Pushpender Singla, Vedanta Zinc CFO, says he is committed to growth in Africa
"I believe in the mantra: in year one you learn, in year two you deliver your best, in year three you make sure you have a successor in place before you target a more challenging opportunity and elevated role."
In your career, you’ve had all but one job at Vedanta Resources, do you believe in committing to one company or did it just happen that way?
“Professionally, I have been born and brought up in Vedanta Group. I never had reason to think that I should move to another company because before I ask, I have been given much more challenging and enhanced roles. Identifying young internal talent and elevating them to enhanced leadership roles is the hallmark of our company’s DNA and has been the driving factor in our journey of rapid growth. This is personally driven by our chairman and every person in the group has the opportunity to grow, provided they have unconstrained thinking, a hunger to get behind every opportunity and take initiatives with purpose and passion.”
“The group itself has grown multi-fold over the last decade and delivered an average CAGR of greater than 22 percent. This growth journey doesn’t stop here. Future exponential growth plans are in place for each company in the group to double up production and EBITDA. There is no reason why an employee should think to move when they are part of such a fast-growing conglomerate, which gives a wealth of opportunities to young and committed people who are open to it and want to grow with it.”
“I have a personal philosophy of not staying in the same role for more than three years, unless the role keeps expanding. I believe in the mantra: in year one you learn, in year two you deliver your best to the business, in year three you make sure you have a successor in place before you target more challenging opportunities and elevated roles. This is important to keep you energised, and for you to learn and grow along with the organisation. Change is a rule of nature, so we should enjoy it.”
“Vedanta is a globally diversified natural resources major with interests in Zinc, Lead, Silver, Copper, Iron Ore, Aluminum, Power and Oil & Gas, with major operations and presence in India and Africa. I had opportunity to work in our Aluminum, Power, Copper and Zinc businesses in three different geographies – India, Australia and South Africa – and have been exposed to the full business cycle from project design, construction, operation, C&M to the closure of mines. Although I have stayed in one group and grown from a trainee to executive, I’ve never felt that I was in the same company for too long because of this wide range of exposure, roles and responsibilities.”
As a young CFO, what do you think it is about you that gave your employers the confidence to send you to take on your current role in South Africa?
“What promoters and executive management are looking for: vision, passion, strong integrity and commitment. I believe I have all these qualities and management has believed in me. Accordingly, I had this fantastic and fast-growing opportunity to be a CFO at such a young age.”
“I believe that I have very strong integrity. Promotors recognise this and know that I will stand up if things aren’t right.”
“Secondly, I am always passionate and positive. I believe that nothing is impossible, provided you have determination and willingness to make the things happen. Don’t say no to anything, give it a try. In the worst case, you may not achieve 100% of your desired outcome, but it will be much more than doing nothing.”
“The third thing is my commitment. Lots of people talk about work-life balance, but I say one should be flexible. Flexibility is key, whatever stage of career we are in. My family includes family at home and business family. Both are important to me and I must be flexible so that I can serve them better. I can say that work-life integration is more important than balance.”
“The fourth component is that I am ready to take on challenges. The Vedanta Group is a land of opportunity and one should have courage to come up and grab the opportunity without limiting yourself to location, role, type of business and so on. I had the opportunity to work in various sectors, geographies and I’ve always been willing to make the move.”
What inspires you to be the best professional you can be?
“I take a lot of inspiration from our chairman and vice chairman. They are very humble and down-to-earth individuals. Their vision, entrepreneurship and strong commitment resulted in them converting a small scrap business into a global metal and mining conglomerate.”
“In addition, I love to read and know about the paths of young entrepreneurs and professionals who, in their early age, have reached great heights in their respective careers.
What is your view on working in another country, of being responsible for another region than one you are familiar with, both personally and professionally?
“I think geographical boundaries do not really matter for leaders, provided you are open to learning, quickly adapting to new cultures and developing trust in the people and communities you work with and live in.”
“In this digital world, all big companies have global systems and standard practices across all operating locations, so it is very easy to settle in a new environment. People skills are one of the most important qualities to have, so that you can strive and thrive with people in your organisation. You can get a subject matter expert to advise you on specific country-related matters, but you should be clear what you are looking for. In the role of CFO, I am responsible for driving the complete business in partnership with the business exco, so I always hear them, welcome the opportunity to learn from them and support them with the experience and skills I have.”
What is your view on supporting or engaging with communities in South Africa, where you have your operations?
“Communities play a vital role in the growth of an organisation. Giving back to our communities is one of the value pillars at Vedanta. We have very focused social and community programmes for each location within the vicinities in which we operate, which include education, health, sports, local employment and SME development. We, Vedanta Zinc International, have our operations in the Northern Cape of South Africa and southern tip of Namibia.”
“Since the acquisition in 2011, we have invested around R100 million on our CSR program, with average annual investment of R4 million in Namibia and R10 million in South Africa. Some of our CSR initiatives include Kharas Regional Science Fair, Promotion of Girl Child Education, Study Trust - tertiary funding for local Khâi-Ma community, Khâi-Ma School subsidies, cancer awareness projects - Pink Drive, Community Medical Centre support, specialised health camps – Cataract Project, Eye Screening Project and so on.”
“Our chairman is a philanthropist and has committed 75 percent of his personal wealth to give back to communities. We are fully committed to the growth and sustainability of the communities and want to strive and thrive with the communities and people around us.”
What is your growth strategy in Africa, and to what extent does it depend on acquisitions or partnerships?
“Vedanta is looking to achieve exponential Growth in India and Africa. We have invested more than USD1 billion in Southern Africa. We have largely completed construction of our flagship Gamsberg Project at cost of USD400 million and expect to have first production in by September 2018. This is one of the world’s largest zinc deposits, which will increase Black Mountain, South Africa's current production by four times from the existing 70Kt per annum to 320Kt per annum. It will further extend life of operation from existing 4 years to 15 years.”
“We have more than 200 million tonnes of ore resources in the ground and are looking to expand production capacity from 320Kt per annum to more than 500Kt per annum by advancing the feasibility of Gamsberg Phase II. We have a robust and focused exploration program in place to further increase our resource base to meet our vision of being a one-million-tonnes-of-zinc producer from Africa.”
“Recently our chairman has announced that we will be investing USD1 billion in South Africa, and is considering a zinc smelter in the Northern Cape. He is very committed to South Africa, as this country and India are very linked.”
You are very active on Twitter. Do you feel that social media is an essential part of an executive’s interaction with his stakeholders?
“I think that social media is one of the fastest growing, friendliest and most active platforms for interaction with our stakeholders. To be a successful CEO or entrepreneur, we must come up and start sharing our thoughts, successes and good work and build stakeholder relationships, which we do on social media. Normally CEOs are more involved here and CFOs are a bit lacking in this area – we do a lot of good work, but we keep it to ourselves – so I urge all my finance colleagues to come up and showcase the successful things we do on Twitter, Facebook or other social media. It also helps us to grow our network, and provides an opportunity to learn and grow our business.”
What do you think of South Africa as an investment destination?
“I see South Africa as a fast-developing economy with tremendous opportunities to grow. It has huge mineral potential, best-in-class people skills and a very committed workforce. The recent change in government is very positive and well received by foreign investors. The Investment Polices and Charter require a bit of work to become more investor friendly and must be relaxed to attract foreign investments to upgrade South Africa’s rating in attracting investment from existing 47th position to in the Top 10. Some initiatives could include easy licensing, tax incentives for setting up businesses in undeveloped regions, a more practical Mining Charter and BBBEE Scorecard, smooth dealing with Social and Labour Plans and so on.”
“We are fully committed to and respect current policies and rules as good corporate citizens and are looking to invest more and more in this country.”