Ronel van Dijk - CFO Spur Group: "Shortly after I took over I changed the way we report on our international businesses. That benefited us"

Ronel van Dijk, CFO of Spur Group, has a B.Rek (Hons) from the University of Stellenbosch. She qualified as a CA(SA) in December 1997 and thereafter spent a year working in the London office of Arthur Andersen & Co. She returned to Cape Town as audit manager with the firm. Ronel joined Spur head office as group financial manager in January 2003. In January 2005, Ronel was appointed as chief financial officer and company secretary, and she was appointed to the board in September 2006.

As CFO of Spur Group Ronel is ultimately responsible for the finance, company secretarial, administrative, legal and compliance functions of the group. She also currently fulfills a supervisory function for IT. Since the appointment of chief financial officer in 2005, Ronel has been more involved in the international growth strategy of the group. As an executive director, Ronel is also instrumental in determining and implementing group strategy.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what must you absolutely do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work and why?
In order to feel fulfilled in my work every day, all I have to do is arrive! Spur is a very dynamic and fast moving company, and as CFO I am in a position where I can get involved in and contribute to various aspects of our business. I have also had the opportunity to get involved in operational areas of our business and am running our international operations, in conjunction with our CEO. The fact that I have been able to branch out into operations is testament to the training that CFO's receive in our country, in that it provides the individual with a rounded perspective on all aspects of business, not necessarily only finance, accounts and financial reporting. The best part of my job is therefore that I will never get bored.

How do you perceive the roll of the CFO has changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
My experience is that the CFO's roll changed from strictly "accountant" to strategic business partner. In the past the CFO's roll was merely to take what actually happened in the business and report thereon from a financial perspective. Taking into account all the changes in Corporate Governance and International Financial Reporting Standards, it has become much more important for the CFO to be intimately involved in and have in-depth knowledge ofall aspects of the business, including areas such as strategy, operations and new business development. I definitely do not spend all the hours of my working day behind my desk and I find myself interacting with Business on a daily basis. At all times I have to know what is going on operationally in our business, so as to ensure that good Corporate Governance is observed and the appropriate reporting standards are adhered to.

How do you see the roll of the CFO evolving in the next say 5 to 10 years?
The evolvement from pure accountant to business partner I speak about above will continue and the CFO's involvement in risk management and strategic matters will increase more and more. We already see many CFO's becoming CEO's of organisations and I think this will become more and more common. Although the CFO will have to have the very detailed technical accounting knowledge and understanding moving through the ranks, I see the CFO of the future relying more and more on an internal technical accounting (and possible tax) experts to support him or her in financial accounting and reporting decision making. This dedicated and focused resource will allow the CFO a little bit more freedom and ability to be the common ground between Finance and Business. I, for one, am blessed that I have an extremely competent financial executive in my team that provides me with all the financial reporting and tax technical support that a CFO requires.

Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets? How do you deal with the volatility?
Accurate forecasting and budgeting is not only still feasible, but an absolute necessity for a financial department in today's economic times. Admittedly, reporting is more complicated, as one has to report in different transactional currencies, translate to various reporting currencies and calculate and explain the effect of exchange variations. This all then has to be explained to non-financial people. Financial reporting, forecasting and budgeting therefore has to be more sophisticated and fleet footed from a timing point of view, in order to remain meaningful for Business.

Fair value and other esoteric IFRS adjustments add further complication to forecasting and budgeting. These are difficult to forecast and "muddy the waters" in that they are difficult to explain to non-financial people in our business.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
I believe that the greatest challenge for any company in any economic environment is to remain topical. With "topical" I mean that it has to remain attractive to its customers on every level: the image, the product, the pricing and the communication.

Of these elements the greatest risk for Spur at this juncture is the impact of the world / European economy on our exchange rate, and what affect this could have on food price inflation. Our menu pricing and franchisee profitability are very closely linked to food price inflation and as such this is always a focal point in our business.

Technology is such a fast moving area, that it is always a challenge for companies to remain current and to take advantage selectively of all the social networking and digital opportunities out there. These are vast and varied! Our products and our brands also need to remain desirable for all our customers, existing and potential. That means menu content needs to be in line with current eating trends, with exciting, new items added on a regular basis, and our restaurants need to provide an atmosphere and environment that will provide our customers with an enjoyable dining out experience.

Which skills do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
A finance professional should be able to interpret regulations and legislation and recognise when professional advice is required. No individual today can master all the relevant regulations and legislation without referring to the various reference material. IFRS, King III, Companies Act, Income Tax Act, Consumer Protection Act, JSE Listing Requirements, the list goes on and on. A financial professional must be able to take any section of these regulations, read it, and either interpret it appropriately and have confidence in his or her interpretation, or recognise when professional advice is required and then brief the particular professional.

Adding to the above, the finance professional should then have the ability to marry the above technical knowledge with the realities of Business. He or she should have a thorough understanding of the business he / she operates in to be able to do this effectively while complying with all regulations and legislation.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
My proudest achievement is the turnaround of Spur's international business from a cash utilising division to a cash generating division. This obviously did not happen overnight and involved very hard work by various individuals in our business - teamwork! We implemented very strict financial controls, policies and procedures to govern the way we do things and make decisions. We were very disciplined in every single aspect of the business and over time it started to pay off.

A very close second to the above achievement is the establishment of The Spur Foundation, something I have been working on behind the scenes for about two to three years. This is very recent; we established the foundation in honour of Mr Nelson Mandela on his birthday on the 18th of July this year with an inaugural donation of R670 000. The purpose of The Spur Foundation is to uplift previously disadvantaged communities, with specific focus on feeding and educating our children. I suspect this may become the achievement I am most proud of very soon!

Please name something - a procedure or process for instance - that was implemented in your company before you were appointed CFO, which you changed after your took the position of CFO.
I changed the way we report on our international businesses shortly after I took over as CFO. I instituted stricter financial controls, much more detailed management accounts and I shortened the delay from month end to reporting date so as to make the information more meaningful to Business. As indicated above our international business utilised cash and as a financial person my first priority was to get the reporting as tight and meaningful as possible. These changes instilled a sense of discipline and accountability in our international business, that only benefited us since. As indicated above, our international business now contributes a healthy cash flow profit to the Group results.

Who is you role model in life and why?
My role model in life is my mother - quite the cliché. My father passed away when he was very young and my mother was left to raise four children on her own, with no tertiary education. She buckled down and did what had to be done, without complaint. She has been a great example to me throughout my life.

My role model in business is my CEO and mentor, Pierre van Tonder. Pierre's knowledge of business in general and his business acumen is something I strive for. He has an amazing memory and he can tell you the name of pretty much every Spur out there!

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
Never stop learning. There is always someone who can teach you something new.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you.Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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