Rajan Padayachy is building an educational legacy as the new CFO of Optimi Learning

Bringing accessible and affordable education to South Africans is Rajan’s “heritage and quest”.

Education is a heritage for Rajan Padayachy, CFO of Optimi Learning, who is continuing his family’s quest to create quality learning opportunities that are more accessible and affordable for South Africans.

It has been almost 10 months since Rajan left Easigas to join educational company Optimi Learning as its CFO. Optimi is a business that provides a variety of traditional and non-traditional, quality learning and training opportunities to align with the diverse needs of South African communities. It offers home and online schooling, workplace training, an affordable private school called Arrow Academy and tertiary education.

It’s a perfect fit for a man who hails from a long line of educators. “My aunt was my nursery school teacher, my mom was my Grade 1 teacher, my father was the principal of a school that I went to, and my uncle was the deputy principal. That’s just my direct family,” he laughs.

“My dad was always reluctant for my siblings and myself to become educators due to the many career opportunities that were available to us. In my job now I can still focus on supporting education. A good education makes all the difference in the world,” he says.

One of the primary challenges that Rajan faces is how to provide quality education at affordable prices while ensuring that Optimi is financially sustainable and able to grow. “It’s easy,” he says. “ As an example, school has become a whole day event for children now and includes the cost of extracurricular activities and meals and this makes the task of running a private school like Arrow Academy, which is modelled on allowing access to a high quality of education at a lower cost, much more challenging.”

It isn’t just the role of being responsible for steering the businesses finances, but his additional responsibilities as head of the legal and human resources for the company that keep the chartered accountant on his toes.

“I now see value differently,” he says. Rajan says that before he took on this role, he would look at an initiative from the HR division, like a desk drop, and just see the financial cost of the exercise. “Now I see an exercise like that not just as a cost but also consider the value of what it could do to build the business's culture,” he says. “Investing in staff and trying to build a strong and positive culture within the business is where the value lies.”

Rajan says that while the Covid-19 pandemic created a high demand for the educational programmes and services that Optimi offers, his responsibilities included ensuring that their staff were safe and engaged.

“Flexible working breaks so many rules and conventions. We are all still trying to work out what this ‘new normal’ looks like. Not all staff can work remotely: a receptionist or a warehouse employee both need to be on site. I don’t have a definite answer on how to navigate who should work from where, but I am still tinkering around,” says Rajan who, while at Easigas, during various stages of lockdown went to the office with the other members of the executive team so that the staff who were required to go in saw their support.

One thing that Rajan is determined to share is that being a CFO is not just about making financial decisions, but also to understand how the decisions you make impact the staff, all stakeholders and the overall business.