Learning from the best: new DigiCore CFO Nicholas Bofilatos

The 33-year-old Nicholas Bofilatos is one of South Africa's youngest CFOs, having recently succeeded Cobus Grove as DigiCore CFO, after vehicle and fleet tracking firm was bought by the American digital solutions behemoth Novatel Wireless in October 2015. We spoke to Nicholas about learning from his predecessor and from other peers during our CFO events, about his promotion and about combining his hectic work with a family life - including young twins.

Tell us about your financial background.
"I served my articles as a chartered accountant at EY. My focus was on financial services, specifically capital markets and external audits. I worked my way up to senior manager and in June 2014, I crossed over to DigiCore as financial director of the South African business."

What does your role entail?
"It was a hard act to follow, taking over from Cobus Grove, who had been so successful in the role. This has driven me to improve and refine processes and improve the business, ensuring that it receives more value out of the finance function than just straight-forward management information. I want to provide value to the business and inform strategic decisions going forward."

How has the acquisition altered your function?
"I was in charge of the South African finance operations, but I am now heading up the global finance function for the DigiCore group. I have had to build and develop open lines of communication and trust with my direct reporting structure, streamlining processes and ensuring they are as efficient as possible. I aim to seek efficiencies in global finance and supply key strategic value-adds to operations, whether they are metrics or insights and strategic information to allow for smarter decisions going forward."

Was the transition a difficult one?
"We had been aware of the change, so I had been taking on more and more of the portfolio beforehand - it hasn't been a case of taking it all on immediately. This gradual development has certainly helped my transition and allowed me to feed off Cobus. Making sure that the transition from a SA-listed entity to reporting to a US-listed one has been smooth and seamless, which has been very important."

How well do you understand the technological side of the business?
"It is important that finance has a good understanding of the products, services and solutions which the operations offer, so we can analyse data and provide the correct information to inform the decisions we need to make as a business. We need to know where we are going as a business and how finance can support that. It is about being involved the process."

You have two-year-old twins. How have the pressures of the past year impacted on your work-life balance?
"I've been in a unique situation. Novatel Wireless conducted an extensive, three month-long due diligence process when it showed interest in acquiring us. We then had to conduct a full year-end audit and report our results to the market as a listed entity, which came with its own pressures. With the finalisation of the deal, we had to manage the change of ownership and delisting from the JSE. With new owners came the need to change our financial year-end which lead to the second full statutory and group audit within 12 months. Dealing with a US-listed company and a nine-hour time difference definitely comes with challenges to work-life balance. The past year has been tough with invaluable experiences and learnings, but I've been fortunate enough to have a supportive wife and family who have stood by me through it all."

You recently attended a CFO SA dinner. What did you make of the event?
"It was extremely interesting to hear other CFOs' thoughts. How do they decipher data and discern what is valuable to drive their own agendas and solve problems? Learning from your peers is an important way to grow and develop. You don't want to be re-inventing the wheel when there are others who have faced similar challenges before you. As the youngest CFO in attendance at 33, I found immense value in the wealth of experience around me. I enjoyed the evening and am looking forward to future events."

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