Afgri CFO Rivasha Maharaj: time for women execs in agriculture

Recently appointed Afgri CFO says that she's working hard to learn the ropes of the agriculture industry.

Rivasha Maharaj was officially appointed as Afgri CFO on 1 February 2018, taking over from Johan Geel, who was nominated for the CFO Awards several times. Prior to her joining Afgri, Rivasha was director of Nampak DivFood Botswana, before which she was divisional finance director of DivFood, a division of Nampak. We caught up with the ambitious excutive and asked her some urgent questions.

How did you decide to become a CA, and how did you end up in your current position? 
I took an interest in finance and business at a young age, so it was always the career for me. I never considered anything else. Upon completion of my articles, I wanted to break into commerce and industry and relocated to Johannesburg. I joined Meadow Feeds, which is part of the Astral Group, as a management accountant, learning the ropes.

I then joined Nampak as a divisional financial manager. I’ve always had a passion for manufacturing and intended on staying in that industry. I was there for eight years in the Metals division.

I was approached in 2017, to join AFGRI Agri Services, one of the newly formed Invested companies within AGH, as their CFO. Nine months later, the CFO opportunity arose at AGH Group, which I applied for and was successful.

How are you adapting to the agriculture industry?
Agriculture is new to me. I am learning the ropes as I go along. I am enjoying the challenge and the changes the business is going through currently. There are many economic, climatic and political issues affecting the industry currently. One of the issues which is currently greatly publicised is around land reform. There are also political factors in our African operations which we are managing as best we can.

What is your current focus, and how do you ensure that you stay at the top of your game? 
From my perspective, staying at the top of my game is about having the right information readily available in a form that helps my business make decisions. It is also about seeing the possible opportunities in the industry and ensuring AGH is well equipped to address those opportunities and bring them into fruition.

My current focus is to bed down the new AGH structure, which moved from an operational company into an investment holding company. The business has been split into pillars: Agriculture, Foods, Financial services and Impact, and now it’s more about using innovation and finding the right investments to enhance our portfolio and strategy. There is a continued focus on the rest of Africa as we move into different countries to ensure we are an enabler to food security across the continent.

There is also focus on change management and leadership discussions around how we move forward and engage our people. That’s something we hold close to our hearts.

In what ways do you face challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession, and how do you overcome them? 
I must say that it’s not as difficult as people think it is. You need to have a strong personality and need to stand your ground and make sure you are not bullied. I find that people are willing to listen, and they are open to a woman in the industry. As a woman entering a new industry, I can’t say it’s been a challenge. I’ve had to work harder because I am new to the game, but everyone goes through that in a new job. You need earn your stripes.

What is your attitude to supporting or networking with other women? 
I am all for women empowerment. I am trying to get the women in my team to come out of their shells, to be more forthright and forthcoming with information and to take more ownership of what they do.

Knowledge does lie with certain people in the industry, and women need to be unafraid to say, ‘Can you help me?’ if they don’t know something. I’ve been trying to inspire them to do exactly that. There’s no shame in understanding what your shortcomings are.

I really enjoy networking with the people I work with, to find out what their career aspirations are and how I can assist, inspire, open doors and encourage them to be what they dream of being.

Who has inspired you on your career path? 
I’ve been inspired by many people. A lot of them have been my superiors. I’ve been privileged to work with great individuals from a personality and work ethic perspective. People have taken me under their wing and shown me the ropes.

What is your vision for your future? 
I am one of those lucky people who love what they do. One day I hope to be a CEO of an organisation like AFGRI, or to have my own business, as well as doing good for the community.