Youngest CFO of a listed company: Acting as an FD gave me the launchpad I needed

Verimark's Bryan Groome discusses the risks he took to open up opportunities for personal growth.

Bryan Groome, a qualified chartered accountant, served his articles with Deloitte. Upon completing his articles, Bryan joined Deloitte in San Jose, USA, where he worked as an audit senior, auditing a range of IT clients from new start-ups to NASDAQ listed companies. 

When he returned to South Africa, Bryan joined Standard Bank, where he was involved in implementing a unique IT SAP system. He then served as the group financial manager at Car City Holdings for two years before he was appointed as a financial manager at Verimark in December 2015. He was subsequently appointed as financial director on 23 March 2016 and executive director of Verimark on 8 August 2016, making him the youngest financial director of a listed company. He was only 28 at the time. 

He spoke to CFO.co.za about some of the challenges he faces as a young CFO. 

What do you think has made it possible for you to become a CFO of a listed company at such a young age? 
I made an important decision early in my career to move from a private company, where I was given an opportunity to take on directorship. Instead, I decided to move to a listed company as a financial manager. It was a risky move, however if I wanted to climb the corporate ladder I needed to make a move that allowed future growth. I was given an opportunity to prove myself when I was appointed acting FD in March 2016, and this was the launch pad I needed to show what value I could add. Confidence is key and I had to back all my decisions and prove that I had the ability to not only become the CFO but also to do a good job at it and make a difference.
 
What are the focus areas in your current role? 
I am involved in all departments, I head up finance, IT, HR, logistics/warehousing and import. I am also involved in retail, especially with regards to product ranging and optimal stock holding. I have been fortunate to be involved in all aspects from product sourcing to final customer relations. In order to improve profitability, you need to understand all aspects of business and how each cost driver is affected by change.

What opportunities and challenges are you faced within the current industry? 
The retail industry is under pressure especially the retailers who import and are experiencing the devaluation of the rand to foreign currencies. The industry continues to change and we have to adapt to the ever-changing customer requirements. There will always be challenges such as competition in the market as well as the fragmentation of the media which makes it harder to select and target the end consumer. The ever-changing retail market creates new opportunities, the digital retail space continues to grow and although not at international levels, provides a great opportunity for the retail market.  

And with being the youngest CFO of a listed company? 

The first challenge was answering the question, “you seem too young to be a CFO of a listed company”. Changing the mindset of individuals to accept what they are not used to will always be a barrier to young CFOs and successful individuals.

The opportunities are endless, I have got to meet some highly influential individuals in the business sector, I have sat on the board and committees with some experienced individuals and gained invaluable experience that no qualification can give you.

How did you choose a career in finance? 
In school, I always had ideas of different business opportunities, so I knew that I wanted to pursue something in finance to understand the numbers better. It was only in my first year at varsity that I decided to pursue the CA route after my dad challenged me. I am very competitive so took up the challenge and never looked back since I started. 

What makes a great CFO? 
A great CFO is someone who is adaptable and can change when required. They need to be a leader and lead by example. They need to see the bigger picture and be able to make important decisions under pressure.  

Where do you see yourself in five years time? 
I have been very fortunate to be in the position I am today and I don’t intend on slowing down. I want to continue to learn and gain valuable experience in the retail industry as well as business (strategy). I hope to be in a position in which I can sit on boards of other companies to share my experiences and insights that have assisted in getting me to my position I am in today. 

What are your interests outside of work? 
I enjoy all sports especially golf. I enjoy training – healthy body healthy mind. I enjoy the outdoors, especially the Kruger Park. I have recently started collecting whisky.