“Plan your work and work your plan.” That is one of the things Sean Capazorio needs to do every day to feel fulfilled in his work. In 2009 Sean was appointed Group CFO of Aspen, the leading pharmaceuticals manufacturer in the Southern hemisphere as well as Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer. The company was listed on the JSE Ltd in 1998 and is included in its Top 40 Index. The Aspen Group has almost 6500 employees, of which nearly 3000 are based in South Africa. The Aspen Group has a presence in South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Ireland, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mauritius, Dubai, Germany and Hong Kong.
In 1999 Aspen acquired South African Druggists Limited (SAD), where, at the time, Sean held the position of Operational Finance Manager in the pharmaceutical division. He had joined SAD three years prior. Following the acquisition of SAD by Aspen, Sean was promoted to the position of Aspen Pharmacare Finance Director for the South African pharmaceutical operations. Subsequent to the globalisation of Aspen, Sean was transferred to Aspen's corporate office in Durban as Group Business Analyst.
Sean (BComm, BAcc) completed his articles at PWC and remained in the profession post articles for 2,5 years as an audit manager. According to Sean, that improved his people management skills. He also completed an advanced certificate in taxation at Unisa during this time. In 1993 he left the profession and joined Unisys as a corporate management accountant. He wanted to gain experience in business improvement and business analysis. He later got promoted to the position of financial controller, before leaving the company in 1996. That year he joined SAD as a corporate finance accountant responsible for group taxation and corporate finance.
1) What do you enjoy most about your job?
Finance ensures that you become involved in all aspects of the business and broadens your experience and overall business knowledge base. That's what I love most about it.
2) How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?
I think the role of the CFO evolved from historical scorekeeping to full business involvement and future business planning. The global financial crisis in 2008 resulted in a significant increase in economic and commercial volatility which requires flexibility and the ability to react quickly to changed circumstances. Also within my daily operations, there have been some practices that changed over the last years. Foreign exchange volatility within our South African business required us to improve business efficiencies. This, coupled with an offshore investment strategy, ensured that we diversified and mitigated this risk. The key to success is to ensure that you hire the right calibre people who are highly committed, proactive and passionate about their jobs and the business.
3) How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
Due to the disciplined approach that finance has been schooled in, the CFO will assume more accountability for all business processes within the organization and will be the major sounding board for all major business decisions and initiatives. It broadens the role of CFO into areas such as supply chain planning and logistics, risk management, IT including business intelligence and business analysis systems, integrated reporting and strategic planning. Therefore you will require the ability to network with all disciplines/divisions within the organization to enable you to fully understand all the dynamics and then applying your financial/commercial expertise to provide value added solutions to complex business problems/challenges. The best way to implement these perceived changes is by accepting the statement that 'change is constant' and be adaptable to react quickly to commercial/economic change. Stay close to the detail and day to day operational issues and avoid the temptation to manage the business remotely from a corporate 'head office'.
4) Do you feel accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today's tumultuous financial markets?
Indeed, I think it is still very feasible and critical. As finance becomes more and more involved with all business processes the level of understanding and accuracy supporting the forecasts and budgets will improve exponentially. The best way to deal with volatility is by scenario planning.
5) What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation?
Generating sustainable strong cash flows and engaging proactively with government to ensure the future sustainability of local manufacture. Given the importance of quality affordable healthcare to government, Aspen together with the rest of the pharmaceutical industry, work very closely with government to ensure that these objectives are met and at the same time ensuring that local manufacture is promoted at all times. Luckily, government has been very supportive and receptive to industry feedback and suggestions.
For our industry and the company - Aspen strives to deliver operating cash flow from per share in excess of headline earning per share through focused working capital management supported by strong supply chain management systems and customer collection structures.
6) Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
One should have the ability to build strong relationships with all stakeholders in the business and to effectively manage and build a strong financial team. Without having relationships a proper budget process cannot commence.
7) Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
Securing a major 3rd party manufacturing deal with a US-based consumer company for the manufacture of eye drops. The reason that this was a memorable achievement was that we had to convince a US-based consumer company to transfer the manufacture of their eyedrop range (which is their largest brand) from the USA to South Africa. To achieve this required a team effort to ensure that we were the most cost effective, high quality and reliable supplier. It took more than a year to conclude the deal and today we supply an average of 25 million bottles of eyedrops to the USA per annum.
8) What three things must you do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work?
Plan your work and work your plan, get out of your office and network with all your colleagues to ensure that you are in touch with all the current business issues, always meet your commitments and deadlines and manage people's expectations.
9) Who is your role model in life and why?
My role model is Stephen Saad (Group CE of Aspen), who has the ability to balance work and personal life and successfully achieve key objectives in both areas.
10) What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
Passion for your job and the company you work for is vital for success. If you do not have this passion, either change your career or the company you are working for.
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category: Interviewing the CFO