Servest's new CFO's vision for taking the company forward

Thabo Phokane, Servest CFO, has big plans, including continuing to drive the company's transformation journey.

Thabo Phokane was appointed as Chief Financial Officer in May and is making his mark on Servest, with big plans for the company in South Africa and Africa. He says:

“Transformation is the only way that we, as a country, can move forward in eradicating poverty and ensuring that South Africa becomes a better place for all who live in it. We need to make sure that we tick the boxes very carefully, and ensure we do proper training – something I’m very passionate about – so that our colleagues are given the best opportunities possible to improve themselves. And we need to support them in their development."

Thabo has been a part of the Servest team for five years, having started as group finance executive. After a year in this role, he moved to head up the Parking division, an area in which he needed to gain inside info. He explains: “Parking was complex because of our footprint in Africa, so I was sent to several countries in the continent to understand some of the challenges we were facing.” A year after that, he was given the Security portfolio, one of Servest’s biggest divisions. Following this achievement, he joined the Servest group board as a director.

Thabo is a CA (SA) with over 15 years of commercial experience. He grew up in Soweto and studied at the University of Durban Westville. After completing his articles at Deloitte & Touche (now Deloitte) he held various positions at Colliers RMS and SARS, where he worked alongside Pravin Gordhan. He observed Gordhan as having a strong work ethic, which of course is evident in the trust   that South Africa has in him. Thabo also worked at MTN, where he was a key driver of the transformation agenda within the realm of Phutuma Nhleko, MTN’s ex-CEO and group chairman, and our newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Thabo has a vision for Servest:

“I see Servest as employer and service provider of choice. Over the past five years we have been pushing a culture of colleague recognition and relevant training not only for our back-office team, but the entire 25,000-strong workforce. This will enable our colleagues to replicate that culture to clients, thereby improving our client-centricity model we’ve been working on.”

When asked whether he feels ready for the Group CFO role, Thabo answers in the affirmative. “I’m 100 percent ready, and the timing was just right. If you look at my career progression within the group, one could say I was groomed for this role. Although I only took over in April, I feel like I’ve been doing this for over a year already. I worked closely with Peter Walsh [Thabo’s predecessor as CFO], the CEO and COO, so it’s been an easy transition. I’m excited.”

Thabo considers himself to be an astute businessman, with strong values of fairness, hard work and professionalism. When it comes to the future direction of his role, Thabo sees himself as both a leader and team player. Having being part of senior management team for some time, he was involved in the formulation of the business strategy. He is now in a position to fast-track some critical projects that will enable his team to achieve their strategy. This will entail, among other things, having robust engagements with stakeholders to ensure that their strategy maintains relevant, given the fast-paced and dynamic industry of facilities management.

Shedding light on the current trends within the industry, Thabo explains:

“Recently we have seen companies, driven mainly by those in the public space pushing for in-sourcing. That gave them the opportunities to really understand the challenges, both human capital, systems and high capital expenditure requirements, that comes with this. At the back of that we saw them coming back to facilities management providers and asking for or rather outsourcing more to enable them to focus and drive their core business, which is where their core competencies lies.”

Thabo also feels strongly about transformation. “In all the divisions I’ve worked at Servest, I drove transformation. Not only as it pertained to finance but also in exco. I motivated and drove my exco team members to change their mindset and encouraged them to do things differently. I was glad to have had a leader in Peter who was equally as passionate about transformation.”

With regards to South Africa’s broader transformation, Thabo believes that corporate South Africa is not that far off the mark but stresses the need to accelerate efforts. “Because of the historical challenges, and the sentiment seen towards the end of last year, I think that with the change we are seeing in the political space, you need some political will. I believe that’s where it starts. Do that and corporates will follow.:

"Transformation is difficult by its very nature. It’s that willingness of execs who are running the corporates to change their mindset and encourage their executive team to really look at businesses differently. We need to press the right buttons as corporates. I believe it’s a bit of give and take; we must be willing to squeeze our own margins for transformation to take its course.”

He believes the key characteristics African leaders must possess – be they in government or business – in order to lead their organisations in the current environment should be honesty, integrity, accountability and selflessness.