National Real Estate CFO Roelof Dednam bucks tradition and changes rules

The young CFO says engaged staff who have clarity about the company's goals are motivated to excel.

Roelof Dednam, CFO of National Real Estate (NRE), is familiar with the rigours of competition, as a former Olympian who represented South Africa in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Badminton.  Together with his brother as doubles partners, they have won multiple All Africa titles and are 11-time SA champions. 

Roelof says playing competitively gave him an opportunity to grow the character traits required to be a champion, such as tenacity and discipline. Despite his talent and ability, however, a career as a professional sportsman wasn’t an option given the size and popularity of the sport in South Africa. 

Following his success on the court, he turned his sights to professional pursuits off-court and, given his knack for maths and science, pursuing a career in financial services as a CA (SA) seemed a good idea.

In 2009 he started his three years of articles at PwC, where he obtained high scores on his performance appraisals and gained experience working with a variety of clients, including Raubex, Country Bird and Standard Bank.

He then became an audit manager from 2012, where he was again recognised as a high performer and National & Overseas, FNB Lesotho, Boxmore, Free State Youth Care Centres were part of his portfolio. 

In 2013, he was appointed as chief financial officer of NRE. In his role, he was in charge of the company’s total budget, financial statements and oversight over the bookkeepers as well as oversight over the whole Trust Account department and procedures.

His responsibilities rapidly grew to include staff appointments, IT and office management as well as the direct report for all heads of department including finance, trust accounts, administration, insurance, sectional title management, energy management, residential letting, commercial letting, debt collecting, maintenance and sales. From 2014, his responsibilities came to include compliance to legislation like FICA and FAIS. He was appointed as a representative in June 2014, passed his Rep and KI FAIS exams and was appointed as Key Individual in July 2015.

Just shy of having spent a decade in the field, he says his choice of career has exceeded his expectations, and his meteoric rise to CFO the age of 34, proves that his choice was a good one. 

The real estate sector has been shaken by the rapid adoption of disruptive solutions and cutting-edge technologies. Online portals and self-service tools have overturned the industry’s traditional model of operation on its head, with technology enabling buyers and sellers increased access to property information and putting digitally driven self-service solutions at their fingertips. 

For Roelof, these shifts have allowed him to shine. Tasked with providing the company’s financial leadership and aligning business and finance strategy to grow the business, he led the charge to implement paperless solutions, driven the development of an app. He says the opportunity to drive strategy at a top level allows him to be instrumental in shaping the company’s overall strategic direction, which has become more critical as technology has disrupted the industry.

His ability to lead bravely has allowed him to buck tradition and change some rules. For instance in one third of NRE’s rental properties, tenants no longer require a deposit to rent, which means more affordability to the community and fewer hassles with refunding deposits at the end of a contract.

During his six years at the company, the team has grown from 104 to 170 employees, who now manage over 14,000 accounts at a net profit three times the amount as when he started. Throughout this growth and evolutionary period, the ability to manage people has been central to successfully executing changes. 

Roelof says engaging with old and new staff has been especially crucial during transitions which have ranged from the opening of a new branch or launch of a pioneering product or service. “Many times, my workday is taken up by engaging with team members in face-to-face interactions, which range from meetings to one-on-ones. The only time that I can catch up with my own work is after hours, but investing the time and effort is worthwhile.” 

He asserts that engaged staff who have clarity about the company’s goals, why certain strategies have been deployed and their role in achieving the desired outcome are more motivated to excel. 

He uses his strengths in IT, problem-solving and simplification to improve internal controls and staff efficiencies, but says that what makes a great CFO is the ability to make tough decisions, and not doubting your own judgement. He believes that as a leader, a positive outlook and being self-assured boost your team’s confidence in the direction they are taking. He believes that having a problem-solving mindset is a beneficial trait too, and is crucial in coming up with ways to continually unearth new ways to optimise the use of time, resources and skills. 

Roelof is based out of Bloemfontein in the Free State where he grew up. As the father of two young children aged three and five years old, his family is a top priority. His wife is also a CA, so he understands the pressures she faces and says when she has a period of intense work is stretched they figure out a way to accommodate both their obligations and maintain home life.  “One of the terms of accepting the position with NRE was that it allowed me some flexibility to focus on family when necessary.” 

Nominated in SAICA’s top 35 under 35 for 2019, Roelof looks set for a very bright and promising career.