Spur CFO Ronel van Dijk: tasting, testing and the Spur DNA

She visited our very first CFO event in Cape Town, featured in one of our first interviews way back in 2012 and recently gave some sizzling insight in the international expansion and IT innovation at the Spur Group. This year Ronel van Dijk (favourite food: ribs) was nominated for the 2015 CFO Awards and we spoke to her about her relationship with CEO Pierre van Tonder, her take on coaching, her deep involvement in everything strategy - from testing the equipment to tasting the food - and her passion for the Spur Foundation.

What do you like about your job?
"In my position I don't sit a lot behind the desk. I travel a lot. A CFO has access to all the aspects of the business. I like sticking my nose into everything. I learn something new every day and I am not bored."

How do you work with the CEO?
"It is a love/hate relationship. I believe it has to be. The CEO forms the leaves of a tree. He is out there and moving. I am the root, helping us staying grounded. My job is to make sure everything we do falls within parameters. Sometimes we butt heads, but I am grateful I work with a CEO who doesn't hold grudges. He sees me as a trusted business partner. I am the reality check."

What makes you successful?
"It is very important to surround yourself with strong people who speak up when they disagree. I empower them, because that allows me to have balance. I did articles at Arthur Andersen. My second-in-command and his deputy trained with me there and now work for me. We finish each other's sentences."

"I am the root, helping us staying grounded."

What are your views on coaching and succession planning?
"On the financial side of my CFO role my second in command can step into my shoes, no problem. I made it my mission to empower him. I have the confidence to empower my second in command so he can take over from me from tomorrow if needed. Often people are too scared to do that."

"My coaching involvement is ad hoc. I don't have regular sessions. I am involved in a lot of things; I stick my nose into everything. I do have people outside of the finance department who ask for my help."

Which decisions do you find the toughest?
"For me that was a personal decision: not to sweat the small stuff. I have also gotten heavily involved in the Spur Foundation. It doesn't save money or add to the topline, but I have grown up quite a bit and want to spend time on this. It is good for the soul. All business decisions are - in a certain way - difficult, so focusing on what is important is key."

And what about major strategic decisions?
"We are right at a cross road. The business in the UK has been limping along. Labour costs and the costs of property are very high. Here in South Africa occupation cost is 8 percent of turnover; in the UK that is 25 percent. We are now putting our leases up for sale and will be phasing out these expensive restaurants that we own. We had to cut the cord and have developed a new model: RBW: Ribs Burgers Wings, with counter service, similar to the UK Nando's model."

What is your role in determining such a strategy?
"I assisted a lot with the financial analysis. I am involved in all elements of strategy. In the UK I meet with property agents, for example. As an executive team we debate where we go, we test the equipment; we taste the food - that is the part that I enjoy. People like me have the Spur DNA, so we are heavily involved when we develop a brand from scratch."

How does Finance contribute to Spur's agility?
"The sad thing is that the compliance requirements of King III make us a lot less agile. When we are buying 51 percent of a small company, with only 4 outlets, it takes us 3 weeks to draw up the contract. We have the desire to be quick, but we sometimes have the feeling we are turning like the Titanic with all the legislation."

How do you deal with external influences?
"Load shedding is very topical. From November to January we lost a lot of turnover. At peak time on Valentine's Day restaurants went down. We are now rolling out generators at an average cost of R250,000 each plus R200,000 of cabling, totaling R450,000 an installation."

"It has been quite a shift to move from financial information to valuable, meaningful information, without giving away our secrets."

How do you deal with the difference in interests between stakeholders?
"The interest of the company always comes first. For me it is about listening and understanding all arguments and about communication. It is not always easy, because you can't satisfy everyone. The pressures are also ever-changing. For example, until 10 years ago it would have been frowned upon if I didn't take advantage of off shore tax structures. Now it is frowned upon if I do."

How has your annual report developed over the years?
"It has really changed significantly over the past 5 years. It is now a document that I am proud of. Whoever reads it will have a good understanding of the business, the risks and the drivers and also get social and ecological information. It has been quite a shift to move from financial information to valuable, meaningful information, without giving away our secrets."

"We really make a difference and it gives me goose bumps when I talk about it. It makes me proud."

How does Spur give back to society?
"We established the Spur Foundation in 2012, the aim of which is to uplift children and families in poorer communities. Our strapline is Nourish, Nurture, Now. We work closely with ASHA Trust, and through them support 10 daycare centres in Alexandra. We are also working on a social franchising project in terms of which women in poorer areas will be uplifted through a food franchise that will earn them a living wage, allowing them to pay for quality education for their children. We will marry our knowledge of franchising with early childhood development in a similar model to the Curro schools. We also run a College of Excellence. We take promising waiters out of a restaurant for 6 months and they come back as a junior manager. It is real skills development. Upskilling also contributes to loyalty and brand identity. We really make a difference and it gives me goose bumps when I talk about it. It makes me proud."

  • Spur CFO Ronel van Dijk was one of the nominees for the CFO Awards 2015. Next year's CFO Awards will take place on 12 May 2016, once again at the Summer Place in Johannesburg. If you would like to buy a table, join the panel of judges or become a partner you can email Jurrien Morsch. Attendance is free for members. Visit CFOawards.co.za.
  • Stay connected, up to date and in the loop on what is happening in the world of finance and keep track of newly published expert insights and interviews with CFOs and CEOs. Become an online member and receive our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and join us on LinkedIn.