Shaeen Khan - CFO Endress+Hauser: "Set yourself goals and work towards achieving them"

Endress+Hauser is a global leader in measurement instrumentation, services and solutions for industrial process engineering. The Swiss family-owned business, founded in 1953, supports its customers to optimize their process engineering procedures while taking into consideration reliability, safety, economic efficiency and environmental protection.

Endress+Hauser South Africa was established in 1984 and has grown steadily ever since. Today, despite its relatively small size, the company contributes over 2% to the Group's entire global share. The success of the South African operation can be attributed to an ongoing commitment to providing the best solutions to customers' instrumentation and control requirements, as well as providing fully qualified service and back-up support.

The head office is situated in Johannesburg, with branches in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Richards Bay, Northern Natal, Klerksdorp, Sasolburg, Secynda, Rustenburg and Witbank and agents throughout Southern Africa, each being able to provide the full range of services.

Shaeen completed his B.Comm degree and B.Comm honours at UKZN and qualified as a CA(SA) in 2001. After completing his traineeship at Grant Thornton, Durban he briefly joined SizweNtsaluba, Johannesburg as an audit manager. He then accepted a position at Vodacom Service Provider Company where he spent five years in various roles from Quality Manager to Financial Manager : Inventory and Incentives. He thereafter joined CSIR as Senior Financial Officer where he gained exposure in research and development and project management. A little over four years ago he joined his current company, Endress+Hauser (Pty) Ltd as financial controller and was appointed to the board as financial director in August 2010.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? What must you absolutely do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work and why?
I am fortunate to be in a stimulating work environment and my position is not limited only to number crunching. Being seen as a partner and advisor to other processes (service, projects, logistics, sales, marketing and hr) within the company has broaden my knowledge of business and given me opportunity to be involved at an operational level. I also enjoy developing my Finance team through learning and empowerment. By striving to be the best, we are always challenging ourselves to constantly raise the bar, which will ultimately be in the best interest of the company.

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 has changed to be seen as a value added business partner. As custodian for the safeguarding of the company's assets, risk management has become more critical. The role has also evolved to that of process management and improvement as well, as this will lead to efficiencies in business. Eg. We are in the process of implementing Kaizen projects in various processes.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next five to ten years?
I see the role evolving more towards value adding support to other processes and fulfilling the role as a business advisor. The CFO will therefore need to possess more knowledge in areas of sales, marketing and information technology amongst others. The CFO will also need to be involved in Broad based black economic empowerment, social corporate responsibility and economic development.

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?
Yes. Accurate budgeting is still feasible and important has it provides direction and a measure against actual performance. Historic financial information is as crucial because how can we know where we want to be if we do not understand where we have come from? Forecasting is as feasible and important as it will provide a realistic picture of where the company is headed with more accurate financial information. This will allow the company to be pro actively adapt to changes, in order to meet its goals. It therefore enhances the decision making process.

Being part of a global company, networking with finance people from around the world sharing experiences, both positive and negative and best practices gives me the insight to mitigate to some extent volatility

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
Being able to compete globally by offering a quality product and excellent after sales service. This will be the key differentiator, as competing with far eastern countries from a pricing perspective is difficult.

Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
I think it must be relationship building, negotiation skills and people management.These coupled with strong ethics such as integrity and honesty will help in getting buy in from both internal and external stakeholders. This will facilitate you be seen as a business partner and advisor.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
Being chosen by Endress+Hauser International to be a part of a team of five financial directors to develop a new monthly and forecasting reporting package that will be adopted by the entire group of 50 companies across the globe. This was challenging as this report needed to cater for broad spectrum of users in different business environments and at the same time it needed to be open and transparent. In April this year the new monthly and forecasting reporting package was approved by the Group CFO in Switzerland, to be rolled out in 2013.

Please name something - a procedure or process for instance - that was implemented in your company before you were appointed CFO, which you changed after you took the position of CFO.
I changed the commission structure of my credit controllers, which made it financially beneficial for them to improve company collections, reduce debtors days and to better mitigate the risk of bad debts. The benefit to the company was an improvement to cash flow, along with a saving on overdraft interest, and a reduction in bad debts written off. This has also impacted positively on the Endress+Hauser Groups production centres, as we were able to shorten our payment terms to them. This has allowed the production centres to invest more cash into research and development, to better improve our products.

I also changed the credit controlling process from being office bound, by encouraging personal customer visits. By building relationships with our customers, it facilitated improved payment times, and provided the company with valuable customer feedback regarding our administration process and what their needs were. This allowed the company to improve its existing process.

Who is your role model in life and why?
My six year old twin daughters. They keep things simple.

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
"Set yourself goals and work towards achieving them."

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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