Show confidence, be brave, advise top CFOs at #findaba17

“When you work in a multinational you’re up against some seriously smart people,” said Zaf Mahomed, CFO for McDonald’s South Africa, speaking as part of a panel at last week’s Finance Indaba Africa 2017. Expectations are much higher in terms of accuracy and deadlines with the spotlight firmly focused on CFOs, he added.

Peter Walsh, Servest CFO, concurred, saying: "We are up against forthright, opinionated indi-viduals but we've got to be confident in our own abilities and stand our ground. Just because we're a developing country doesn't mean we're a poorer cousin."

Servest has its holding company in South Africa and its subsidiary in the UK, and lends itself to a unique story in that, due to the weakening rand, the UK company was able to grow substantially in rand terms. The challenge became how to exert authority over its financially larger counterparts. Peter acknowledges that it's not easy, saying it's a commitment of work ethics.

Building credibility with your international counterparts is about meeting deadlines, being ac-curate and managing expectations. Zaf added that, although people can be opinionated, they can also be culturally sensitive, which South Africans are not always aware of. He said:

"We've grown up in a very robust environment where we can talk about issues, which is not the same in an American or European environment. Although being in a finance space is easier as we can talk about facts."

Reporting standards, which in the country are high, are an example of such a fact. As Servest South Africa currently facilitates its company audit and consolidates its accounts, it is also working with its UK counterparts to follow suit and adopt similarly. "The strictness with which we follow our audit is world class and the UK needs to follow suit," Peter said.

Admittedly, he understands that he needs to be close to the issue when the company tries to assert its independence, but as the CFO, it pays to lead by example and to have the conversa-tions at the right time, he said.

The role of a CFO is more than figures, said Zaf in agreement. It is to manage the expectation in the business. "You cannot wait until the audit committee to raise an issue," he said.