Jannie Serfontein - CFO Eqstra: "A good CFO is able to see in the figures that which is not immediately obvious to others`

"Don't change something when it's working." That is exactly why Jannie Serfontein did not make any radical changes once he was appointed as CFO of Eqstra Holdings in January 2011. After completing his studies at the University of Pretoria, he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1998. He started his career at Deloitte & Touche in 1999 and spent two years in the United States of America in Deloitte & Touche’s Washington DC practice as part of their global development programme.

Jannie returned to South Africa in 2002 and in 2007 joined the Deloitte & Touche Partnership as an assurance partner in the Pretoria office. He currently serves on the Eqstra Holdings Limited board as an executive director, simultaneously serving as a director of various other Eqstra subsidiaries.

Eqstra's core business is the distribution, long-term lease and rental of mobile capital equipment and the provision of related value-added annuity services to clients in the construction, mining, industrial and commercial sectors in South Africa, the rest of Africa, the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is also a major player in opencast mining and plant hire sectors through its wholly owned subsidiary MCC.

Other major business units include Eqstra Fleet Management, Eqstra Flexi Logistics, and Eqstra Industrial and Agri Equipment. The company has a history stretching back almost three decades and listed on the JSE in 2008. It currently employs over 7,000 people. It was previously the Leasing and Capital Equipment division of Imperial Holdings prior to its unbundling.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?
I enjoy the complexities of my role that ranges from outlining financial policies, risk management to influencing strategic outcomes. Talent management is dear to my heart and I believe, critical to the future success of any organisation. I also thrive on the interaction with investors and other stakeholders.

How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?
The CFO role has changed to one which has increasingly more focus on non-accounting matters such as risk and compliance, governance and strategy with a forward-looking mindset, while still being accountable for financial affairs. The CFO will ultimately have to spend more time on developing and measuring the impact and outcomes of non-accounting matters.

Ultimately I spend the majority of my time on non-accounting matters and strategic issues. This normally leaves you with less time for your financial portfolio. It is thus critical for me to have good time management skills to have a balanced life. I am very skeptical about the concept of a work life balance, because how can you have a balance if you are spending more that 70% of the time that you are awake at work. What I do believe in is that when you are at work, you must give everything and when you at home you must hit the off switch and give my family complete and undivided attention.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
The role of the CFO will continue to evolve into an increasingly strategic one that will be crucial to overall business success. This will require the CFO to play a bigger executional role to ensure that all relevant strategies are executed. As the regulatory framework in South Africa is constantly changing and expected to continue doing so, the CFO will be expected to obtain a very high level understanding of legislative requirements.

Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets? How do you deal with the volatility?
Budgeting and forecasting remains crucial in focusing an organisation's efforts in today's volatile markets. Volatility has now become part of our business, but this can be overcome by using scenario planning and developing stress testing processes for adverse economic conditions. Flexibility is required to react swiftly to the sudden changes in market conditions.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
In general, I believe that the two biggest challenges currently facing South African companies is that of obtaining and retaining necessary skills, as well as the possibility of the global economy slipping back into a protracted recession.

As a geared company, we realised that banks are currently faced with numerous regulatory challenges. This will have a significant impact on the cost of funding, with processes to obtain funding expected to become more crucial and challenging.

Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
The obvious is sound technical skills, which is the cornerstone of any financial profession. Unfortunately, this is not enough on its own. Finance professional will need to develop sound business acumen, as well as the ability to communicate and influence people. As stated in a recent interview I read, "a good CFO is able to see in the figures that which is not immediately obvious to others."

Personally, I believe good interpersonal skills are vitally important in all aspects of my role as CFO. You have to manage a wide range of people and inspire them to work towards the same goals and results. You need to empower people to get the best out of them, as they are the people that will ensure that things get done.

Which achievement or project in your business career so far are you most proud of?
I am still relatively young, but the two that spring to mind is when I became a partner at Deloitte in 2007 at the age of 32. The second was when I was appointed as group CFO of Eqstra.

The first one and a half years at Eqstra have been extremely challenging from an adjustment perspective, as it required a mindset change from an auditing background to managing the financial affairs of a large diversified corporate. I believe that my move into the corporate world was well worth it, and I am finding it extremely interesting and rewarding when exposed to boardroom discussions.

Was there anything you changed - a procedure or process for instance - that was implemented in Eqstra before you were appointed CFO, and you changed after you took the position of CFO?
I am still relatively new in my role at Eqstra and firmly believe that you do not need to change something that is working. The one area that I have changed was the streamlining of processes and reducing unnecessary meetings and the number of people attending meetings. This has freed up a lot of time that was caught up in the system. We've also built a detailed spreadsheet based analysis and scenario planning business model for all our divisions. This is used during our budget and scenario planning processes and helps to understanding underlying trends, ratio's and key drives of the businesses.

Who is your role model in life and why?
I have worked and interacted with exceptional individuals during my short career, and I believe they all had a significant influence on my career. I do however try to take the best from all of them and apply these to my circumstances at the time. And lastly my Creator. I try to find the best characteristics in people and adopt as many as I can, whilst identifying bad leadership traits and avoiding these.

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
Take control of your own destiny. Surround yourself with the best people you can and build a strong network. Make sure you listen and learn from them. You are only as good as the support network that surrounds you.

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