Successful CFOs must be able to self-reflect, says Lewis Kangausaru, CFO of Groeneveld South Africa

"To lead you need to know yourself and why you’re doing things,” opines Groeneveld South Africa CFO, Lewis Kangausaru. Lewis has been a part of the Groeneveld team since October 2013, and is responsible for the full financial governance of the company. He says reflectiveness is a core of the leadership principle: “To be forward-thinking you need to be reflective, to take time to think about what has occurred in a given space of time, the decisions you’ve made, why you’ve made them and the current outcomes.”

Did you always intend to pursue a career in finance?
"No, I wanted to go into physics and engineering but was persuaded otherwise. The opportunities that the family saw at the time were limited but the fact is, there's always a need for finance people. I'm from Zimbabwe originally. When you're young you have a certain idea in mind of how certain jobs are, so when I went into finance I was surprised at the opportunities available. There are a lot of different hats you can wear in finance. If you go into auditing, you get to try all of them before you choose one. Recently, it's even better because the dynamics of the field are changing. If I had to choose again I'd chose finance."

Has it been as you expected it would be?
"It's been surprising. It's a combination of things. If you work with the right minds, the kind of transactions you can perform are very interesting. It's always interesting feeding off other people. Other people's careers are focused. In the finance field you always have input from other stakeholders - the only decisions you make alone are perhaps on processes.

What are your career goals? Do you have a plan?
"At the moment, given the current economic situation and global trends, the CFO role is going to evolve drastically over the next five to 10 years. I aim to add value and be a net contributor wherever I am."

"It is all change at the moment, from our industry to our customers and the role of the CFO. Dealing with that requires organisational changes which we need to map out and implement. So reviewing our models to take into account the use of big data is a fundamental component as the business needs to be able to master mining big data for use by all functions within the business."

When in your career do you think you saw the most personal or professional growth?
"In every position I've held I've been able to map out what my own expectations of the organisation were, as well as what I was expected to do there. However, even when you have a plan it always turns out differently and therein lies the opportunity to learn and grow. So far in my career I've been able to choose my experiences. This allows room to learn and redefine the edges of how the team operates by empowering them with the resources to do more. Advancement follows on from the introspection on what you can add to further empower people to be more competitive and remind them of their strengths."

"It's also important to always protect your people. Once you give them parameters you need to give them room to work within."

Which skill/s do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
"By the time you become a CFO, you have the technical aspects bedded down. I think the most important skill is to be able to lead a team. It takes teamwork to achieve success at that level and as CFO you need to make yourself available as a resource while dispensing critical activities. You expect other people to take a risk on you and reach out to you, and you need to be able to do the same with yourself. That's a skill you need to have at the apex of the technical and soft skills."

Which do you think is the most crucial skill a CFO should possess?
"The ability to self-reflect. To be forward-thinking you need to be reflective, to take time to think about what has occurred in a given space of time, the decisions you've made, why you've made them and the current outcomes. That reflectiveness is a core of the leadership principle. To lead you need to know yourself and why you're doing things."

What do you most enjoy about the CFO role? What do you find most challenging?

"I enjoy the usual financial deliverables. For me, I most enjoy the transformation that is happening from technical requirements being the apex to now being the foundation. It's a foundation that allows you to pivot. So you can pivot as issues and opportunities arise."

"Also, you need to be curious because the angle from which you look at things compared to the rest of the people in the organisation is different. You're looking at things in numbers, and considering the ramifications of those decisions. A lot of people change careers or industries to get this experience. In the CFO role you get to have all these experiences in this role."

"The human element is quite challenging. You have to try and fit into other people's shoes and look at it from their point of view. You can't always be ahead of it. As someone who works in an ordered fashion you're always trying to reason and get ahead of things. There are never easy decisions."

What is the toughest decision you've had to make as CFO?
"Sometimes you have to put pressure by removing something; for example, you can remove a portfolio client to force people to look for new opportunities in sales. That for me is always the toughest decision. Strategic changes in direction due to transition is also tough because naturally, we are often rooted in our comfort zones. It's a universal thing, across companies and the globe. With resistance comes tough decisions that you have to make. It ties in with the human element of things."

Which achievement in your career are you most proud of?
"Before my current role I was in Cape Town, working for a company run by entrepreneurs - brilliant guys, very good at what they did, but the company grew too fast. We stepped in there together with a couple of other new folks, and turned that finance division and feeder processes around. We had to start from scratch restructuring everything. Working there was a good learning curve. It helped me grow."

"They're very different people, entrepreneurs - they see everything as an opportunity. Getting successful entrepreneurs to come round to the general idea of structuring and outlining what they were trying to get from their business, that was quite an achievement because they were so diverse."

You are currently busy with your MBA - how is that going and why did you decide to pursue this?
"I opted to do my MBA because it's a collage of different subjects. One of the main benefits of this course is that it reinforces the importance of conducting effective research. As a CFO you need to know how to do your research issues within the business and to summarise the results to enable decision making. Also, you get to network with individuals from other sectors. I enjoy interacting with other executives from other industries and see how they approach issues and try make it a learning experience."

What aspect or task of the finance department or even the CFO do you feel is perhaps becoming outdated or irrelevant in today's world?
"The whole process side of things is getting to be quite outdated and will be replaced by technology. You need someone to analyse the data at some point, but in terms of routine processing, there are companies working on automating these tasks. There will be a need for the paper side of the business, but it will be small compared to the automated side."

What does the CFO of the future look like?
"It's not just number crunching. Take, for example Uber, which has proven to be a big disrupter for the taxi and motor vehicle industry, as well as being a threat to financial services. It comes back to the issue of big data. It renders some skills obsolete. You'll find in future that high-level knowledge will not be confined within the CFO or C-suite anymore. It's going to be pushed down. So you'll find the role of the CFO to now be a value-adder to this distributed knowledge in the business. At the end of the day you'll have the backing of the team, but you'll need to be an all-rounder."