“What we do as finance directors and chief financial officers affects people’s lives,” says Lucas Orapeleng Ramagaga, 32-year old CFO at Total Client Services. “We deal with shareholders, but also clients, suppliers and our own employees – it is a big responsibility.” Having made short work of the corporate ladder, Ramagaga does not shy away from the task. “I have a high appetite for growth, so a future role as CEO, chairman doesn’t scare me – it will just be an opportunity to affect even more lives.”
After doing his articles at Deloitte and a period as financial controller at Johnson Controls, Ramagaga was thrown in the deep end last year at Total Client Services (TCS), a market leader in providing local authorities with hardware and software for (traffic) law enforcement. A period as acting finance chief resulted in an appointment in the board and an FD role. "The previous Financial Director left and I was given the chance to add value. It has been challenging but rewarding. It has been a huge exercise to make the company efficient and cost effective."
Ramagaga mentions his "high appetite for growth" a few times. The fact that he is 'only' 32 doesn't bother him and he believes the business world is more welcoming to young executives these days. "From where I stand, I believe we can achieve executive roles earlier than back in the days, all the while learning from more experienced professionals we work with. In the past my primary school teachers would have had the same job for their life. The only other options for them were to become headmasters and even that could take years. Now the market is receptive to younger people. The turnaround times have changed and younger people are more adaptive and deal with this better."
Repeating a statement heard more often from CFOs these days, he confirms that finance executives can no longer just get away with being great number crunchers. "Where you used to have a year to get used to a new role at a new firm, you now have a month. You need creative people that consistently think out of the box to stay on top," says Ramagaga. "There is a need for real entrepreneurs who can advise management how to take the business to the next level and advise the board continuously on governance and other non-financial matters."
TCS has been struggling financially of late and reported a loss in 2013, making the CFO role a huge one, but Ramagaga is not one to shy away from a challenge. "Of course there is pressure, but I enjoy the job because I am at the centre of the business. Everything that happens has to pass through my office and it is a great position to influence decisions." The young executive has a good idea of what needs to be done. "We have a good management team made up of younger people as the majority are dynamic people and we draw from the wisdom of the board. We need to diversify our client base and improve our product offering, because our risk is currently too concentrated. When we do that it will not only strengthen our business, but it will also position us better in the market."
While Ramagaga focuses on cutting costs and making the business sustainable, market opportunities are springing up every day in the rest of Africa. It is a significant future growth market that acknowledges the CFO. "We are currently looking at consolidating what we have and at refinement of our current products and services. Once we have done that, we'll be looking at the continent - it would be naïve if we didn't." At the same time TCS needs to keep an eye on the competition and deal with many small firms that are trying to sell their services to collect and process fines for municipalities. "We'll look at acquisitions if it aligns with our strategy, but they need to be good businesses, many are struggling and we have no interest in taking those over."
Being young and black, Ramagaga is at the forefront of the country's crucial transformation to a business world that is more representative of the country's demographics. Ramagaga warns that quality always has to be key. "It is about finding talented black people with the right attitude; help them get their qualifications and then let them compete for the roles they want to apply for." The times that black finance professionals were victims of "assumed incompetence" are - or should be - behind us, says Ramagaga. "At the same time window-dressing is still a problem - some companies still give people a big title, a fat pay check and a desk in the corner to get their B-BBEE points. And we have clients that warn us they can't deal with us if our organisation is not transformed. I feel quality should always come first. There is no textbook solution for transformation."
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