“The role of the CFO is to promote integrity,” says Oliver Mwita, chief financial officer of DHL Express in Kenya. We spoke exclusively to the experienced finance leader, who has previously held positions at Deloitte, Nation Media, Gateway Broadcasting, Muthaiga Country Club, Nakumatt and Frigoken. We chatted to Oliver about his career, the challenges for CFOs in Kenya and his advice for young, ambitious accountants who want to make it in Nairobi – and the world.
In December 2015 we are publishing a number of CFO of the Week interviews with CFOs in Kenya. To be part of our Kenyan CFO community, join CFO.co.ke as an online member and receive our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and join us on LinkedIn
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
"I can think of two things. A long time ago, in December 2003, when I was also working for DHL Express, the government changed the customs regulations. We used to pay customs directly to the revenue authority and then government said it had to be through a certain bank. I was able to strike a deal so our operations could go on. "
"Another proud moment was when I joined one of the companies I worked for and discovered there were significant irregularities to the tune of millions of dollars. General management was not willing to deal with it. With the backing of the board I was able to clean up and become compliant. Personally I feel the role of the CFO if to promote integrity and that is what I was able to do."
In 2013 you made the step from controller to CFO. What has that change meant for you?
"It has meant moving from doing to providing leadership to the finance team, but also procurement and taking charge of company secretarial matters. It has been a big change for me, as I am also getting more involved in the business itself. I have become a proper sparring partner for the managing director and the senior management team. I really enjoy it. You do become more central, but what is important is to use the position to benefit the company and the society in general."
How big is your department?
"I work with a team of 15 people in the finance department, servicing a company of 230 staff members. We want to be leaner, so that is what we are working on. We are already billing from our shared service centre in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and the accounting is moving to Mauritius. That is not so much a cost saving measure, but is meant to improve quality. The staffing in Kenya itself won't change much, but the nature of the work will change."
What are the biggest challenges for Kenyan CFOs in 2015?
"There are a few. The high cost of capital and lack of a good payment culture comes to mind, but getting the right staffing is also difficult. There are quite a lot of people with the right qualifications, but they don't deliver. In Kenya there is a culture of looking at papers, but we are lacking a good internship programs. Government through the universities are the main provider of graduates, but they are admitting people left right and centre at so-called kiosk universities."
"The most difficult challenge to deal with is the culture of glorifying corruption - this does not only affect the finance community. In Kenya you are considered stupid if you hold a good position and you do not engage in corrupt activities!"
What can you do to improve the quality of your team?
"I do not want only to improve my team but my other colleagues too. Principle guidelines are the company policies, followed by doing what is good for the company. Many people look first at what is good for me, which is not right. When you follow the process, there are fewer issues. Those processes have been thought through and are there for a reason. Business colleagues often feel that this is interference from finance, but that is okay. So to improve the team - enabling approach is what I prefer. This I do through empowering them with knowledge and responsibility using methods like training, coaching and rewarding them appropriately."
What objectives did you set yourself at DHL Express and how are those coming along?
"I am not far from achieving what I wanted to. We have a finance transformation program, which includes a lot of projects. I have been trained to be a good leader. Currently I am working on a transformation program if it succeeds then it will it gets spread out to other countries."
"What has been really exciting for me is the culture transformation of the staff. I have been empowering and enabling them. I get them involved and look at the output of people, not at the number of hours they spend on something. I am doing a lot of coaching. It is my goal to make work fun, so everyone has a great working day. When I look at my KPIs they have really improved. The staff is really motivated."
What value is there for CFOs in Kenya to meet each other?
"A lot of value. We can talk about issues affecting us and exchange ideas. It will also a good chance to network."
What advice do you have for young accountants in Kenya who look up to people like you?
"Do what is right. Everybody gains when you do something that benefits the company. If you only work for yourself, you will suffer in the long run. Someone once wanted me to do something I didn't want to do and said you'll be sacked if you don't go along with it. But I said I would rather be sacked for doing the right thing, than doing the wrong thing. Nothing happened and we became good friends. People might not like you if you do that, but it would be wrong if finance is liked."