When the going gets tough, the tough get going
FEM CFO Yusuf Bodiat has faced many challenges in his career, but kept going despite being knocked down.
Growing up, Yusuf Bodiat thought he would work in IT, so when the time came for him to choose subjects at the end of Std 7 (Grade 9) he chose computer science and accounting. “We had a really good computer science teacher in Std 8 and I was convinced I was going to become a programmer or similar. At the same time I was doing relatively badly in accounting,” Yusuf says.
However, it changed completely in the next year and he eventually got 94 percent for accounting in matric. This, combined with the fact that he comes from a family of accountants, convinced Yusuf that he was meant to be an accountant.
After completing matric in 2004 at Parktown Boys he went to study a B.Acc degree at the University of Witwatersrand. “I passed my first year relatively okay, but by the second year I was starting to struggle, and I barely scraped through with 35 percent in financial accounting halfway through my third year,” he says.
Yusuf decided to deregister from financial accounting halfway through his third year so that he could focus on his other subjects, including auditing, tax, management accounting and finance. He repeated the year which only included financial accounting, but just scraped through again. During this time, he also tutored first year Business Accounting at Wits.
In 2009 he did his honours, but failed the financial account (after getting a supp). “It was quite disappointing because, with the CA honours course, if you fail just one exam you have to repeat the whole course again, which meant I had to repeat everything in 2010,” Yusuf said.
After failing honours the first time, he consulted with a senior accounting lecturers at the university and said that he wanted to move to a university that would allow him to study part time while working. “He sat me down and advised me that if I left Wits and studied part time while working I may not pass my board exam easily,” he says. This motivated him to stay on at Wits and when he wrote his board exam, he passed the first time.
Looking back now, he says that it was probably the best thing that happened to him. “I was probably a bit immature to start working at that time in any case.”
Yusuf did his articles at Deloitte in Johannesburg. “At Deloitte you are given the opportunity to choose which division you want to work in and I chose to work in financial services which includes banks, insurance, medical aids, etc,” he says.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing either. “When I started my articles, even though I studied for up to six years and thought I knew how to work, I actually struggled to get to grips with it,” he explains. After about six months, however, something clicked and Yusuf started doing really well.
After finishing his third year as an article clerk he was seconded to the US for four months and returned to South Africa as an audit manager, where he remained for two and a half years.
Yusuf says that he stayed at Deloitte as an audit manager because of one of his managers at the time, Sheldon Friedericksen, who is now the CFO of Fedgroup and a 2021 CFO Awards nominee. “Sheldon convinced me to stay on as a manager afterward to learn soft skills and how to manage a team. It was a very good decision and his mentoring made a big impact on my life. I still keep in contact with him.”
During his time at Deloitte, Yusuf got married to his wife, Naseera. After having his first child (Yusra) he decided that he didn’t want to work as an auditor anymore. “I was traveling around Johannesburg seeing clients and spent more time in the car and on the phone than I wanted to. I wanted more stability in my life,” he says.
In 2016, Lion of Africa Insurance, who was one of Deloitte’s clients, was looking for a new financial manager. Coincidentally, Yusuf had been auditing the client and was also looking for a new job.
He joined the company as a financial manager in September 2016. At the end of 2017, Lion of Africa’s CEO left to start up a new company and the CFO at the time was promoted to acting CEO, and Yusuf was promoted to acting CFO soon after. “I got a lot of exposure, had to put out fires and manage many relationships, because things were challenging at the company at the time. I was also involved in building the finance system and improving the financial processes.”
When Lion of Africa announced that the company was going into run-off in November 2018, Yusuf decided it was time to leave. “It takes about two years for an insurance company to close down, because there are a lot of things that need to happen, which include settling all valid open claims .I felt that the run-off work wouldn’t be challenging enough for me.”
During his time at Lion of Africa, his wife had given birth to their second daughter (Nuha) and Yusuf decided a change in his career with more positivity was needed.
The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM) posted a role on LinkedIn and Yusuf applied. Soon after he was called in for his first interview. A week before Christmas in 2018 he received a call from FEM saying they would like him to join. He immediately said yes.
Yusuf was appointed as the CFO FEM in February 2019. “I moved house and joined a new company in the same week, which was in the middle of their financial year end with new external auditors,” he says. “It was unbelievably stressful.”
Yusuf has been at FEM for two years now and is responsible for the external and internal audit functions, as well as the actuarial function that reports to him. “As an accountant, it can be quite challenging to talk to the actuaries, because we speak different languages. I’ve had to learn what they’re trying to achieve and make sure that it makes sense from a financial perspective,” he says.
Another big part of his job is spending time with the company’s investment consultants and he is planning on studying a CIPM (Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement) this year to improve his knowledge on investments.
He also serves on the FEM board, as well as on the boards of a few other companies within the group.
Whenever he’s not working, Yusuf is spending time with Naseera, Yusra (5) and Nuha (3). “Because the kids are still small, they need a lot of attention from us.”
He also started playing golf recently. “I decided it was important to have some time to myself and get some sunlight. When your kids are so young, you spend a lot of time focused on them and lose track of your personal time and hobbies, so I’m trying to get back into it again.”