Meet Imraan Soomra (Oceana), winner Transformation & Empowerment Award 2015

Just a few days after this year's CFO Awards, Oceana Group announced a game-changing R4.6 billion purchase of the American fish-meal and -oil specialist Daybrook Fisheries. In his interview with the panel of judges for the awards, CFO Imraan Soomra had already explained that the traditionally conservative fishing company (already Africa's biggest) was planning to use its debt-less and asset-rich position to become a serious player on the global market. After the acquisition of the Louisiana-based Daybrook, Oceana is now the sixth-biggest fishing company in the world.

It was, however, not the Woolworths-like global expansion that landed Soomra an award, it was the impressive trust scheme, that has changed the lives of many employees and their families. That is why the Cape Town-based Chief Financial Officer was awarded the Transformation & Empowerment Award - handed out by Nedbank COO Mfundo Nkuhlu - during the landmark event in the Summer Place in Johannesburg. The payout he'd recently organised for the Oceana staff has been "life changing" for many, he explained to me.

Delighted with he award, Soomra emphasised how important transformation and empowerment are in the South African business landscape. "Let me be philosophical for a moment," he said during his acceptance speech. "This country is great, but a lot of work needs to be done so that this room [of CFOs] is more representative of the demographics of this country."

Oceana's is most famous for its Lucky Star canned fish brand and its horse mackerel. Geographical and product diversification are crucial going forward, Soomra told me recently. In the awards booklet the panel of judges summarised his interview as follows:

When Imraan Soomra joined Africa's biggest fishing company Oceana, things were just getting tougher in the industry and growth was slowing. He felt compelled to retrench two underperforming managers, changed the structure and - importantly - the culture of the organisation. He also started a shared services project. Now the company is set up for growth, without debt and looking actively for a big international acquisition 'like Woolworths did'. "We need to diversify in fish species and countries due to size and political risk in South Africa." Soomra recently organised a payout at the employees empowerment trust. "It is life changing."

  • Oceana CFO Imraan Soomra was one of the winners at the CFO Awards 2015. Next year's CFO Awards will take place on 12 May 2016, once again at the Summer Place in Johannesburg. If you would like to buy a table, join the panel of judges or become a partner you can email Jurrien Morsch. Attendance is free for members. Visit CFOawards.co.za.
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