Wayne van Houten - CFO Esorfranki: `Work hard, believe in yourself and be patient`


Information technology will form an important part of the future role of the CFO in South Africa. That is what Wayne van Houten, CFO of Esorfranki, replies when asked how the role of the CFO of the future will change over the next decade. “Use of information technology for financial reporting, compliance and market intelligence will also play a greater role and will bring enhanced efficiency into our business environment.”

Esorfranki's CFO since 2008 studied at WITS University, obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Accounting degree. He started his career after qualifying as a CA (SA) in 1991 at an engineering/project management group. After that he has been involved in the construction sector ever since and was appointed as Financial Director by Investec to a subsidiary of the Esorfranki Group in 2005. He was made Group FD of Esorfranki in June 2008.

Esorfranki is one of South Africa's benchmark civil engineering and construction groups providing specialist geotechnical services, roads and earthworks, civils and pipeline construction. Its growth trajectory has been marked by a number of significant milestones, which on 25 June 2009 culminated in a strong debut on the JSE Main Board. Esorfranki had previously been one of AltX's top performing companies for three years - under the name Esor Limited - before transferring to the JSE Main Board under the new banner of Esorfranki Limited. The company nowadays employees over 3200 people, of which 30 work on its financial department. The yearly turnover of Esorfranki in 2011 was R1,5b.

1) What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the industry and working with people. These are some of the exciting aspects of my job:

  • The diversity of my portfolio that includes managing or being involved in various finance related projects or activities. I enjoy diversity and challenges as opposed to routine daily finance activities;
  • Investor relations;
  • Financial planning and control, especially in today's uncertain environment. Timeous useful information has become more relevant for responsive behaviour in a changing market environment;
  • Corporate finance activities.

How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?

From my perspective, I moved into a listed environment over the last five years. That in itself brought new opportunities and challenges. Financial planning, corporate governance and compliance activities have played a significant role over the last couple of years. I believe the CFO's role has become absolutely strategic to any company's business activities.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?

The CFO role will evolve into increased financial leadership through financial planning and strategic participation in the business. Use of information technology for financial reporting, compliance and market intelligence will also play a greater role and will bring enhanced efficiency into our business environment.

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?

I believe that forward looking results are absolutely critical to managing your business, especially in today's tumultuous markets. Management's responsive behaviour to changes in volatile markets must be based on relevant assumptions, facts and information. In this regard, the CFO must have an understanding of the industry and its environment.

We forecast financial results, financial positions and resultant cash flows on a monthly basis. These are based on financial models and scenario plans.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?

Sustainability and the business responsiveness to those changes. Strategy and risk management analysis plays a critical role in this regard along with working capital management. Cash is KING and will always be KING.

Which skill do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?

Good technical know-how and a thorough involvement and understanding of the business/industry. Supportive relationship built on trust with stakeholders including Board members and executive committee teams is also critical.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?

There are a couple, but some that come to mind are:

  • Restructures both locally and internationally;
  • Creation of now unencumbered black empowerment vehicles for our staff;
  • Acquisitions including raising funding and the legal/tax aspects;
  • Implementation of information systems;

What three things must you do every single day to feel fulfilled in your work?

In order to feel that way I want to:

  • Get through my scheduled daily activities;
  • Add value to or find opportunities for the business operation;
  • Empower or mentor sub-ordinates and colleagues.

Who is your role model in life and why?

That would be the late Mr Mike Cress. He was a CA and such a tremendous mentor to me at the start of my career. He taught me that operational involvement and the understanding of the business was critical to our role.

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?

To work hard, believe in yourself and to be patient in your career. Find an industry/business that you will enjoy and that will inspire passion.

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category: Interviewing the CFO

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