Mohammed Abdool-Samad - CFO Illovo: `The greatest challenge is the pace of recovery of the global market`


“My biggest achievement so far is a 7bn BEE transaction in the Coal industry, which took 3 years to complete.” His most valued achievement on behalf of Illovo Sugar Ltd. will follow soon, most likely. As of Sept. 2011, Mohammed Abdool-Samad was appointed Financial Director at Illovo, replacing Karin Zarnack, who was appointed CFO at Unilever South Africa.

Mohammed has held senior positions within the Anglo American group since 2001. He holds a BCom degree and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1996, after doing his articles with Deloitte from 1993 to 1995. After finishing his articles Mohammed stayed on as a manager until 2000. He joined Anglo American in 2001 as a senior manager in Risk Management. His position later shifted within the company when in 2005, he joined Anglo American Thermal Coal (division of Anglo American) as a Senior Finance Manager. Two years later he was appoint CFO of the company, being responsible for operations in South Africa, Colombia, and Australia.

In 2011 Mohammed joined Illovo as Group Finance Director. Illovo Sugar is Africa's leading, global, low-cost sugar producer and has extensive agricultural and manufacturing operations in six African countries. Illovo employs approximately 12,000 permanent employees and 17,000 seasonal employees. Currently Illovo's financial department staffs 22 people (corporate), excluding Operational Finance. The company's operating profit added up to R1bn in 2011. Illovo is listed on the JSE and is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods plc - which holds 51.5% of the issued share capital.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?

Our company operates in South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Malawi, and is the continent's largest sugar producer. I find interacting with people across the African continent on a range of financial and commercial issues, debt structuring, and driving growth opportunities is challenging and rewarding. Success in these areas flows through to the bottom line, and adds value to our key stakeholders.

2) How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?

I find that the CFO generally spends less time on pure financial reporting, tax & treasury (although still core). Instead I find more time is dedicated towards strategy, business development, risk management, and operational efficiencies.

3) How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?

I personally think that the trend that we have seen in these last five years will continue, although we will start to see a return to more time spent on the basics of Financial Management (Reporting, Costs, Tax, and Internal Control)

4) Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets?

In my opinion accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible. This can be achieved through proper risk management, and holding people to account delivering against budgets and forecasts. Also, a well structured performance incentive plan can also ensure that priorities are aligned.

5) What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?

For exporters, the greatest challenge is the pace of recovery of the global market, in particular the Eurozone, which can have a profound impact on demand for our products. Illovo is somewhat protected, as we sell most of our sugar into domestic and regional markets, where demand is still buoyant. To the extent that we sell into Europe, the weakening of the euro against our local currencies can impact our revenue line.

6) Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?

I think there are three skills that are crucial for any finance professional:

  1. Managing people - how to get the most out of people, and influencing
  2. Relationship management - Banks, Analysts, Non-executives, Colleagues, Revenue Collection Authorities, JSE
  3. Understanding markets - Supply & Demand, pricing, cost curves

7) Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?

My biggest achievement so far is a 7bn BEE transaction in the Coal industry, which took 3 years to complete.

8) What three things must you do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work and why?

Every day I need to spend time with my family, communicate with my team, and to make decisions.

9) Who is your role model in life and why?

I don't have any. I just admire people who start with nothing and work hard to uplift themselves.

10) What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?

"Do what you are passionate about, and work hard it. Success does not come overnight, but when opportunities arise, you must be ready."

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category: Interviewing the CFO

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