The CFO who has made relationships the backbone of his success

Spear CFO Christiaan Barnard believes that the ethos of his school has defined his work ethic.

When Christiaan Barnard CFO of Spear REIT, moved to Stellenbosch for High school, his life took on a whole new direction. As a young boy, being planted in the soil of Paul Roos Gymnasium helped him bloom into the man he is today.

Founded in 1866, the prestigious school has produced more Springbok rugby players than any other, and boasts an impressive roster of notable alumni who have gone on to be business pioneers, political figures and  leaders across various sectors. Christiaan lives by the school’s pillar values of pride, respect and gentlemanship.

“These were instilled in me at such a young age, they have defined my work ethic and stayed with me. At Paul Roos, I made some strong, life-long relationships which have been pivotal in my life and career. I am still super close to a core group of friends to this day.”

Christiaan says these years built a brotherhood around him and taught him how to take care of himself, instil a sense of discipline and learn life lessons.

“Yes, we were normal boys; we stirred up trouble, were sometimes naughty, but learned respect for people and had incredible opportunities for mentorship.”

The academic rigour combined with a culture which celebrated winning and recognised grit, prepared him for his future career in finance, which he chose because he was good at accounting and he felt it would challenge his sharpness and allow him to flex his analytical muscle, “and everyone said that it paid well,” he laughs.  

His first job was doing his articles at PKF, “It was a lot of work, but what I found most challenging was the routine, extreme limitations and little leeway to do things differently.

“My personality is such that I naturally seek out better ways of achieving goals, making improvements and being innovative. Despite feeling restricted, I resolved to suck it up and accept that it’s part of the journey and go with it rather than get side tracked.”

As part of his articles, he moved to the United States for six months in Tampa, then came back to South Africa briefly and rebounded again to Texas.

“South African CAs are highly regarded in the US, and apart from opening my eyes and gaining international experience, I once again made amazing friends who helped me adjust there and come back to South Africa a more evolved, rounded professional."

After returning from the United States, Christiaan was ready for a good challenge, and leveraging his strong network led him to a friend calling him about a company that wanted to list on the JSE and needed someone to help them prepare the financial side of the business.

It turned out to be the perfect combination; he was determined, energetic and eager to prove himself and the environment was extremely ambitious and bullish. The company quickly needed to build systems that would support their aspirations.

“I dived headfirst into Spear REIT, all cylinders firing, to prepare for an imminent JSE listing. After three weeks, the CEO asked me to apply for a full-time position as financial director.”

In that time, he got to know Quintin Rossi who co-founded Spear with Mike Flax & Abu Varachhia in 2011.

“I feed off Quintin’s energy; which is intense, determined, unwavering with high standards. No matter how hard it is, he will get it done. I am the same, and working with someone who is similar, really fuelled me and sharpened my ability.”  

When getting ready for listing on the JSE they worked super-long days, often stretching to 20 hours days. The focus on succeeding was so strong that he kept going to the point of exhaustion after three months.

Pulling off a successful listing was extremely rewarding and apart from the professional stripes, Christiaan says forging a relationship with Quintin had a huge impact on him. “He explained the vision, and even though he is laser focused on succeeding at work, with a strong work ethic, he is a powerful illustration of a man who models how to be successful. He shows what it looks like to succeed as a self-made man, to build a solid family-life and be a generous philanthropist.”

Spear REIT has grown aggressively since being listed in late 2016, and Christiaan has led its finance and group reporting to stakeholders to provide clear, accurate and timeous information for investment decisions by both current and prospective investors.

Christiaan supports the CEO in capital markets, debt negotiations and capital investments, and plays a critical part in the execution of the strategic decisions taken by the CEO to place the company in the best financial position to achieve the targets as set by the CEO and board of directors.

Despite being a go-getting high performer he is aware of the dangers of thinking you are smarter than others. “I learned this early in my career, especially when doing articles. You may work with someone without the credentials but who has a wealth of experience.”

As a leader he values taking responsibility where there are mistakes and investing in building relationships.

His advice to his younger self would be to not doubt yourself. “I would tell myself to share my ideas because what I think matters and I can add value. I would also tell myself that hard work yields results and to keep going when things get tough.”

Spear is on track to own R15 billion worth of assets in the next five years so the pace is still unrelenting, but Christiaan is now a newlywed, which has forced him to expand his focus outside the office more.

Now married to an ambitious woman who is a pharmacist, investing in the growth of their relationship is a priority. “I am committed to my marriage and luckily we have grown out a solid team at Spear, so the working hours aren’t as crazy.” The common thread of strong relationships continues and Christiaan still spends time with his band of brothers from Paul Roos, going for a run with one or catching a golf game with another.  

“I am at a point in my life where I now aspire to give others opportunities to work, develop as individuals and create success, the same way my education and those I have met along the way have done for me.”

Paying it forward is appealing and he looks forward to mentoring and guiding other young professionals coming up through the ranks.