Visionary Woman Leader: CFO Veliswa Rozani delivers the sale of Barloworld Motor Retail

Veliswa has played a critical role in the merger of Barloworld Motor Retail and NMI Durban South Motors.

In this week's Visionary Women Leaders series, CFO Veliswa Rozani unpacks the sale of Barloworld Motor Retail to NMI Durban South Motors (NMI-DSM).

Earlier this year, as part of its asset-light business strategy, Barloworld announced its intention to sell its motor retail business to NMI-DSM, a joint venture of the Barloworld Group and Akoo family, for R947 million.

The transaction, which is considered a coup by industry insiders, was completed as anticipated on 1 June, with Barloworld retaining its 50 percent share in NMI-DSM.

The motor retail unit was previously a unit within Barloworld Automotive Division, which managed car franchise dealerships in South Africa and Botswana, representing global brands such as Audi, BMW, Ford, Toyota, Lexus, Isuzu, Mazda, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz.

As the CFO of Barloworld Motor Retail, Veliswa was an integral player in what sources are touting as the biggest deal in the automotive sector this year. Veliswa is upbeat about the merger and the creation of a new entity.

“I am looking forward to the merger of the entrepreneurial spirit of NMI-DSM with the corporate spirit of the motor retail business. Thankfully the environment is not completely new, because we have been working together, so we have the same controls, procedures and governance structures,” says Veliswa, who did this interview just a few days before the integration of the two businesses.

Veliswa explains that it will be some time before the branding of dealerships across the country and in Botswana changes, so don’t be confused if you still see a Barloworld dealership. “There is a period of time agreed upon between both organisations around the change in corporate branding. So the Barloworld logo won’t disappear immediately from our dealerships’ branding once the deal is concluded, but as a trading entity, we will be fully immersed into NMI-DSM.”

Why the CFO makes or breaks the deal
Veliswa says her role in the deal was critical, straddling disciplines and involving the delicate work of engaging with OEMs and financial and insurance services. “You have to be involved in multiple meetings across various streams and you have to keep track of the details of each of those streams. As a CFO you are an enabler to business, and you are in a position to influence some of the processes that are happening to establish a new and profitable business.”

She says that some of her tasks have involved working closely with the FD of NMI-DSM Chris Cronje to ensure the merged organisation would have funds by 1 June, which is critical from an operations perspective. Together, Veliswa and Chris have been working with banks and raising the working capital loans necessary with the treasury. They have also had to ensure that the company has funding for the cars, which means working with the various financial institutions that it has partnered with in the Barloworld Motor Retail realm. They’ve also had to ensure from a securities perspective that everything shareholder-related is aligned with the company’s policies, as well as drawing up resolutions to ensure that controls and compliance are adhered to at all times.

Veliswa says that some of her most critical tasks in the merger have been to work in collaboration with IT to ensure systems for NMI-DSM are in place so that the integrity of data from one system to another is maintained. She’s also had to work closely with auditors to try to close off the Barloworld motor retail business, as well as with the HR department to ensure any risk to human capital is managed.

In addition to her involvement with the financial and operational minutiae of the deal, Veliswa also had to continue with her day-to-day and monthly responsibilities. “I still had to produce month-end accounts and ensure that we have a business that is profitable, that generates the right returns and cash,” she says with a smile.

Driving a collaborative spirit
The work between Barloworld and NMI-DSM over the last couple of months has not only been the merging of two businesses but also the merging of two cultures as all of the Motor Retail business’s employees are absorbed into the new company.

“Fortunately, there has been no butting of heads; our working style has been very collaborative. We advise and seek advice from one another; we bounce knowledge off each other. There is a collaborative spirit because we want to make sure the transaction is a success. Generally, I am an inclusive person and I have taken all my senior finance managers with me on this journey,” Veliswa says.

She believes that collaborative spirit will form the basis of how NMI-DSM will work going forward. “The people who report to us [senior leaders] will look at how we interact with one another and going forward this will form the basis of how the teams will work with another. So, we must establish a successful finance department built on a solid foundation.”

Business unusual
Working on a deal of this magnitude is stressful, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, where meetings are done remotely and working from home is the new normal. However, Veliswa says that technology has bridged a gap and, contrary to what some people may say, she believes people have been more productive working from home.

“What this strange time has allowed is for us to come together virtually, which will become the norm, post-Covid-19,” Veliswa says.

She adds that the pandemic and working from home have not had any negative impact on rolling out of the deal. “I believe it has allowed for a lot more collaboration. I have had meetings with 35 plus people, which would not be possible in a normal setting, because some people are situated in different cities. But in the virtual setting, I can bring together various stakeholders and communicate with them directly at one time, which saves a lot of time.”

Veliswa explains that, even though she makes it sounds easy to manage such a large deal virtually, she has had to be aware of the social effects of the pandemic and how it affects her teams, for example, with respect to issues like access to childcare. “I have to take into consideration that teams can’t work ‘normal hours’ because they are now juggling other aspects of their lives, but that the work would get done.

“This underpins my experience of having worked for multinationals and working with people in different time zones. I am an output-driven person – I don’t believe you have to sit at your desk from 8am to 4pm to be productive.”

Following the successful merger and the early retirement of Chris, Veliswa has been appointed as the CFO of NMI-DSM, now trading as Beyond Mobility.

Family comes first
Despite having a demanding career that often requires 18-hour days, Veliswa says her family comes first. She’s a mother of four, and both she and her husband have demanding careers, but that doesn’t stop them from making time for each other. “Working from home has given me more time with my kids. They can see me even if I am busy. And because I am not travelling between home and the office, I can make time for them between meetings. I can put time aside to have dinner with them and then go back to work.”

Veliswa says that the drive home from work used to be her time to destress but now she takes time to read, watch movies or hang out with one of her nine siblings.

The impact of having nine siblings
Veliswa says coming from a big family has given her an edge as she has learnt how to foster and maintain multiple relationships professionally. “In a big family there are different characters and personality types that I have had to deal with, and that has prepared me well for work. I come across people who are similar to my siblings, or my parents, and I know how to relate to them. I am fortunate that in the Barloworld and NMI-DSM teams I have been able to build good relationships with all stakeholders.”

She says that, growing up in a big family, you learn to put your ego aside, because you are one of many. “I remember if there was a debate and one didn’t like the outcome and they sulked, my parents or siblings would ask the individual to step away and deal with their emotions while the conversation continued. You learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that no one is bigger or more important than anyone else.”

Veliswa says her outlook on life is heavily influenced by both her parents. Her mother was a successful career woman and a mother of 10. When asked how she juggles her career and family, she says “I watched my mother. She was a great example.”

From her father she learnt diplomacy. “I don’t shy away from getting my point across, but I do it diplomatically,” she says.

Veliswa explains that both her parents taught her and her siblings humility, and to treat people as human beings, no matter what their position is. “Their philosophy, which she has adopted in her own life, was: ‘Treat people the way you would want to be treated.’”