, the finance department is at times cross-functional with administration for sales and SCM functions. We have brought on 1 extra head since my arrival, with an additional planned within this calendar year."

"I have an open-door policy and strongly believe in transformational leadership, of which I factor four aspects of a leader: commitment, appreciation, respect, and trust. If you put the first letter of each of those words together it spells CART. A cart has four wheels and those form part of the carriage of a company and a team going forward. If I have those four aspects to my team, I believe we'll be successful together."

Was it always your plan to be a CFO?
"By nature, I'm an entrepreneur, which I think is a family trait as a lot of my family members own their own businesses. I've been in Johannesburg for 18 months. When I moved here I realised that to experience being a CFO would be an advantage for a CEO role. The difference between a CFO and CEO is that the CFO doesn't only understand finance, he understands the entire business, because finance impacts the entire business."

"Becoming a CEO one day depends on where I end up in the future. It would be in my target achievements to one day be a CEO, either of my own business or another organisation, depending on the value-added business opportunities and prospects I can provide to the latter."

You are young and successful - this is your second CFO role. To what do you attribute your success?
"My willpower and passion. Even though I always wanted to be my own boss I've accepted the fact that I have to go through a learning process. I was given this opportunity to be a CFO and not be an accountant or finance manager. It's my all-round capability of added value from a business and a finance perspective that's driven me to where I am."

In your opinion, what makes a great CFO - non-financial acumen aside?
"I think it's in the soft skills - leadership and managing people. Managing employees drives where your business will ultimately end up."

"Employees are the carriers of your business. To get people to work hard for your business, you need a strong CFO and you must look after your people."

"Performance management and performance planning is what you expect from your employees, and development planning is what they expect from you. You must both understand what's required of the other."

What do you most enjoy about the world of finance?
"As a CFO, you can spend a lot of your time in the office. I prefer to interact with my people on the floor, and with clients and suppliers. Something I particularly enjoy is joining CFO summits, which are great networking opportunities. I enjoy being part of these and learning about business acquisitions and the changing structures in business."

What keeps you busy outside of work?
"I play a lot of sport - golf and cricket - and I enjoy the gym. I'm newly married - I got married in December - so that's a nice new chapter in my life."