Give African executives opportunity to develop: Pratik Chandaria (Africa Advisory Group)

Contrary to perceptions, there is a strong potential pool of great local business leaders in Africa," says Pratik Chandaria of Africa Advisory Group, a company specialising in recruiting executives and developing the next generation of leadership for Africa. "The strength of the leadership pool is defined by the potential you see in it. This means you have to be willing to give leadership talent the opportunity to develop; particularly in Africa where leadership skill sets are still developing. I rank the pool highly in terms of potential."

In preparation of our Moving into Africa event on 16 March 2016 at the Standard Bank office in Rosebank, CFO South Africa spoke to Pratik about latest talent trends in Africa, the success of his young company and about what type of CFOs will be most successful in countries across the continent. "Finding technically strong CFOs is not an issue… where a CFO excels is when they start thinking like a CEO and are able to effectively position themselves as potential CEO successor."

What is Africa Advisory Group and what does the company do?
"We are leadership advisory firm focused solely on the African market. We support Africa-focused or Africa-based organisations in addressing their leadership issues - these might range from finding great leadership talent and building outstanding executive teams and boards to providing leadership consulting support and enabling the leadership team to be more effective."

You are the founding CEO, how did you come to open a firm such as this?
"Together with Fred Swaniker, the founding chairman of Africa Advisory Group, we saw a gap in the market for supporting organisations on a pan-African basis with a pan-African team and leveraging a pan-African network. Most firms in our space tend to think local, they don't have the deep networks we have across the continent and neither do they have the team diversity required. We can be local when we want to be, but more importantly, we can provide a pan-African perspective on talent in the current market. We were also clear that we would focus solely on the African market. This makes us unique in the leadership advisory space, as we are not just a small part of a global business, but we are also more than just a country focused business."

"To provide further context, Africa Advisory Group is one of four organisations that sits under the African Leadership Group umbrella. Fred Swaniker is the chairman of the group and across all four organisations - African Leadership Academy, African Leadership University, African Leadership Network and Africa Advisory Group - our focus is on creating and developing the next generation of leadership for Africa, connecting current leaders and working with organisations to address their senior leadership issues."

Have things worked out as you initially hoped or planned?
"Mostly yes. As with any business you learn a lot from the early stages. Our proposition and service offering has received and continues to draw support and positive reception from the market. We are very much on the right path and right track, and our client feedback highlights our unique delivery capabilities."

What challenges have you encountered along the way?
"One of the biggest challenges we face is in increasing awareness and educating clients as to the value a firm like ours can add to their business. Leadership capital in an organisation is such a critical asset and a key component in driving and delivering business strategies. However, organisations in Africa are often not used to seeking support on leadership matters - so we have to spend time developing relationships and outlining the value of the expertise we bring."

What sort of growth have you seen since the company was founded in 2013?
"From a standing start, with literally nothing in the pipeline, we are going from strength to strength. We started out with a team of five and we are currently a team of 11 based out of five locations - Accra, Johannesburg, Nairobi, London and Singapore. This is the biggest indicator of growth. We are also off to a strong start this year - possibly the most challenging in term of macro economics - so that is a good sign that we are doing the right things."

You work to help companies achieve transformational growth. Why do you believe such growth is important for organisations?
"Africa, if I may take the liberty of classifying it as a single market which of course it is not, is a unique market. There are so many possibilities and organisations have so many opportunities to impact the markets and economies they operate in. An often cited example is M-Pesa and what it has done in Kenya and beyond in shaping the mobile money market as well as the impact it has had on consumers, SMEs and large businesses. Whichever sector you look at, companies are striving to grow and to make an impact. hose with the vision to transform and help shape the markets they are in will add to the collective growth of the region and the continent as whole."

"These are challenging markets do business in. Aside from the obvious constraints in terms of infrastructure and access to finance, one of the most important things companies need to do to sustain their growth is to ensure that they have the right leadership capabilities to drive growth. This where we feel we add value."

What can companies do to gain a competitive advantage?
"Interesting question. We have just completed a qualitative study exploring how organisations are managing and addressing their leadership talent challenges. From the information we have gathered so far, we have learned how leaders across the continent are grappling with emerging pressures such as the growing focus on 'localising talent' and persistent challenges such as the inherent complexity of managing teams across different languages and cultures. It is also apparent that Africa's current growth trajectory has illuminated the widening gap between the skills of the current workforce and the skills needed to capitalise on the economic growth potential. "

"Businesses on the continent are increasingly pursuing long-term talent strategies including implementing comprehensive leadership development programs that aim to address their anticipated talent needs. It is increasingly clear that investment in people - providing training, coaching and opportunities for growth - is critical to ensuring talent develops within the organisation. This is complemented with well-thought-out strategies to bring in talent from the outside in order to bolster the overall capabilities of the organisation."

In your opinion, how integral is the CFO as far as leadership within organisations goes?
"Incredibly important. The CFO is the right hand to the CEO in business decision making and as an executive team member, has a key role to play in leading the organisation. To really add value, the CFO needs to think beyond what it takes to be a great CFO. They need to think about what it takes to be great CEO. Finding technically strong CFOs is not an issue… where a CFO excels is when they start thinking like a CEO and are able to effectively position themselves as potential CEO successor."

In your experience, what makes a great CFO?
"The technical aspects aside, traits such as having a strong business acumen, the ability to think out of the box and possessing mental agility make a great CFO. Risk management and financial governance skills in today's environment are also critical. CFOs are typically strong on analysis and focusing on results, but having self awareness and strong organisational and interpersonal skills singles out great CFOs, especially those looking to get into the CEO seat."

How does AAG work to support companies in identifying CFOs for their organisations?
"We work with a range of different organisations to build leadership teams across many roles and functions. CFOs are a huge area of need. So we help organisations think about this on a local and pan-African basis and to identify and hire great CFO leadership talent, among other areas of support. We have done some interesting work in the last year supporting clients with quite different CFO needs. "

"One client was seeking a strategic CFO capable of driving investment decision making and being the right hand to the CEO who was very business development-focused. We really had to understand the needs of the organisation and the balance required in the executive team. In addition, this was a PE-backed organisation and it needed a CFO capable of interacting with demanding shareholders."

"With another client, we supported the organisation in hiring a CFO able to develop a finance function almost from scratch. The CFO needed to have great finance skills but more importantly, the ability to lead and develop a finance function with authority across multiple jurisdictions was critical. Again, this organisation was also PE-backed so the ability to work with shareholder groups and provide strong financial governance was critical. In both cases above, it was imperative for the CFOs to be familiar with and have experience in multiple African markets."

How strong is Africa's pool of business leaders? What does it need in order to strengthen further?
"I believe it is very strong, although it is sometimes perceived as not being that deep. I say that because, naturally, we all look for solutions where we a round peg fits a round hole. But if you think beyond this, the strength of the leadership pool is defined by the potential you see in it. This means you have to be willing to give leadership talent the opportunity to develop; particularly in Africa where leadership skill sets are still developing. I rank the pool highly in terms of potential."

What do you think Africa most needs to do to improve its 'brand'?
"I think Africa has a fairly strong brand. This is evident in the investment that comes into the continent. However, ensuring transparency and establishing a track record of strong leadership are critical to making the brand stronger."

What are some of the major challenges currently faced by businesses in Africa?
"It is hard to get away from the challenges of the global economy, the fallen oil price and exchange rate pressures. Beyond that, I have to of course say that it comes down to great leadership - finding it and putting it to work."

Who most inspires you and why?
"My father, for the sacrifices he made to provide opportunities for his children. I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now if it had not been for the choices he made. I'm second generation born and raised in Kenya. My grandfather, who moved from India to Kenya at the age of 15, and my father both made a lot of sacrifices to provide new possibilities for their children and grandchildren."

"In the business world I look at Steve Jobs and what he achieved with Apple, how he focussed on what he believed in. Success did not come without sacrifices for him either."

What are your goals - both personal and work - for 2016?
"They are quite interlinked given my personal commitment to Africa Advisory Group. I want us to keep going from strength to strength, so it's about taking AAG to the next level, building our brand and reputation and growing our client base."

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