Osman Mia, area CFO-in-waiting to a global pharmaceutical business


AstraZeneca's Osman Mia is expanding his skills set and industry understanding in the UK.

Osman Mia, who was nominated for the 2018 CFO Awards for his role as CFO at AstraZeneca South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, subsequently moved on to a broader role in the company in London, where he is now CFO-in-waiting for one of the area businesses. CFO South Africa caught up with Osman to learn how he’s been faring in the UK and what he plans to do next.
You are in significant financial role at a global organisation. How did your career start out?
“As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a CA. Unlike other kids I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman. I went through high school and when it came to choosing subjects, there wasn’t a thought in my mind other than accounting and mathematics. I also did computer science, which was being launched at my school. When I went to the University of KZN, I did a B.Com with an accounting spin on it, then did my postgrad in management accounting, and then accounting. I then decided to go the CA route, instead of CMA, and worked through my articles at PwC in Durban.

“My first year of articles, I had the choice to join the audit team at Unilever or Tetra Pak, and I went with Tetra Pak. In my third year of articles, the Tetra Pak FD approached me to join the company post articles. I jumped at the opportunity and relocated from Durban to Joburg as a finance controller, and that’s how my career got started. I joined Tetra Pak in 2001 and by 2003, I became its finance director – the youngest financial director at Tetra Pak at the time. Three years later, I became the finance and business transformation director for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In the last two years before leaving, in addition to my position at the time, I took on a key account director role, which was basically a commercial role for one of the key accounts in South Africa.”

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How did you make the move across to AstraZeneca?
“In 2013, I decided I needed a change. I’d been with the same company for 12 years and felt that if I did not leave soon, I would be a dinosaur before I left. So in 2013, I joined AstraZeneca in the role of CFO of South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which I held from 2013 to 2015. Then I received a call from the global office in London, telling me that the Middle East and Africa CFO role was becoming available. Yet, I had only been in the company and industry for two years, and they felt I needed to expand my knowledge and network base which led me to join the global office and start networking from there. 

“I relocated with my family in 2015, and have been in London ever since. Here in the global office, I look after the international business, and report to the international CFO. So I am CFO-minus-one, looking after everything outside of North America, Japan and Europe, including Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Eurasia, Asia, China and Hong Kong from a financial perspective, doing business planning, performance and measurement.”
What is your main focus in your current role?
“My main focus is planning and forecasting. I think forecast accuracy is underestimated today. It’s always better for revenue to be above forecast than below, but in my books, you get more credibility if you are more accurate. I don’t want to be the guy who’s always overshooting the budget and under-calling the numbers. And enterprise-wide thinking means considering the impact of your forecasting on the rest of the organisation.
“So I educate, assist and train our CFOs around the world to get forecasting as correct and accurate as possible, because a lot hinges on those forecasts they provide.”
And what do you plan on doing next?
“I have been in London since 2016, on a two plus two year contract, and my ambition is to take on the Middle East and Africa CFO role or a larger Global Finance role. Ultimately, I would like to come back to South Africa, possibly as the head of the South African AstraZeneca organisation. If that’s not available, I may come back to South Africa in a finance role in another, larger organisation. But home is where the heart is, and I will always return to South Africa.”
How are you and your family finding London?
“My wife and two kids – a daughter and a son – love London. Especially my wife and daughter, they love the shopping and the lifestyle. But my son would go back to South Africa in a heartbeat. He is South African, through and through.

“But they’ve had great opportunities to study abroad, travel and see the world. It’s given them perspective on different lifestyles and alternative ways of thinking from across the globe. So I am glad I’ve been able to afford them this opportunity.”
What do you think makes a good CFO?
“The magic recipe for a great CFO is that they are a value-adding, trusted partner for the business. They are the right hand of the MD or the CEO, but are engaged in the system. The company head is the guy who wants to do everything and spend money everywhere, and the CFO’s job is to ignite the discussion or be a catalyst for change, managing the CEO’s vision, together with the operations on the ground. And the great CFO has to understand the company’s long-term vision, while managing these day-to-day operations.

“There’s always the old adage that a great business partner is promoted but a weak controller is fired, so first and foremost you have to get the basics right – controlling, accounting… the boring stuff. You have to make sure it’s working. Then you can do the sexy stuff, the stuff that makes you great.”

“You have to look ahead and see what headwinds and opportunities you are going to face and what you need to do to navigate these waters over the next 12 to 18 months. Every industry has troughs and peaks, so you need to know they are coming, be geared for them and set aside strategies to overcome or take advantage of them. And you must be very transparent with shareholders and external stakeholders like bankers, so there are no surprises. That’s what makes a great CFO.”
From where do you draw your inspiration?
“I believe that integrity is key and I draw my inspiration from my Dad in that regard. He was previously a CEO and held quite a few board positions. He has an entrepreneurial spirit, and has passed it down to his family. My brother is also a successful entrepreneur.

“This attitude helps me to focus on my goals at work. There is never a day where I’ve said ‘I haven’t achieved what I needed to achieve’, and not asked myself ‘what more could I be doing to move my organisation in a certain direction?’”

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